|Marin to Study Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine|
If you are looking for Miguel “Alec” Marin, chances are you will find him in his “second home,” the biology lab. Clad in safety goggles and rubber gloves, this University of St. Thomas biology graduate feels no greater joy than when he is immedrsed in research to explore his fascination with what he calls the “final frontier of the human anatomy” – the brain.
After graduating from UST on May 16, Marin, a native of Brownsville, will pursue a doctorate in neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine.
With early desires to pursue a career in medicine, Marin was initially drawn to the small class sizes and University because UST has an 82 percent medical school interview rate and a 67 percent acceptance rate over the last five years. Fueled by the encouragement of his UST biology professors, opportunities to conduct research as an undergraduate and a series of internships, Marin shifted his career goals away from medical school to neuroscience research.
“I came to UST and did the pre-med thing for a little while, but it got to a point where I was enjoying my lab classes more than my regular classes,” Marin said. “I struggled in chemistry, and even thought about dropping out of pre-med and biology altogether, but then Dr. Rosie Rosell saw that I showed promise in her lab classes, and she gave me a position on her research team as a freshman, which is something that is unheard of at bigger schools. I have cousins at UT and they have to fight to get research positions as seniors. The opportunities at UST are endless; the professors do everything they can. They really went the extra mile to provide opportunity for me. Once I started the research, it became an obsession.”
Two pivotal opportunities – a volunteer position at a psychiatric hospital in Harlingen and the Summer Medical Research Training Program (SMART) at Baylor College of Medicine – left no room for doubt about his desire to pursue a PhD in neuroscience.
“At the psychiatric hospital, I saw that there is so much about the brain and the nervous system that we just don’t know,” Marin said. “I felt that if I am going to make any real impact in this field, I can contribute more as a scientist and researcher than I ever could as a medical doctor.”
The SMART program enabled Marin to spend two and half months in an addiction lab at Baylor College of Medicine studying how nicotine influences the physiological structure of the brain. The experience sparked his interest in substance abuse and addiction research, which he hopes to continue at the graduate level.
“Going to a large public high school, you see the effects of hard core drugs, you see perfectly intelligent rational people fall victim. Living in a border town like Brownsville where drugs are constantly coming through, it’s a huge problem. It’s a gateway for cartels.” Marin said. “There is some physiological reason for addiction. It’s sad seeing so many good people fall. The thing that makes it even more scientifically fascinating is that some can use drugs and not become addicted.”
While at UST, Marin presented biological research at the UST Research Symposium in 2007, 2008 and 2009 presented at the national annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in San Diego in December 2007 and the November 2008 Sigma Xi meeting in Washington D.C. He served as president of the UST chapter of the Tri Beta national Honor Society and helped organize the campus event to honor the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday.
Beyond his biology classes, Marin has seen the benefit of the holistic education he has received at a liberal arts university.
“There are a lot of people who disagree with the things we do in the lab, especially in the field of neuroscience – stem cell biology always incites controversy,” Marin said. “At a liberal arts school, you get to see both sides of the argument. There is such a big focus on philosophy and theology, and the Church’s position on certain issues. It broadens you, if you stick solely to the technical scientific aspects on an issue, you forget about the people it affects.
“At this school, you are saturated with opinion and debate,” he said. “I enjoyed my philosophy classes so much I decided to minor in it. Sometimes I may disagree with the professors, but it is important to understand their argument. Every scientist needs to consider the potential impact of their experiments on society when they go to the lab bench.”