Charlene N. Rivera Bonet

Personality and Affective disorders in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?

Hello! My name is Charlene and I am a Latina in STEM. I am a 5th year PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I work in two different projects that share the same goal. In general, I use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and behavioral tests to investigate brain connectivity in relation to depression and the personality trait neuroticism. For my main project, I study depression and neuroticism in people with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE), which is a seizure disorder. People with TLE have a higher incidence of depression and higher neuroticism due to the focus of their seizure. In my research, I aim to understand the neural basis of this co-morbidity. For my second project, I study the effects of brief increase of a steroid hormone called cortisol in brain connectivity in women with depression.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

What my week looks like depends on which project I am working on and what stage of the project I am on. Typically, a week includes reading papers related to my field, preparing MRI images to be analyzed, writing scripts, and analyzing the data. There is always a lot of troubleshooting for most steps. My favorite weeks are the ones that include writing about the findings or preparing them to be presented in a conference or meeting.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?

I’ve really enjoyed doing science outreach and mentoring underrepresented minorities. I have had the opportunity to visit schools and participate in science festivals to teach kids about the brain. I’ve also mentored undergraduate students in both research studies and professional development. Sparking an interest in science in kids, and motivating underrepresented minorities to pursue a career in STEM are some of the things I’ve enjoyed the most.

What’s been the most challenging part of it?

The most challenging part of my PhD has been learning how to adapt and re-direct when things don’t go as expected. That has been true for both the scientific research but also the path through my graduate studies. Not everything goes as expected, sometimes experiments fail or grants get rejected, but even those moments are teaching experiences I have used to grow as a scientist.

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
My favorite part about science is communicating it! After I finish my PhD I would like to get a job as a science writer, so 5 years after completing my PhD I see myself working for a company or organization writing about their science to the general public.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Don’t compare your path to others, each path is unique and success looks different for everyone!

What makes your university a good place to study?

My university fosters collaboration, which has allowed me to integrate multiple areas I like into one research project with the guidance of multiple faculty members. UW Madison also provides space to grow in different areas other than research such as teaching, outreach and science communication by offering certificates and minors.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time I enjoy hiking, playing volleyball, dancing and singing karaoke.

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