As a first-year medical school student, Greg Norris knows it’s too soon to say with certainty which area of medicine will ultimately become his focus, but of one thing he is certain: “Patient care is what I want to do. I can’t sit in the lab all day; I’m too social. I want to be a clinician.”
There is another aspect to his motivation as well, a very personal one.
“When I was in high school, my younger brother started having really bad migraines. There was some family history of them, but when he was 12, one day he had a seizure in school. A CAT scan showed he had a brain tumor.” Two years later, the brother died.
When Norris came to Wooster, he knew he wanted to do science and already had an eye on medical school, but thought initially he might major in chemistry or biochemistry. What ultimately drew him to neuroscience was a desire to be part of something new.
“The brain is the biggest mystery left in the human body, and neuroscience is the fastest-growing area of research in medicine,” he says.
It’s also an extremely interdisciplinary field, one that incorporates aspects of biology, chemistry, computer science, psychology, and even philosophy, in order to understand the functioning of the brain and nervous system, from the molecular level to the complex neural networks that control everything from reflexes and motor coordination to emotion and memory. Norris says it’s a field well-suited to the liberal arts approach, “where you’re taught to look at things from a variety of different angles."
Norris dove into research opportunities at Wooster early. “As a sophomore, I was working one-on-one doing research with a professor in the lab – and getting paid!” By the summer between junior and senior year, he had landed a research internship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash., working with Dr. James Olson, a pediatric oncologist.
This was no ordinary internship. Norris was part of a team testing a new class of targeted chemotherapy drugs on brain tumors in mice. The agents he helped test, now in phase three clinical trials, are designed to attack a specific part of a cell cycle or a specific component of cancer cells only, which can mean more effective treatment with fewer side effects.
That intense summer of research work formed the basis for Norris’ senior mentored research project, which he finished and turned in ahead of everyone else in the senior class, earning the coveted I.S. button number one.
As he plunges into the rigors of med school, Norris reflects on Wooster’s impact.
“I did really well in high school, at least in terms of grades, but I had no intellectual curiosity. If you asked what got me really excited, it was sports and video games, nothing else. But at Wooster, the environment was more challenging and I was surrounded by lots of people interested in different things, and for me that really flipped that switch…. The classes I took, the close relationships with professors, it’s all shaped me as an individual.”
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