Last Call: Mark Sabbagh

As the semester progresses at the speed of light, the senior class is beginning to make peace with that fateful day in May: Commencement. Until the class of 2012 up and leaves us, BlogDH wants to highlight all the interesting things the class has been up to. To this end, we are (re)starting a series, Last Call, featuring seniors reflecting on their experiences at Brown. Each featured senior will tag another senior for the next installment. Find this year’s other “Last Call” chain here.

Then + Now

People might know me as… a coordinator of Brown Science Prep or that creepy Neuro dude with a beard that already somehow knows too much about you.

Ralanda’s Question: Brown Bares, Spotted at Brown or Brown FML? Is this even a question? Brown Bares, hands down. Expression at its finest. Although I guess Brown FML is a great source for first world problems.

How did you get involved with SciencePrep? I’ve always enjoyed science and teaching, so I decided to join BSP freshman year. Junior year, I became a coordinator of the program because I loved it so much. It’s been a phenomenal experience. Probably my most rewarding one at Brown. There is something extremely beautiful in seeing a student finally grasp an idea, that “Aha!” moment, and this realization that comes with it: “Yes, I can do this. I am capable of something.” Honestly, I love the idea of mentoring, not necessarily teaching facts, but rather empowering people and making them realize we’re on the same level. I don’t treat the high schoolers like students, but rather friends. And this is powerful. People don’t realize the huge impact you can have with words; a simple friendly conversation telling someone they are capable of anything really is enough to make a difference. I have a potential within me to create — to tell a story — and you have that same potential. If I want anything out of this life, it’s to make others realize this potential, discover a passion, and have fun telling their story. We should all being do this. Get out there and mentor someone.

What is your favorite experiment to do? In life or BSP? Probably mixing Mentos and coke. It’s exciting and pretty much sums up basic experimentation: What happens when I mix these two things?

Why neuroscience? I think we’re all striving to understand ourselves in one way or another. For me, science has been an incredible avenue for that. Physics and chemistry can explain the natural world — biology, the human body, amongst other things. I find it incredibly beautiful that we can ask these questions and then through simple, elegant experimentation derive answers. Neuroscience fascinates me because, in many ways, it’s the final frontier into understanding who we are. How does my brain produce a sense of self? What governs our behaviors? At the same time, I love genetics. I’m convinced genes control our behaviors. Well nature vs. nurture, you might say. But nurture is basically epigenetics (fascinating stuff, look it up, I wish I had space to explain), which relies on the underlying genetic code. I also love “genetic trickery.” That is using existing biological systems to manipulate an organism’s genome to investigate a hypothesis. We can now create “knockout” mice that lack a certain gene, and then study behavioral outcomes. I’m rambling. I chose to study neuroscience because people are strange, and I want to know why.

What was your thesis about? The title was “The role of Sodium/Hydrogen Exchanger 9 in Brain Development and Disease.” Essentially, I was studying a gene implicated in autism, ADHD, and epilepsy. Specifically, I determined where in the brain of mice the protein product of this gene was expressed. The driving motivation behind this illustrates the power of human genetics. In the absence of any other clues, determining and then studying the genes that are mutated in these disorders allows us to gain insights on their possible pathogenesis. For example, if the protein I was studying showed restricted expression to specific brain regions or subsets of neurons, we could infer those areas or neurons are involved in seizure regulation, social behaviors, motor activity, and/or attention modulation and may be disrupted in the aforementioned neurodevelopmental disorders.

In my time at Brown, I am most proud of… People have said kind things about me. I don’t know why. I must be doing something all right. I guess I’m proud to have made some people comfortable.

On a Friday night, you might find yourself… Crying and/or masturbating. Too much? Bad joke? I don’t know. Probably at some party, with too many people and loud music blaring in my ears, preventing me from carrying on any meaningful conversation with anyone, wondering why I’m even there and why others are there when I’m pretty sure the majority of us would rather be doing something else.

The best class/professor at Brown is… Hmm. For people who love science, I would say molecular genetics. It was taught by professors Judith Bender, Mark Johnson, and Eric Morrow. Incredible people, passionate about what they do, both science and teaching. You’ll learn some beautiful techniques used for discovering genetic contributions to vital biological functions and disease. You’ll basically see scientific creativity at its finest. For fans of literature, I highly recommend The Fiction of Relationship, a comparative literature class taught by Professor Arnold Weinstein. Fucking incredible class. It changed the way I view my interactions with both people and texts. Not to mention Weinstein is a fantastic professor. He understands how to teach and read literature. Rather than be pedagogical, he simply discusses (extremely eloquently, I might add) what he got out of reading a text. Also, only take it as a senior. That way you get to be in the discussion section led by him.

Three things you wish you knew freshmen year…

  1. Everything that is possible at Brown. There is a vast potential of opportunity here, and you need to realize that as early as possible. If you have an idea, pursue it. The resources are available here. Be bold. Approach a professor. They want to talk to you. You want to start a group, no reason not to. Life is boring and frustrating until you realize you can actually do something. Don’t be a passive student.
  2. That no one has any idea what is going on. In other words, don’t worry about how you’re being perceived by others. People are naive and just as confused as you. Just live your damn life.
  3. Girls want to be asked out on dates. I’ve heard it from many girls here are dissatisfied with the male population. There are many beautiful, intelligent, passionate girls on this campus; if you fancy one of them, don’t hesitate, make your feelings known and ask her out. Be spontaneous. I mean, who doesn’t want to be wooed in the end? I know I do, but our shitty culture puts the pressure on dudes. Really, I guess what I’m trying to say is that regardless of how we think it’s supposed to work, if you have feelings (guys and girls), then express them. Why sit around waiting for something special to happen when you can make it happen yourself?

Ratty vs. V-Dub… Ratty. Way more social.

One thing you wish you had done… Joined some performance group. Or experienced love. But I guess I have plenty of time to do both.

After graduation, you plan to… I’m matriculating into Johns Hopkins’ Medical Scientist Training Program to pursue a combined MD/PhD degree. It’s a fantastic program, with medical school tuition and stipend fully funded by the NIH. Anyone remotely interested in scientific research and medicine should consider it.

Who are you tagging next? Gabe Paley. He’s got a story to tell.

Next up: Gabe Paley
Mark’s Question: A day with Ruth Simmons — what do you do?

Leave a Reply