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2019 NIMBioS-NSA REU Program Participant Profile:

Meagan Todd

M. Todd photo.

Hometown: Chesapeake, VA
School: Virginia Tech
Major/Degree and Year: Systems Biology; Senior
SRE Mentors: Jason Bintz, Suzanne Lenhart, Christopher Strickland
SRE Research Project: Modeling networking and opioid addiction

Why did you apply to the SRE program?
I applied to the SRE program because my major at Virginia Tech, systems biology, is centered around the interface between mathematics, computer science, and biology, and I was very excited about the opportunity to partake in a program with the same focus.

Quotation image.

If you choose to apply and are accepted into the program, you will learn so many valuable skills no matter which project you are selected to participate in. Quotation image.
– Meagan Todd, SRE participant

What is the purpose of your research?
Using an agent-based-model that we are building, our project team is investigating the effect of social interactions and social network structure on the spread of opioid addiction within a community. The opioid epidemic in the United States was deemed a public health emergency in 2017, after opioids were involved in 66% of all drug overdose deaths in 2016.

What does the research ultimately accomplish? What contributions to science and/or humanity does the research ultimately make?
It is our team's hope that our research will contribute to the successful decrease of opioid addiction in communities. We are analyzing the effect that social networks have on the overall success of an individual recovering and maintaining abstinence from opioid use, including how connections with highly positive, highly connected individuals, such as a counselor, might affect recovery.

Describe a typical day on the job.
In a typical day, my two teammates and I meet at the NIMBioS building in the morning, usually before a meeting with our mentors. With our mentors, we discuss what we accomplished in the previous days, what the next steps in the project based off those accomplishments are, and go over how we can help one another in reaching our goal together. We were all introduced to a new programming environment, NetLogo, at the beginning of this project, and have spent most of our time thus far familiarizing ourselves with the code and building a model.

Do you have an interesting "personal side" to your research experiences?
When I was 14 years old, I learned about scientific advancements being made with Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) in editing genetic information, and this is what made me interested in science and why I chose to pursue it for my education!

What were your favorite parts of the SRE program?
My favorite parts of the SRE program have been the people, the place, and the work. It's been amazing meeting so many other young people with common interests, and having the opportunity to explore Knoxville with them has been an unforgettable experience. Furthermore, partaking in such important research that could one day help thousands of people means everything to me and has made me excited for the future.

What new experiences did you gain that have helped you today?
Learning how to use a new program is always useful in my field, but learning it with my project teammates has been a great bonding experience for us. We learned very quickly how to communicate effectively with one another, which has helped us progress in our research.

What advice would you give someone who's interested in/curious about participating in the program?
I would tell them that every project at NIMBioS is conducting important research and being led by wonderful mentors who are excited to provide you with the help and knowledge you will need to succeed. If you choose to apply and are accepted into the program, you will learn so many valuable skills no matter which project you are selected to participate in. I would definitely recommend this program to others; I have loved getting to know the other undergraduates here, and the mentors have been wonderful.

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From 2008 until early 2021, NIMBioS was supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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