A Bemidji State University junior is one of just 120 U.S. undergraduates accepted into a summer biomedical research program at the Mayo Clinic from among more than 1,400 applicants.
Daniela Maltais, a psychology major from Bemidji, is one of two students who will conduct research this summer under the direction of Dr. Susannah J. Tye, director of the translational neuroscience laboratory at the Mayo Clinic Depression Center in Rochester, Minn. Tye specializes in depression and bipolar disorder, and Maltais will assist with her research into triggers for depression and resistance to commonly prescribed antidepressants.
For Maltais, receiving a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Mayo is the next step on a career path that started when she was a child. Growing up in Bemidji, she lived with her great grandfather, a World War II veteran who has post-traumatic stress syndrome and experienced schizophrenic episodes late in life. She began interpreting meetings between English-speaking psychiatrists and therapists and her mother and great grandfather, who spoke Spanish, when she was just 7 years old. Maltais was born in Colombia and moved to Bemidji as an infant.
“I had to be prepared, and I had to know what the terms meant in order to help my mom and help the doctors know how to treat him better,” Maltais said.
In her internship application, Maltais shared these experiences and explained how they piqued her interest in psychology. She has pursued that interest at BSU with an uncommon passion. As a birthday present to herself, she purchased a diagnostic and statistical manual that was referenced in the textbook for her course in abnormal psychology.
Tye said that while reviewing student applications, she noted Maltais’ keen passion for developing her research skills and interest in biological psychiatry.
“Her research application was excellent,” Tye said. “Her passion for research and her drive to make a difference in people’s lives was clearly evident in her application. I felt compelled to fulfill her with this opportunity to gain experience and build a foundation in this field.”
Maltais is a student in the BSU Honors Program and a participant in the McNair Scholars program, which helps first-generation and underrepresented students gain research experience and pursue post-graduate degrees in science, technology, mathematics and technology. The Mayo Clinic opportunity was the first internship she found during her research. Thanks to encouragement from McNair staff and Dr. Travis Ricks, assistant professor of psychology, she went for it despite some initial doubts and hesitation.
“Why not?” she said.
Maltais said she was dumbfounded when she received an acceptance letter.
“I freaked out, to be honest,” she said. “I went down to the psych department, and I asked Dr. Ricks, ‘Can you please read this for me? I think my English is failing.’ And so he read it, and I cried.”
Maltais said her involvement in campus activities and her coursework at BSU has her well-prepared for the opportunities ahead. She has created experiments in a lab setting as a member of the university’s undergraduate Cancer Research Team and has done psychology research on heart rate and cognition, human-animal interaction and false memory.
When she began her studies, Maltais was set on pursing a doctorate in clinical psychology but has since become intrigued by neuroscience, with an assist from the fictional neurosurgery staff at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.
“I’d like to say I read a text and that completely changed my mind but, to be honest, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ helped a tad,” she said.
Maltais’ interest in the ABC television series led her to explore the neuroscience field and, eventually, to enroll in a behavioral neuroscience class. She was immediately hooked.
Maltais will have one year left at Bemidji State after completing her Mayo Clinic internship, and she is unsure where her adventures will take her next. She is considering graduate programs at Mayo, the McKnight Brain Institute in Florida, the University of Pittsburgh Neuroscience Center and the University of San Diego.