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Student Profile: Ellen Song

Ellen Song

Class of 2019 From Neighborville, Illinois Prospective specialties, psychiatry, neurology Summer research project: Involved Sprague Dawley rats to study 1) recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis (commonly happens in thyroid surgery as an accident), and 2) occlusion of the larynx (laryngospasm) which is a cause of death during epileptic seizures. Prinicple investigator: Dr. Mark Stewart

Ellen Song was one of several students whose summer research was funded by the Alumni Association-College of Medicine, SUNY Downstate.


How did you choose Downstate? I was working in New York City after college, and I wanted to go to school in the city, so I applied to all the schools in the city. Downstate is the only state school out of those schools so—

I also really liked that it serves underserved populations. I felt like the atmosphere here, when I interviewed, was very different from the other schools. I feel like I saw a lot of expensive new facilities, which sounds like a good thing, but it also means that’s where the priorities are. I saw a really new cancer hospital, for instance, but when I interviewed at Downstate – it serves a lot of uninsured people. It’s different.

Is that important to you? Downstate’s hospitals serve a lot of immigrants, and my parents were both immigrants (from Beijing, China). I’d like to work with immigrant populations later in my life. There are a lot of barriers, economic and language just to name two, for immigrants in getting healthcare and it’s definitely a need that people are becoming more aware of.

What were you doing for your year in New York, while you applied to medical schools? I was in consulting, for business, and it was not for me. It was just a first job out of college. I had studied math and I just went to the job fair. It wasn’t, “Do what you love,” necessarily. It was “Do whatever job you get.” So, I wanted to move back to Chicago, but I was only able to find a job in New York.

But you like New York, now! I love New York.

What did the summer research project involve? We were recording vocalization of the rats. This is the first time I’ve ever done animal research.

Ellen said the research, with policies to limit animal suffering, was an encounter with the ethics of research.

You learn a lot more working with animals than you would than if you were doing it on cells. Fortunately, there is also a lot of red tape in place to make sure the animals are treated well, like pain meds after surgery and maintaining a septic field, as you would for humans. It’s good that we’re not just doing research without caring about how the animals feel.

It’s never just science. There are ethics you need to consider when learning, or doing research. I wasn’t as aware of that dimension before this experience. When you’re just reading a textbook, you’re not aware of it.

The experience also illustrated the limitations of research.

Giving the example of rats, while they offer valuable information, they’re still very different from people. I know that sounds obvious, but a lot of things—you’ll think, “We’ll cut the nerve and it won’t recover, but then it does recover.” The research is valuable, but you realize, also, that there are limitations.

What do you look forward to in the new year? Well, not a lot of time for research.


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