I never thought that I would give a research presentation at a conference as a freshman.
A Neuroscience and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology double major, Rahul Bussa was ready for research when he came to UMass Amherst, and the university was ready for him by offering two important opportunities for him to dive into science: BioTAP and the Biology Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship (BURA) program.
“One of the biggest factors in my decision to come to UMass Amherst was the BioTAP program,” Rahul says. “I went to the info sessions during open houses, and the Biology Chief Undergraduate Advisor, Bruce Byers, made it sound really interesting and really challenging, which is exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to be in a place where I could be with other peers and work together toward the same goal.”
A competitive program offered to 48 first-year students offered through the Biology department, BioTAP is an intensive year for biological science majors. Focused around team-based learning, the students take class, study, and live together. “It gave me a strong foundation to start off my academic career,” Rahul says. “And making friends made the transition into college so much easier. The campus doesn’t seem that big after a while.”
Rahul found a research position by applying to the BURA program. He applied to three labs he was interested in and was selected by Rebecca Spencer, who studies sleep, in Psychological and Brain Sciences. “It was a surprise to me,” Rahul says. “I didn’t think I’d be doing research in a university lab just two weeks into my freshman year. Taking this opportunity was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
That year he worked on a senior honors thesis and was able to go to conferences and present a poster about their research. “I am so happy I came to UMass Amherst because there are numerous opportunities like these that I probably would not have gotten at other colleges,” he says. “I never would have thought that I would give a research presentation at a conference as a freshman.” Rahul studied emotional memory in younger adults and also plans to do his honors thesis in Spencer’s lab. “I love all the people there,” he says. “They’re really friendly. It’s pretty cool learning from them. It makes the lab a much better experience.”
Over winter break of his sophomore year, Rahul worked at Children’s Hospital in Boston doing data analysis for someone studying visual recognition circuits in the brain. He also got his EMT certification and took on shifts as an EMT.
Going to medical school has always been a goal, Rahul says—he’s pretty sure he wants to get an MD/MBA and become a brain surgeon—so he joined the Pre-Med Society as a freshman, where he’s now the treasurer and will be president next year. “We have six or eight meetings a semester,” he says. “We invite physicians and medical students to talk about how they got where they are today. It’s really inspiring. It’s motivation for us to work harder. And every April we host our annual Pre-Health Sciences Networking Night. Last year 150 students and 35 professionals showed up. They offer all kinds of networking, interning, and shadowing opportunities, while also giving great advice to all the students.”
Rahul plays intramural basketball, makes short films and videos for fun, and volunteers at a nearby assisted living facility. He’s also been on the CNS Student Leadership Committee since he was a freshman. “Participating in all the open houses for high school seniors is my favorite part,” he says. “I was the first one in my family to go to college in the US and when I was a senior in high school I had no one to direct me. So I really enjoy giving advice to incoming freshmen. They seem so appreciative.”
It’s the people that make UMass Amherst such a fantastic place, Rahul says. He finds building relationships with professors a lot easier than he’d anticipated. “Yes there are some big classes,” Rahul says. “But the professors are always there for you, to help you make the most of your academic experience. They set aside a ton of office hours. You get a lot of one-on-one attention. And the students are always supportive of each other, no matter where you go. The student body and the professors make UMass a place I am happy to call home. ”