This is the third post in our “Meet a Scientist” series. Next up is Caitlin McMenamin, a 3rd-year graduate student in the Anatomy program.
Let’s get to know you a bit! Where are you from, what did you study in college, and what is your role at Penn State College of Medicine?
Watch out — Jersey girl coming through! I grew up on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a place where many people vacation, but I call home year round. For undergrad, I decided to explore below the Mason-Dixon line and attended James Madison University (Go Dukes!). I graduated with a major in Kinesiology and Biology, with a concentration in Exercise Science. I then came to Penn State College of Medicine to pursue a PhD in Human Anatomy. I am a rising 3rd year grad student in a lab in the Neural and Behavioral Sciences Department. So, I really consider myself an anatomist and neuroscientist.
Why did you decide to become a scientist?
I’m not going to lie—if I were asked 5 years ago where I thought I would be and what I would be doing, it would not have been this. I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist for the longest time. It turned out I HATED it! After taking Anatomy & Physiology class in undergrad, I fell in love with the human body. It really is the most amazing thing. I then began searching for graduate schools to continue studying this newfound passion. I was not looking forward to doing research when I began the program in Hershey. Little did I know I would fall in love with that too! There are so many questions that have yet to be answered in science and we are sent on a mission to find the missing puzzle pieces. Research really is fun and everyday is one step closer to finding answers.
What do you research at Penn State, and why is it important?
My thesis work is on how a perinatal high fat diet affects central vagal neurocircuits supplying the GI tract. It has been known that a maternal high fat diet predisposes offspring to obesity. Most of these patients have gastrointestinal problems as well, oftentimes exacerbating the outcome of obesity and associated diseases such as Type II diabetes. I focus on the area of the brainstem that supplies motor innervation to the GI tract and how the diet affects the function of these nerves in rats. A typical day in the lab is anywhere from recording membrane properties from neurons via electrophysiology, to performing surgeries and microinjections into areas of the brainstem, to doing immunohistochemistry to examine different markers in the CNS. Gotta keep it interesting, right?
What are some of your hobbies outside the lab?
I’m an avid runner/gym rat who works out really hard to then sit down and eat a whole cake. I love going to the shooting range, then getting a pedicure. Hiking. Paddleboarding/kayaking are activities that living near salt water has instilled in me. I also love dancing anywhere, any time. Is napping a hobby? If so — then yes, that too.
Tell us three random facts about yourself!
- I was president of the sewing club in high school—yes, that’s a thing.
- Pear-scented anything makes me happy.
- Condiments freak me out.
Stay tuned for a new interview next week! And if you’re a Penn State College of Medicine scientist interested in participating, e-mail Lions-Talk-Science@psu.edu for details!