Outreach Highlight: Rinki Saha

Happy Thanksgiving! As we take stock of everything that we’re grateful for today, CUPS would like to show gratitude to our hardworking postdocs. For our final Outreach Highlight this week, we feature Rinki Saha, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry. Rinki shares how working as a literature reviewer and patient data translator for the COVID-19 Student Service Corps gave her the opportunity to use her scientific expertise and directly help patients. 

Rinki Saha

“I am Rinki Saha, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of psychiatry. In my research, I study the neural circuitry of aggressive behavior. I use in vivo optogenetic tool to understand the role of the monoaminergic system in aggression.

When the coronavirus outbreak started, despite all the uncertainties and anxieties I strongly felt the urge to help the community with my scientific expertise. I joined the COVID-19 Student Service Corps (CSSC). CSSC has a solid structure for social service. Their call for volunteers was encouraging. I decided to work with them because of their long-term mission.

I am actively serving in two teams as an academic literature reviewer and in patient data translation. The idea behind the academic literature effort was to create a digestible literature database of COVID-19 related articles. The translation team is focused on providing translated copies of patient data and health-related documents in different languages.

Both volunteering experiences are very enriching. In my role as a literature reviewer, I scanned through thousands of articles that were being published on the topic of the coronavirus. Moreover, my main duty was to edit the literature summaries written by student volunteers. The translation work, on the other hand, is very close to my heart as we could help patients directly through our translation. Patients who don’t speak English completely rely on the translated materials.

The most important things I learned was time management and coordinating with people from a different field. My volunteering experience during the pandemic was amazing. It helped me to keep myself sane during the tough hours. ”

 

Would you like to be featured in the next Outreach Highlight? Share your experience with CUPS by filling out the outreach and volunteering survey.

Outreach Highlight: Ben Rudshteyn

As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and take stock of everything that we’re grateful for during these uncertain times, CUPS would like to show gratitude to our hardworking postdocs. Every day this week, we will highlight a different postdoc and how they’ve lifted up their communities.

We continue our Outreach Highlight series with Benjamin Rudshteyn, a NIH postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia’s Chemistry Department. Ben shares how working with Columbia Splash and the Wave Learning Festival has provided an avenue to share his scientific interests with students while inspiring them to use scientific thinking in their everyday lives.

Benjamin Rudshteyn

“I’m Benjamin Rudshteyn. I am an NIH postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia’s Chemistry Department where I am studying computational chemistry. I work with Prof. Friesner on building up the accurate Auxiliary Field Quantum Monte Carlo technique towards the accurate prediction of the properties of metalloproteins.

I would like to inspire students to use scientific thinking in everyday life and to potentially study science in college. I volunteer with Columbia Splash and the Wave Learning Festival to teach students. They allow the freedom to teach how and what you want. I taught courses on chemophobia, solar fuels, and careers in science. The students offered feedback on how to improve my teaching and I got new ideas for courses e.g. how the scientific method should work and how sometimes our application of science fails it.

It was challenging to adapt to online teaching and not getting instant feedback from the room. It was rewarding to see the questions students posed to me and how they were engaging with the material.”

 

Would you like to be featured in the next Outreach Highlight? Share your experience with CUPS by filling out the outreach and volunteering survey.

 

Outreach Highlight: Azzurra Cottarelli

During quarantine, CUPS members found many different ways to reach out and connect with their communities. We’ve heard powerful stories of postdocs volunteering and reaching out to their communities during a time of need.

As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and take stock of everything that we’re grateful for during these uncertain times, CUPS would like to show gratitude to our hardworking postdocs. Every day this week, we will highlight a different postdoc and how they’ve lifted up their communities.

We continue our Outreach Highlight series with Azzurra Cottarelli, a postdoc in the Neurology Department. Azzurra shares her experience working survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through Domestic & Other Violence Emergencies at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and tells a moving story of how being a DOVE advocate has inspired her as a dance choreographer and a new mother.

 

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Azzurra Cottarelli

“I work on the Blood-Brain Barrier, the brain’s ultra specialized vascular system, trying to figure out how it is disrupted after an ischemic stroke and what can we do to fix it. In my free time I’m a dancer/choreographer and, recently, a mom.

I felt that something was missing. I was always busy with work or some other activity, but it felt like none of that could make the picture of who I was as a person complete. Then, the DOVE flier appeared.

DOVE (Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies) advocates are called when a survivor of sexual assault and/or domestic violence arrives in the ER. Our role is to provide emotional support to the survivor and mediate their interaction with the medical team, and the police, etc. We hope that in doing so, we can alleviate the burden of the traumatic experience that the survivor is living, and we can address them to specific support resources (shelters, counseling, legal assistance, etc.).

As advocates, our role is to be there for the survivor and to believe them. Our mantra is that “only the survivor is expert on her/his own life”. When we enter the room, we leave outside all our opinions and beliefs and we focus only on what is best for the survivor, even if that means doing something differently from what we would do. For example, sometimes it is safer for a survivor to go back home from their abuser. We may think it’s the wrong choice, but the survivor may know that will save his/her life. It takes a lot of practice to learn not to judge someone else’s decision only based on the information we have, but once you gain that skill you will find yourself practicing that in your everyday life. Also, it takes a lot of practice to learn to let go of the stories you hear once you go back home, but that’s also an invaluable life skill.

Last winter I choreographed a dance for the showcase of Dance Haven, CUMC dance club, inspired by my experience as an advocate. I had the chance to merge my two non-science-related passions, and my dancers became so involved in this cause that I decided to make a donation to Safe Horizon. I’m also involved in the training of the new classes of advocates. Although the advocacy program had to stop during the peak of the pandemic for safety reasons, we will be resuming remotely. I strongly believe that you do not prevent sexual assault and domestic violence by telling women to be more careful, but by raising better men. I now feel that I have one more reason to keep being an advocate: my 3 month old baby, Christopher. I hope my efforts will help him grow up to be a great man.”

 

Would you like to be featured in the next Outreach Highlight? Share your experience with CUPS by filling out the outreach and volunteering survey.

Outreach Highlight: Sandra Franco

During quarantine, CUPS members found many different ways to reach out and connect with their communities. We’ve heard powerful stories of postdocs volunteering with Columbia Researchers Against COVID-19, mentoring students online, writing op-eds to call for action and policy changes, and marching in demonstrations to demand racial justice and equality.

As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and take stock of everything that we’re grateful for during these uncertain times, CUPS would like to show gratitude to our hardworking postdocs. Every day this week, we will highlight a different postdoc and how they’ve lifted up their communities.

We begin our Outreach Highlight series with Sandra Franco, who is a postdoctoral research scientist in the Pathology and Cell Biology Department at CUIMC. Sandra will be starting a new position next month as Education and Outreach Coordinator at the New York Genome Center. Below, she shares her experience working with students as a volunteer for BioBus.

Sandra Franco

“My name is Sandra Franco. I love to talk about science with all audiences, but especially kids, since they can be so enthusiastic and ask very interesting and creative questions. That’s why I co-founded the Outreach & Communications Committee at CUPS, which I co-led until this past June. If you want to find me outside the lab, I’ll probably be having a beer in Gowanus or eating (on the patio) in the Lower East Side.

I’m really passionate about providing opportunities to underserved students to experience the thrill of discovery. During COVID-19 lockdown, it was clear to me that not all the students would have equal access to science resources and I wanted to do something to provide them with opportunities to engage with science, especially in those times where it is apparent the importance of having science education.

I volunteer with an organization called BioBus. BioBus is a lot of things at the same time: it is a bus, a lab and the door to a world full of science. BioBus has been bringing the joy of discovery to students in Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx for almost 10 years. Moreover, they have an amazing team of scientists that quickly reacted to the pandemic and lockdown and developed a whole set of online programs.

I volunteered with BioBus for two different activities. The first time, I participated in their popular “BioBus Student Town Halls.” In these interactive sessions, students can ask their questions regarding specific topics to scientists. Moreover, some council members also attended the Town Halls to explain how science is part of their daily work. I participated in a session on neuroscience and I was asked pretty difficult questions, such as “What is a thought?” or “Can our brain be rewired?”. I also volunteered in another activity called “Meet a Scientist”. The idea was to open an online space for middle school students to get to know a scientist, his/her research and ask him/her what they always wanted to know. And indeed I ended up with some interesting ideas about my project thanks to these amazing and curious kids that came up with several possibilities for the muscular dystrophy disease I am studying.

I guess the most challenging part of my volunteer experience was to develop scientific content that is accurate and precise but also interesting for a young audience. I believe this kind of activity makes us delve into our own research question, to try to answer things such as “Why do you study this?” or “Why is this important?”. I have to admit that at the beginning the task seemed difficult, but at the same type, it is an exercise that I recommend for everyone. Kids are so authentic that you get feedback immediately of what works and what doesn’t! Moreover, they are curious by nature, so even though I feared being the only one talking, we engaged in one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had about mitochondria and muscles.”

Would you like to be featured in the next Outreach Highlight? Share your experience with CUPS by filling out the outreach and volunteering survey.