Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson jokes about how many times she changed her major, but her path to academic success illustrates the beauty of Carolina’s General College and the many research opportunities available to students.

The senior from Barnardsville, N.C., remembers her first two years of classes in the General College.

“It’s sad, actually,” says Johnson. “My academic worksheet looks kind of crazy. I think I was an art history major, then studio art, then classics, then biology.”

What happened to make her want to double major in biostatistics and biology?

“I tried to get in a biology 101 class, but it was full, so I contacted the honors biology professor Jean DeSaix,” says Johnson. “A seat opened up in the class, and I really loved it.”

Her newfound fascination with biology led to field research in Colorado with UNC biology associate professor Keith Sockman and other researchers. Johnson then looked for work in a biology laboratory. She noticed on the undergraduate research opportunities database that the Behavioral and Pharmacological Neurodynamics Lab run by Donita Robinson, Ph.D., needed a student assistant. Johnson applied, toured the lab, interviewed and was hired.

She’s not only helped further Robinson’s research to indentify brain functions and circuitry that might be therapeutically targeted to treat people with alcohol use disorders, but published her own research in spring 2012.

Based in part on her UNC lab work, Johnson landed a summer 2012 job as a statistical programming intern at Biogen Idec, a company that focuses on treatments for neurological disorders.

Johnson’s next steps on her path include the biostatistics program. “I knew how amazing UNC’s school of public health is, and I looked into what I could do there,” says Johnson of the biostatistics department.

She will apply for graduate schools during her last year as an undergraduate. Johnson is interested in studying epidemiology, especially of drug abuse and how the interaction of genetic, social and environmental factors affects the prevalence of drug abuse among different populations. She plans to apply for part-time or volunteer positions with a biostatistics focus.

Published September 12, 2012.

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