Senior prepares for career in neuroscience

Robyn DâAgostino ’16Robyn D’Agostino’s decision to major in neuroscience in college began taking shape before she even began preschool—although she had no idea at the time.

“When I was 4, my great-grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “As I matured, I watched her progress through the stages. She is now late-stage, and 95 years old. I can remember where I was when I was told of her diagnosis, and from that moment on I have been passionate about the brain. I love learning about it, and it is what I ultimately wish to study.”

This past summer, the student-athlete spent several weeks enhancing her knowledge and exploring her interest as an intern at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., and by working as a lab assistant at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

At Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, D’Agostino was one of 32 students chosen to participate in the Summer Clinical Internship Program and one of two students assigned to the neurosurgery department. For six weeks she worked 10- to 15-hour shifts, observing patient-doctor interactions in clinic, hospital and operating-room settings. D’Agostino had the honor of shadowing a physician and pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Rachana Tyagi, as well as the chief of neurosurgical oncology. Currently, she is assisting in writing a case report with her mentor, Dr. Tyagi.

After the medical school internship, D’Agostino continued her experiential learning in the lab at Rutgers Cancer Institute, which focuses on lung cancer research. She had interned there in summer 2014 using a Wheaton stipend, and was then invited back and hired as an assistant.

At Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, she was able to hear patient histories, explanations of diagnoses and diseases, as well as observe and learn proper bedside manner. She viewed surgeries ranging from cranioplasties (the surgical repair of a defect or deformity of the skull) to transsphenoidal surgery (the removal of a pituitary gland tumor, where the surgeon gains access through the nasal cavity), and observed an intraoperative brain mapping, otherwise known as awake brain surgery.

“The most rewarding aspect of this opportunity was the solidification of my desires, goals and plans for the future,” said D’Agostino, a senior on the pre-med track at Wheaton. “Living the day-to-day life of a surgeon, being in a hospital setting, interacting with patients, and going home at the end of the day knowing that I saw someone ‘get better,’ begin the healing process, or gain hope did more than I could have ever imagined. I know that this is the path for my future.”

She was well prepared to work at the medical school by her Wheaton neuroscience courses (“Brain, Mind and Behavior,” “Quantitative Research Methods,” “Cognition” and “Behavioral Neuroendocrinology”). And her biology, chemistry and genetics labs taught her the techniques necessary for her work at the cancer institute.

D’Agostino, who is on the volleyball team, rounds out her Wheaton experience by being very involved on campus. She is an executive board member of the Pre-Health Society; member of the History Club and Community Service Council; and executive board member of Project Global Health, where she is the education and awareness chair. She also is an ambassador for the Admission Office and was inducted into the Psi Chi International Honor Society in 2014.

“The biggest lesson I learned during the summer experiences is that my desires are achievable,” said D’Agostino. “It can sometimes be hard to see past all the boundaries on the path to your dream, but seeing all the physicians, residents and students who have made it through shows me that it is attainable, and I can do it.”