Olga Gavrilenko,
Skoltech, Life Science track Graduate

from: Moscow, Russia,

joined the lab: autumn 2018,

worked on:
the Lipidomic project, MALDI-imaging and comparison of lipid brain composition among human and non-human primates,

previous education: MSU, Faculty of Physics, Department of Radiation Medicine


— Could you tell me about yourself, your research and your educational background?
— My name is Olga Gavrilenko, I am a recent Master graduate of the Skoltech Life Sciences program. My former background is physics and medical physics, I graduated from Moscow State University.

The project I have worked on is a mass-spectrometry based study of lipid distribution in the cortex of humans and closely related non-human primates. The cerebral cortex has distinct layers that can be clearly seen in the histology stained sections, and we were checking if lipid distribution in such specimens follows the same patterns. Turned out it does. We also checked if there were any differences in spatial lipid distribution between human, chimp and macaque brains.
— What are your main impressions of your experience here at the lab?
— When I came to the lab, it was quite surprising to me that a lot of independence is expected from the students. You were given the task and the general guidelines, but you also had to figure out a lot by yourself and work on your own. At the same time, the atmosphere is very friendly, and you can always come up to people and ask anyone any questions, and you will receive help. This is a really great thing.
— Describe your best day at the lab?
— A hypothetical day or a real day?
— Well, either of that… You could say hypothetically what was your ideal day, or was there a particular day that you remember at the lab…
— Okay, as I can imagine… I was doing both what is called wet lab work - the lab work you do with your hands - and also I did what they call dry work - processing some data on your computer. So the perfect day would be if I came to the lab, the experiment was over so I could see the results, and all of my wet works are in a perfect state, so I could receive very nice images… then I'm going to my laptop, doing some data processing, and the picture is exactly what I have anticipated, and everything matches in a very nice way. This doesn't happen too often! (laughs)
— What's the most interesting aspect of your work here?
— It was one of the first works of that kind, I didn't know if we would discover anything, and what we would discover. This was quite exciting!
— What was the main challenge in your work?
— I would say the time limitation. I came to the lab relatively late in comparison to other students - I was doing other work before. And a lot had to be done - I had to settle the staining protocols, figure out how to process the data they had so far, and not all of it was nice...
— Would you recommend this to other people?
— If any of the projects that the lab does is interesting to you, you should definitely at least come and talk, maybe you will find exactly the right job for yourself. The atmosphere in the lab is very friendly and encouraging, and you will have an opportunity to learn a lot.
— What advice would you offer to a prospective student?
— Start your work as early as possible, schedule your work. Report your results as frequently as possible. Reporting is a very important part, you may figure out that what you're doing is not completely correct, or the results are not so satisfactory and you have to change something in your experiment.
— May I also ask a question? How do you find neuroscience and making a master thesis in the direction of neuroscience? Why do you find neuroscience interesting (if you do)?
— (Laughs) Yes, I do find neuroscience quite exciting, because it deals with understanding how the brain works, and here in the lab we also study the human brain, which is very complex... Also, it is a great field because there is a lot of work to do, and they're probably will be a lot of work to do in the following years, as relatively little is known about the brain. Neuroscience is also quite a huge field, so you could switch between different areas of it in your career.
— How do you find your work on the landscape of neuroscience and what are you going to do further if you would like to continue? What are the perspectives?
— Well, of course, my contribution was quite tiny, but still we have discovered some basic things, like there are some common things and differences in the brain layer lipid profiles of human and primate brain, but we couldn't tell which lipids showed different distributions, and what is the origin of such differences. It would be interesting to answer these questions. The work will definitely be continued, and hopefully, we will come up with some worthy results.

Olga continues her research, being a part of the Prof. Khaitovich's lab. She searches for human unique lipidome features in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex of the Human Brain.
Interviewed by: John le John and Yevtam Talub
Material Publication: Yevtam Talub
CNBR Media, 2019