Fulbright to Germany
Sleep research is dream come true for senior
Stefana Albu admits it. As a psychobiology major, she often spends more time studying sleep than actually sleeping.
The Wheaton senior wouldn't have it any other way. Her late hours and research passion have just paid off in a big way. She has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Germany to join the research team at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. She also will take graduate level courses at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.
The Westford, Mass., resident will study the neurogenetics of sleep regulation. "Our sleep cycle is affected by a variety of factors and more recently in the scientific world experts have taken a molecular approach toward studying these factors by analyzing various genes and gene products," says Albu. The goal is to understand how chemicals and changes in the brain affect sleep patterns.
"By studying sleep processes on a molecular level, revolutionary therapeutic advances could potentially be made for treating diseases such as insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea and even related disorders such as anxiety and depression," she says.
Albu has been pursing her interest in sleep regulation since her junior year when she conducted research at the McCarley Sleep Lab division of Harvard Medical School/VA Healthcare System. That work allowed her to develop a hands-on understanding of neurobiological approaches. She continued her research there in the form of an honors thesis for her major at Wheaton. Through the experience she realized that she wanted to concentrate on sleep medicine and eventually study it at the graduate level.
The professors who recommended her for the Fulbright say she is perfectly suited for the research.
"She is the type of scholar I imagine the Fulbright program is meant to support," wrote Assistant Professor of Psychology Meg Kirkpatrick, her psychobiology adviser. "It is also the uniquely perfect combination of opportunities that I find most exciting. To imagine the chance for a successful German-speaking scholar to build on previous research experience in the neuro-mechanism of sleep in Munich seems the stuff of dreams."
Along with psychobiology, Albu is majoring in German. "I am often asked why I chose such an unusual combination of majors," she notes. "However there is a reason. Germany is technologically very competitive in the field of science comparable to the advances made in the USA, and currently German is the second most widely spoken language in the sciences.
"I've known from a young age that my interest lies in scientific inquiry; however, inquiring about your environment and culture is similarly as important. While taking biology courses abroad my sophomore year [at the University of Regensburg], I truly understood the necessity of being able to communicate your thoughts with those around you and it was then that my interest for the German language and culture was sparked."
At Wheaton, Albu has been involved in German related activities, including being president of the German Club, a German language tutor and German department assistant. She is also a member of the Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society executive board, and last summer she interned at the German Mission to the United Nations in New York City.
She is the 2009-2010 Jeannette Kittredge Watson Named Scholar, and she has won many honors over the past four years, including the 2006-2007 Federal Republic of Germany Consulate Excellence Award and the Hedda Korsch Prize in German.
Albu, who was born in Romania, attributes her success to the work ethic set by her parents and to the support she has received at Wheaton.
"I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of seven. My parents reshaped their reality so that my brother and I would have opportunities unheard of in Romania," says Albu. "With their ambitious and humble outlooks on integrating, they truly fulfilled the American Dream. It is their unceasing dedication and perseverance that has taught me that through hard work anything is possible."
As for Wheaton, she adds: "I would not be where I am today were it not for the small liberal arts setting and nurturing community here. It is with the guidance and support of such enthusiastic and devoted professors that I have come this far. Most importantly, my advisers [Assistant Professor of German] Tessa Lee and Meg Kirkpatrick, two of the most brilliant women I have met, both served as outstanding examples by continuing to motivate me to take my education one step further.
"Receiving the Fulbright still does not seem like a reality to me, the next morning I reread the letter a few times to make sure it wasn't just a dream," Albu says.