My name is Ariana Anderson and we are at the
Semel Institute at UCLA and I’m a statistician working in psychiatry. Well, so working in
psychiatry as a statistician is very interesting, because in psychiatry there’s is not really
any good way to measure mental illness other than observing symptoms. And so one thing
I’m working on is how to better measure the symptoms and how to get concrete brain measurements
of what makes and what defines mental illness. So one way we can do it is through brain imaging
techniques such as functional MRI. So if you put people who have mental illness in the
scanner, you can observe which areas of their brain change when they are for example resting,
just laying in the scanner or looking at something daydreaming. Or when they are doing some sort
of task and if you compare this activity between patients which schizophrenia and without for
example, you will be able to tell which areas of the brain behave differently. That can
give you more ideas of what is the underlying mechanize behind the disorder. I’m originally
from Texas, I grew up all around Texas. I was born near San Antonio, I went to high
school, a wonderful school in south Texas called The Science Academy. And there, there
was a very, very strong emphasis on preparing us to understand and explore the world around
us, and I believe that’s what really helped me to becoming a scientist later on. My parents
are not scientist, my dad is actually a minister, my mom’s a homemaker and she raised five children.
So I don’t really think there’s a specific moment where I decided I wanted to do science
in particular, I decided I wanted do math though when I went to a math camp when I was
in high school. And there we were exposed to a branch of math called, “number theory”
where we had to prove basic things that you take for granted. So for example, how do we
know that, “n x 1=n.” How do we know that if you take two even numbers and add them
together, you get another even number. So having to prove and derive things that you
would consider trivial, a trivial pattern leads to a much wider branch of mathematics
that for me, I found absolutely fascinating. Which is why I decided to prove that, pursue
that route for graduate school. I did math for quite a while and at some point when you
do too much math you get a world where there are no more numbers. And to me that felt a
little bit impractical because I had developed a skill and I wasn’t actually able to use
it to solve real problems, and because of that I veered off into science, into specifically
psychiatry because it felt like a way where I can take all these techniques I’d learned
and use them to help measure something that people were having trouble measuring. I was
motivated to get into science because I feel it’s a very practical and effective field
of study that you can use to help other people. So even though for example I haven’t been
personally effected by a devastating mental illness in my family, I mean the statistics
on mental illness are horrendous enough that makes it very motivating and inspiring to
try to learn more about these diseases, and how to measure then, and how to treat them.
So life in the lab is actually very free spirited. So when you are able to be in science, often
times you’re able to define your own problem, and so you’re able to say, “well this is something
that I fell is high impact,” and your able to go ahead and work on it. So you can design
your day, you can design who you work with. For the most part you really get to have a
lot of freedom in deciding how you are going to work on this interesting problem and you
just have to find a good way to assemble a team of people around you who could help you
and collaborate with you to try to get the job done. So my end game is to help pharmaceutical
companies design drugs to treat the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. So things that
reduce the desire of patients with schizophrenia to go out and get a job, that makes, that
make them draw themselves inward instead of being able to go outward and express and communicate
with the world. Those are the interventions I want to help design. I would say that science
is one of the best fields to be in if you’re naturally curious about the world. You really
have to be very tenacious and to want to go out and try to solve this thing that you think
is very important that is going to help other people. I feel that science is a very easy
way to make the world a better place and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered,
and every single little answer that you can give to a question to something, or discovery
that could later help people down the road.

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