Student Spotlight: Sarah Etherton, neuroscience


Picture of Sarah Etherton

Sarah Etherton is a rising senior majoring in neuroscience. A native of Valley, Alabama, and former Auburn University Marching Band member, she now spends her time working in the Cognitive and Behavior Sciences Lab with Professor Jennifer Robinson. Read how she made her transition from band to brains.

How did you decide on Auburn?

Both of my parents are Auburn alumni, so it was always on my list of colleges. But I came to Brain Camp when I was a junior in high school, and I loved with the campus - the people, the idea of what Auburn could offer me here. I got to meet the faculty that I'd be working with, and I just fell in love with it.

What was your transition like from high school to Auburn University?

I lived at home the first year, but my sophomore year, I moved down here. That was a big transition point for me. I had to make decisions on my own, and I couldn't just call mom and dad to help me out. But it was a good transition because I had people along the way that were helping me. I found a community at Auburn. I knew I could ask people for help. During my freshman year, I was in the marching band, so I had really good group of people who were incoming like me and also older and they were able to help me with the transition. It was great to have that support system.

How did you decide on your major, neuroscience?

I met Dr. Jeffrey Katz, who was one of the people who started the major, at Brain Camp. He gave me his contact information. So my freshman year, I got in touch with him, and he told me all about the neuroscience degree that he wanted to do. This was two years before it was actually a major. He laid out all the courses that they were thinking about offering, and I knew if it happened, it would be incredible. I would love to do this. So he was able to give me the bare-bones structure of it, and I was able to major in psychology and follow those classes knowing that if I did switch over to neuroscience, I would not be so far behind.

What is your favorite part about neuroscience?

I love the CAN Lab with Dr. Jennifer Robinson - the Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience Lab. I also met her at Brain Camp. That’s where I met everyone who has helped me throughout all of my decision making - my mentors. I think my favorite part of neuroscience is knowing that even as being as young as I am and as an undergrad, I'm able to do really important research in the field of study that I want to do.

What kind of research are you doing in the CAN Lab?

Right now, I'm doing functional topography of the hippocampus. The hippocampus helps with memory. Usually the brain is very symmetrical - if there's a structure on one side, it's usually on the other side as well. But we found that in the hippocampus, there's two little jelly bean shaped structures on each side, and one of them does more functioning than the other one. So it's really cool to see those discrepancies and to have other people across the country also doing research and comparing that research. So the topography part is just mapping out where those functions are happening in that jelly bean structure.

Who is your favorite professor? Favorite class?

My favorite class would be my cognitive neuro class with Dr. Robinson. It was the essence of everything that I want to do, everything neuroscience all balled into one. It was at 8 a.m., and 8 a.m. classes are not fun. But I remember being so excited for that class. I was just like, "Yes, let's do this.”

My favorite teacher would have to be Elaina Frieda-Siepmann. She teaches research methods, which is not the most fun class by any means, but she makes it so much fun with her personality and with how enthusiastic and upbeat she is.

What are your plans after graduation?

I'm planning on continuing my education in a Ph.D. program. I want to move to Austin, Texas, because they have a great MRI center there and I love functional brain imaging. As far as a career, I don't know the title of it, but it’s the person who helps the brain surgeons. If someone's about to go in for brain surgery, I would do an MRI on them before surgery and help map out where the surgeon needs to go.

There’s a big emphasis on STEM education. What are your thoughts?

Yes, for two years I was in psychology, so I'm seeing a lot of the same classmates from there. But then I'm also in classes with biomedical and chemistry students.

Neuroscience is kind of a marriage between the two. You’re able to take all the stuff you learned from the liberal arts and bring it over to the science part. So it's really cool to have that - the best of both worlds.

Last Updated: September 04, 2019