News & Media

January 16, 2015

McEwen '15 Engages in Projects at Commonwealth Research Center

Chemistry and psychology major Joseph McEwen '15 has pursued his passion of biochemistry and neuroscience as an intern at Beth Israel's Commonwealth Research Center for the last three years.

College is a time of exploration - and for those who already have a passion, it's a time to go hard at nurturing and pursuing that interest. Chemistry and psychology major Joseph McEwen '15 did just that. Without hesitation, he dove into his field of interests three years ago upon entering Emmanuel. Through dedication and hard work, he has acquired (and held onto) an impressive research internship during his college career. 

"I want to do biomedical research. Neuroscience is what I'm most passionate about. I feel there is still so much unknown about neurodegenerative diseases, and I think that they can be explained by biochemistry and psychology because it has to do with the brain," McEwen said. "That's why I want to focus in on that, because it incorporates two of my academic interests, and hopefully, we can better understand what is causing these at a psychology and biochemistry level to form new treatments of prevention."

Research is a primary career goal for McEwen, which explains why he started pursuing it during his first year at the College. After doing well in a psychology course, McEwen was invited by Associate Professor of Psychology Michael Jarvinen to join a research group. He began training for the group during the beginning of his sophomore year. Over the last few years, the senior has participated in a variety of different projects including cell culturing and staining. With two other students, McEwen conducted behavioral research by observing the startle response of mice in a non-evasive way. Through a grant obtained by Dr. Jarvinen, McEwen and the other students were able to loan special equipment needed to execute their research.

"I learned a lot about programming this new device. We ran all the protocols. We were able to start and finish a research project - that was the first time I had done that, and I thought that was pretty cool," McEwen said.

At the end of his sophomore year, McEwen landed himself an internship position as a research volunteer at the Commonwealth Research Center, a program of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

Initially, McEwen was hired for the recruitment department, where he enlisted people for research studies. Once he established his presence and proved his strong work ethic and enthusiasm for the work, the soon-to-be-graduate observed clinical interviews with human subjects and worked with a principal investigator. While at his internship, McEwen learned that the research center is concerned with prevention, as well as treatment when it comes to illnesses. He believes their focus is an interesting perspective to have on illnesses and the future of treatment.

"I have built up a good relationship with everyone there. I've had my hand in variety of different projects, I got to explore my interests and decide in what direction I wanted to go, and they were very supportive of that," he said. "It's been a pleasurable off-campus experience."

With the exception of one semester, McEwen has been a volunteer at the Center since his sophomore year. He has made connections with the faculty at the Center and  has enjoyed working with his supervisor, who has opened a lot of doors for him. Working at the Center also helped him realized he didn't want to attend medical school (for now, anyway).

"I think it's just as important to realize what you don't want to do as much as what you do want to do. I found that maybe medicine isn't the next step for me, but I still really enjoy doing research," he said.

Up for the challenge, McEwen has applied to several neuroscience Ph.D. programs in the northeast to help facilitate his goal to be researcher; however, this isn't his only career ambition. After establishing himself in the field, McEwen would like to be a college professor.

To achieve this dream, he became a Resident Assistant, Peer Tutor and a First-Year Seminar Fellow. He says all three positions have given him insight on understanding the dynamic of how college students think and behave.

"I haven't swayed yet," he said. 

As a Peer Tutor, McEwen helps students study for two psychology courses and four chemistry courses. Not only has the tutoring helped McEwen learn how to become a good teacher, but it has helped him in his current, more-advanced courses. By being refreshed in basic chemistry, he is able to draw connections from the old and new material and apply it in creative ways that other people may not think of immediately, because it's fresh in his head.

McEwen was asked by Dr. Jarvinen to be a fellow for his First-Year Seminar class. As a junior, McEwen thought it would be a good opportunity to see what it was like to be in a classroom. He guest lectured a few times and was a primary resource, besides Dr. Jarvinen, for students.

"I thought it was really valuable. I established a connection with students and I was able to help them in their decision-making process about what they'd like to study. It wasn't just about the academics, it was about their transition into college," he said.

As for his internship, McEwen said it has been one of the most valuable parts of his education, because it has drawn the connection between what is learned in the classroom to an applicable setting, which is representative of his future. 

Although his main focus is furthering his education, McEwen said if graduate school isn't in the cards yet, he plans to work at a lab, similar to what he does now for his internship. His supervisor told him he should consider applying as a research assistant  if his schooling is delayed, since the Center recently received more grants to pursue new studies. 

 "I firmly believe that you have to take advantage of your time in college, and to some that means having a lot of time to spend with friends and being in the moment as much as you can, but for me it's taking advantage of what this school and area has to offer that is really going to help me, my career and my life," McEwen said. "I don't regret any decision that I've made in regards to being involved. I think that I have learned something and have been rewarded in every involvement that I've had."