Alexandra Knoppel ’10 has not graduated yet, but her resume already reads like a graduate student’s. A psychology major pursing a pre-med degree, Knoppel learned in the fall that a major psychology journal would be publishing an article she co-authored with Gretchen Gotthard, a former Randolph College professor.
“This is something that is unheard of in the undergraduate world,” said Knoppel, who hopes the accomplishment will help her get into medical school.
Beth Schwartz, a Randolph psychology professor who has also worked with Knoppel, said the College’s research program provides students with unique opportunities for authorship and experience. “As an undergraduate, this will clearly set Alex apart from her peers when she is applying for graduate programs and jobs,” Schwartz said.
Knoppel’s and Gotthard’s article is featured in the January issue of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. The journal is a prominent academic publication in the field of neurobiology. The paper, “Cycloheximide produces amnesia for extinction and reconsolidation in an appetitive odor discrimination task in rats,” focuses on a new aspect of Gotthard’s previous research studying memory.
Knoppel began working in the laboratory with Gotthard as a first year student. As the research progressed and her skills improved, she took on more responsibility. For the research, Gotthard and Knoppel trained rats to find hidden cereal in scented sand and to discriminate between two odors, cocoa and cinnamon.
They then blocked protein synthesis and extinguished the digging behavior to determine whether proteins were necessary for the extinction of memories.
Most current research uses fear-based testing and looks at the acquisition of memories rather than the extinction of memories.
“We really filled in a gap in the literature,” Knoppel said. “This research is important because if we can understand how memory works and the different kinds of memory, we may be able to understand and treat memory disorders.”
For Knoppel, the research has added to a growing list of real world experiences she has accumulated while at Randolph College.
In addition to numerous presentations of this research at conferences and symposiums, she has also interned in the neonatal intensive care unit of Lynchburg’s Virginia Baptist Hospital. Once a month, she also returns home to Northern Virginia to work as a medical scribe in the emergency room of her local hospital.
After graduation, she wants to work in France for a year before pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor and specializing in emergency medicine.
“You can help people in so many ways,” she said. “But as a doctor, you don’t just treat people. You also have an impact on their family and friends. Having the ability to touch so many people’s lives would truly be an honor.”