Hey! My name is Neelam Phalke, and I’m a Biochemistry major here at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. I am also a Business Administration minor at the Marshall School of Business. I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada. The transition from the constant dry, desert heat during the summers, and cold (not as bad as most winters, but we do get below the 30′s), dry winters to California’s mellow, constant 75 F and sunny was definitely something. Yet, weather is hardly what makes LA appealing. It’s the atmosphere of USC that I love to death. It’s easy to become nostalgic when away from home for extended periods of time, but, surrounded by my amazing Trojan Family, staying in LA for four semesters straight (Freshman year, Summer, and I am currently a Sophomore) has not been difficult at all.
I spent my summer taking Physics, but that’s not the amazing part. I also received the opportunity to become a research assistant in Dr. Kenneth Nealson’s lab in HEDCO Molecular Biology. The experience is really one-of-a-kind. I am working on a project to find out if S. onedensis (a bacteria discovered by my professor!) is able to reduce Mn 3+. It’s a slow moving experiment, but it’s really exciting, especially anytime anything interesting happens. I always get SUPER excited; I’m pretty sure my grad student (who directs my projects) is highly amused by me.
Getting into the lab was a challenging process. First thing first, I spent hours upon hours scouring the Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Neuroscience, etc. department websites in Dornsife in order to find projects that fit my interests and my major. There were hundreds, and each so fascinating that I could lose hours delving into the research of a single professor. I eventually managed to narrow my list down to about five and sent crazy detailed emails to the professors. I was lucky enough to receive positive responses from most of the professors, after further research and some interviewing I found that not only was Dr. Nealson’s lab an amazing place to work, full of opportunities for the aspiring researcher, but it also nailed my interests right on the head.
I began working in Dr. Nealson’s lab in August this past summer. For the first week, I shadowed one of the grad students, watching her perform her experiments and log data. The second week she began letting me do minute things. Before I knew it, she was assigned to supervise me in the direction of my own project!
I go to lab between classes, before class, during class (okay, only when I can attend the afternoon section of my organic chemistry course!!!), before exams, after exams… in short, I am in lab all the time, and I absolutely love being there. In fact, prior to my last organic chemistry midterm, my grad student actually had to force me to leave, reprimanding me for avoiding studying. What can I say, I absolutely love lab and my projects. I picked USC for the amazing opportunities to conduct research as an undergraduate student, and USC more than came through for me.