“Science doesn’t sleep,” M.D./Ph.D. candidate Matt Kraushar says. He learned that lesson in a neuroscience lab at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and used it to forge through long, demanding days and nights when Superstorm Sandy struck, devastating his Brooklyn community of Red Hook.
Science Doesn't Sleep
Days, nights, weekends, holidays, and even New Year’s Eve. Kraushar spends more time in the lab in the Research Towers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick than at his home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, although both spots figure prominently in his life. Those long lab hours prepared him well for the unexpected role of rescuer during Superstorm Sandy. Challenge and exhaustion defined his three-week stint as “Medical Matt,” but that story comes later.
Kraushar grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, and then attended Columbia University in Manhattan to study arts and humanities. But a first-year course challenged him to think about the biological underpinnings of complex human behaviors.
“How do you link a particular behavior to a brain circuit?” he mulled. He thought he could sink his teeth into that kind of question. So, he “tried out” research during his sophomore year, working in a molecular genetics neuroscience lab, and found he liked it. That same year he was shaken when a childhood mentor was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy (MSA), a devastating neurological disorder, inspiring Kraushar to think about a career in medical neuroscience. He then began clinical research in the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospitals, and discovered that he liked working directly with patients too.
So he chose a neuroscience premedical track as his undergraduate major—combining his newfound love of research and his love of hands-on medicine.
Where’s the Good Science?
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2008, he worked full-time for two years in a lab while also continuing his research in the hospital. When he began applying to graduate schools, he chose only dual-degree (M.D./Ph.D.) programs in neuroscience, and then asked: “Where’s the good science?” The training, skills, and laboratory focus of Mladen-Roko Rasin, an assistant professor of neuroscience and cell biology and the principal investigator of a research lab at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, impressed him.
“When I interviewed here, I also saw that the support system for graduate students is very strong,” he says. “I met the kinds of people who would go to the ends of the earth for you.”
Kraushar started the physician part of his training in August 2010. After completing two years at the medical school and passing the first part of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (known as the Boards), he switched gears and moved into the first year of his Ph.D. training at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He rotated through multiple labs, but knew exactly which one he wanted to join.
This is a “young, high energy, hard-working lab that does rigorous research,” he says, referring to Rasin’s lab. Researchers there examine “how the fetal cortex, a part of the brain that governs complex behaviors, gets wired and built during fetal development and what happens after birth if the processes didn’t occur properly.”
When Kraushar completes his Ph.D., he will return to medical school to finish the last two years. He is thinking of becoming a pediatric neurologist, a commitment of approximately three additional years of residency training after medical school, which would prepare him to do hands-on medical care as well as direct a research lab.
Not Enough Hours in the Day…or Night
When Superstorm Sandy slammed into Red Hook causing massive flooding and devastation, Kraushar shouldered overwhelming and unforeseen responsibilities—but he felt he had no choice. Elderly and disabled residents of high-rise public housing were stranded without prescription medicines for chronic diseases and without anyone to check on them and deliver emergency supplies.
With no power or working phones, elevators had stopped running and these vulnerable residents had no way to communicate with the outside world. Kraushar organized volunteers who combed through the neighborhood and ran up and down flights of stairs, knocking on every door to check on all residents, evaluate the urgency of their needs, and deliver needed medications. He also activated 911-emergency medical services, when it was necessary.,
“There is a bond you forge with your community during a crisis,” he says, “and you are reminded of what being a doctor is all about.”
Now, when Kraushar encounters tough moments in his training, he says it is memories of Sandy that inspire him to keep going. “The point of all of this education is to make someone better—it’s not about getting an M.D. or a Ph.D.,” he ruminates. “It’s easy to lose sight of that.”