Visitor of the Week: Douglas Reilly

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Meet Douglas Reilly of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The graduate student is in Jagan Srinivasan's lab in the Department of Biology and Biotechnology. He is on campus for the Neuronal Circuits  -- his first CSHL meeting -- where he presented a poster entitled “A neuropeptide controls the sex-specific valence of a mating cue pheromone”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in how the nervous system encodes instinctive behaviors, and how these responses evolve and diverge in closely related species. I am currently working on understanding how male C. elegans nematodes sense and response to a mating pheromone.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Going into graduate school, I knew that I wanted to study how the nervous system functions. The Srinivasan Lab’s approach to understanding functional connectomes was something that really grabbed my interest and never really let go.

How did your scientific journey begin? 
In college, my Principles of Neuroscience class finally showed me where to focus my interest in biology. Being able to do an independent study in Prof. Michele Lemons’ lab Assumption College exposed me to what research was like in the neuroscience field. 

Was there something specific about the Neuronal Circuits meeting that drew you to attend?
It’s always great when you have the opportunity to present your work to related fields, and get input from people with related, but very different mindsets. Though there weren’t a ton of worm people at this meeting, getting to talk to fly and mouse neuroscientists increased my confidence in what I was doing, and gave me great ideas regarding the different directions I can take my project.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
That the more we learn about the brain, the more we learn how much we don’t know. There were a bunch of fascinating talks which delved into the functioning of well-studied regions of the brain, only to discover previously unknown cells, circuits, and roles within those regions. But even as we realize that we don’t know as much as we think we do, the attendees weren’t disheartened, but instead were only more motivated to continue their work.

Did you pick up or learn something new from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
Discussions with other worm lab researchers here pointed me in the direction of technologies which may help me avoid trouble with completing my project and getting the data published.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This meeting has a lot of people doing really cool research on neuronal circuits in a variety of models. But what’s great is that everyone is able to communicate with everyone else, and the ideas exchanged will strengthen your own research.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The ease of talking to people from different backgrounds was great. Unlike topic meetings, this CSHL meeting was not as clique-ish. Everyone was more than happy to talk to anyone else, with fun conversations happening everywhere and between people who had just met.

Thank you to Doug for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.