By Sydney Collins, ‘20 

You would think that there is no connection between a rodent and a human, however, Milly Brooks, ‘18, has discovered that is not case.

“We use rats a lot in research and it’s really funny because rats are actually really similar to humans in terms of their bodily processes and their physiology,” Brooks said.

At this year’s Student Symposium, Brooks is presenting a projected entitled “Investigating the Long-Term Neurobiological Effects of Socioeconomic Status Utilizing Rat Models.” She was inspired to focus on this research topic after her neuroscience research lab professor, Dr. Kelly Lambert, undertook a similar study that examined how socioeconomic status affects rodents’ maternal responsiveness.

“Dr. Lambert put the rats in groups and restricted resources so they had the same water, food, and things like that, but they didn’t have enough bedding or extra things that the moms use to take care of pups,” said Brooks. “What she found out was that the moms have decreased maternal responsiveness if they come from a lower socioeconomic status environment.” 

For Brooks’ project, she took the baby rats that grew up in those lower socioeconomic conditions and observed if the way that their mothers were affected by a restricted environment also impacted them. In doing this, Brooks specifically looked to see if the baby rats have decreased coping, cognitive, and social abilities as a result of poor living conditions. Through her research, she discovered that growing up in lower socioeconomic conditions with a mother’s decreased maternal responsiveness negatively affects someone’s cognitive and social abilities.  

Ultimately, this research is not about rats. Brooks began this project because she was interested in how someone’s socioeconomic status can affect someone later in life in terms of their academic performance and ability to connect with people. 

“In today’s day and age, we fail to see the significance of how important early life experiences are to someone’s long term development and how that can really impact them,” Brooks said. “This research has great implications because it highlights the fact that there are a lot of things we need to do to make sure kids have a positive and nurturing environment when they’re younger to further their success later on.” 

Brroks has participated in the Symposium two times before and sees value in taking advantage of an opportunity to perfect her knowledge of her research and presenting skills. She wants to go to medical school after taking a gap year and believes that her participation in the Symposium has better prepared her for the intense study of medical school. 

“I think it’s particularly important for med school because you do have to know a lot and just knowing that I have that understanding, that I’ve been able to cultivate it with the Symposium, has been really helpful,” Brooks said. “With all of my research experiences, I learned time management and how to pay attention to detail.”

In addition to her research experience, Brooks attributes her success of attaining these tools to other programs offered at the University. Brooks’ participation in URISE, a pre-first year program, and in SMART, a first year integrated science course, gave her the fundamental skills she needed in order to succeed in her research. SMART was also her first introduction to public health that helped spearhead her interest in becoming a doctor.

“I didn’t really know that public health was what I wanted to go into until SMART, so it really helped propel me in that way,” she said. “Then in doing URISE, I gained research skills like paying attention to details, searching literature, and developing my own projects, all of which have proven to be really important.” 

As Brooks looks back on her experiences in college, she appreciates the programs that have inspired her future scientific endeavors as well as the mentors who have guided her on her career path. Ultimately, she believes that her time at UR has prepared her well for life after college. 

“UR is one of those schools that just has a lot of resources available to you and because it’s so small, you also have every faculty member at your side,” Brooks said. “Being here at UR I’ve really had the chance to take advantage of a lot of opportunities like traveling with my SSIR, learning about different cultures, being more open-minded, and just goodness.”