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Co-op in sleep lab ‘awakens’ student’s passion for medicine

Keeyon Olia’s co-op in a sleep lab at a big Boston hospital this fall awakened his passion for medicine and piqued his interest in pursuing a career in pediatric psychiatry.

Olia, S’18, worked as a clinical research student in the Sleep Inflammatory Systems Laboratory at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, collaborating with a team of nurses to conduct two National Institutes of Health-funded studies.

Both studies focused on analyzing the effect of sleep deprivation on the ability to process pain, one of which required healthy participants to stay in the research center for two, 19-day periods of time. It was for this study that Olia implemented a range of tests, from recording brain waves to measuring participants’ heart rates.

Olia also worked on two independent research projects, using lab data to examine the effects of sleep restriction on emotion regulation and long-term blood pressure regulation. Although his co-op ended in December, he has continued to pursue this work with the goal of presenting his findings at the 25th Annual Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference at UCLA this May.

“I had thought about being a doctor before this experience,” said Olia, a third-year psychology major, “but not as seriously and not with as much confidence.”

Keeyon Olia

“I can’t wait for everything that my future entails,” Olia said.

When he wasn’t working in the lab, Olia was attending popular conferences and shadowing doctors, including psychiatrists, neurologists, and sleep specialists. One conference was the Harvard Catalyst’s Child Health Symposium on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, a daylong meeting aimed at highlighting the emerging tools and technologies being used to combat the long-term health effects of adverse early-life exposure.

“I met so many pediatric doctors there and learned so much about pediatric medicine,” Olia explained. “It really motivated me to pursue the field from a clinical perspective as well as a research perspective.”

It was at this conference that Olia connected with Linda Van Marter, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who later encouraged him to apply for a competitive summer internship in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Newborn Medicine. The program, Olia explained, would sate his interest in medicine and research, giving him the chance to observe newborn care and conduct translational or epidemiological studies.

Back on campus, he’s looking forward to acing his pre-med classes with an eye toward applying to medical school. If it hadn’t been for the doctors whom he shadowed on co-op, he said, those who recalled for him the trials and tribulations of college academics, he might not be getting an ‘A’ in his chemistry course this semester.

“I have the capacity to succeed, but I need to put in the work and remain focused,” Olia explained, noting that he’s still waiting to find out if he’ll be picked for the summer internship. “It’s amazing how much I’ve grown over the past six months and now I can’t wait for everything that my future entails.”

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