Interview with Undergraduate Major and Fulbright Recipient Robin Blades

Published: August 8, 2019

We would like to congratulate one of our recently graduated Comparative Literature undergraduate students, Robin Blades, for receiving a Fulbright award to do research in Peru during the upcoming year! Robin majored in Comparative Literature and Cognitive Science and is interested in mental health. 

We had the great pleasure and opportunity to interview Robin about her research, professional goals, and upcoming Fulbright year. Here’s what she had to say:


What is the topic of the research project that you will be conducting during the Fulbright year? 

I will be analyzing the effect of stress on patients with neurocysticercosis. Neurocysticercosis (NCC) is a parasitic infection in the brain caused by the larval pork tapeworm Taenia solium. When ingested, its eggs can pass through the blood-brain barrier, creating cysts in the brain. Chronic calcified neurocysticercosis is a root cause of epilepsy. An estimated 1.7 to 3 million people suffer from NCC worldwide. It is the primary source of adult-onset epilepsy in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Over 80% of persons with epilepsy live in low income countries, and 30% of these cases are likely due to NCC. Although seizures are the most common symptom of NCC, patients also present with headaches, hydrocephalus, neurological deficits, and altered mental states. The prevalence of NCC is likely underestimated; cure rates continue to be low; and therapy is often unavailable. Large gaps remain in our clinical understanding of the epileptogenesis, seizure semiology, and pathophysiology of NCC. Thus, treatment tends to be focused on seizure management as opposed to full remediation. My research will explore a potential cause of seizure activity and further international support for neurocysticercosis.

How did you first become interested in this research topic and project? 

I worked in Professor Shattuck’s lab at UCLA, where they were collaborating with a group in Peru to investigate the cause of seizures in patients with neurocysticercosis.

What do you hope to get out of your Fulbright experience? 

I hope to learn as much as I can about Peru and specifically the indigenous population suffering from neurocysticercosis. I spent two years studying their MRI scans remotely, and I am really excited to have this opportunity to finally interact with them in person. I also want to become fully fluent in Spanish and read more Peruvian literature while I’m there. 

Why did you choose Comparative Literature as one of your majors? 

I’ve always loved to read and wanted to improve my own writing abilities. I also knew I was going to major in Cognitive Science, and I thought these two majors would complement each other really nicely in that Cognitive Science explores psychology from an objective, scientific perspective and Comparative Literature offers a more subjective, introspective approach to the human mind.

How has Comparative Literature influenced your research interests and projects? 

Comparative Literature has opened me up to new perspectives and worlds of literature that I had never been exposed to before. Reading cuban literature inspired me to study abroad in Cuba and deepen my understanding of Latin American literature by reading in the original language. When I started working in a lab, I wanted to work on the collaborative project with Peru. 

What do you hope to do after completing your Fulbright? (if you already know!)

I hope to go to grad school for Neuroscience!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I really recommend for future students to try out some of the research programs at UCLA. You can pick your own project and get paid to pursue whatever you are most interested. I highly recommend!