Alex Bender '06

Alex Bender

Alex Bender '06

Hometown: Moorestown, N.J.
Major: Neuroscience, with a Physics Minor

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
Because they let me in? . . . To be completely honest, if tomorrow I were a senior in high school again and I had just been accepted to every school in the country, I would still choose Bowdoin. I love the atmosphere, the people, and the location. The opportunities I have had here are invaluable.

Why did you choose your major?
When I came to Bowdoin I thought I wanted to be a physics major because I loved the subject in high school. I've always been interested in the sciences and have done well in these areas, so I knew this was the direction I wanted to follow. I jumped into physics and math as soon as I arrived and enjoyed it for the most part. However, after a year and a half I grew tired of the problem sets and became increasingly interested in the neuroscience topics I was studying in my biology and psychology courses. The complexity of the brain and its influence on the body and behavior is absolutely fascinating. Thus, it was not a hard decision. I declared neuroscience as my major with a physics minor and have loved it ever since.

What has been your favorite course at Bowdoin?
I have two favorites - Relativity with Stephen Naculich of the physics department and Comparative Neuroanatomy with Rick Thompson of the psychology and neuroscience departments. Relativity focused on Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, considering space-time as four dimensions, revising principles on energy and momentum, and applying these principles to study the relationships between events. I can't say I remember all those equations, but Professor Naculich was an incredible teacher and my perspective on the world around me has forever changed. Comparative Neuroanatomy was an upper level seminar centered on brain structure-function relationships through student-led paper discussions. This course challenged the class to understand functional relationships of brain anatomy by sampling primary journal articles on a variety of topics and learning through class discussions. This incorporated discussion on experimental techniques and gave me a new interest in scientific research. Professor Thompson is so knowledgeable and made this class particularly enjoyable.

Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
I am currently working on an Honors Project with Professor Thompson, which I started last summer. I am studying the role of the neuropeptide vasotocin in male reproductive behavior in roughskin newts. Vasotocin influences male clasping behavior in newts, and my research focuses on the neural networks underlying this influence. The hypothesis is that exposure to female pheromones induces a release of vasotocin in male newts to brain areas involved in this clasping behavior, and that this release of vasotocin enhances neural responsiveness and enhances clasping. I am using multiple techniques to visualize vasotocin-containing cells in experiments which may support this hypothesis. Initially, I was unsure about beginning such an independent research project, but it has been a lot of fun and very rewarding. It is an educational experience which no conventional course can give you.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I have played in various music groups and I have also been very involved with the Outing Club.

I play the trumpet and it's been great to be able to continue with music at Bowdoin. I currently take private lessons and play in the brass quintet, but I have also played in the jazz band, in a musical, and with the chorus and orchestra. All of them have been fun, but I have stuck with the brass quintet because the music is challenging and it has allowed a flexible schedule. The music department is great because they give you the freedom to be involved with music at any level.

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Whitewater kayaking.

The Outing Club at Bowdoin is amazing and, perhaps, the best I know of. I have gone hiking, backpacking, canoeing and sea kayaking, and have gone on more whitewater trips than I can remember. I have also experienced snowshoeing for the first time, learned how to telemark ski, and spent five days whitewater canoeing on the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada. My real passion, however, has been whitewater kayaking. I started whitewater kayaking with the Outing Club during my first year, and have not stopped since. I co-lead whitewater trips for the Outing Club almost every weekend of the fall and spring seasons and teach beginner and intermediate classes. The sport has, perhaps, taken over my non-academic life, but it has been very rewarding. I enjoy teaching more than anything and have really committed to passing on this sport here at Bowdoin.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I studied at the University of Otago in New Zealand the fall semester of my junior year. This was definitely the most amazing experience I have had over the last four years. I was able to take courses in neuroscience and learn about New Zealand history and the culture of the Maori, the native population of New Zealand. I traveled all over the country on backpacking trips and had the chance to do some skiing and whitewater kayaking. The people in New Zealand are so friendly and their culture is a bit more laid back than American culture. And, by far, the most beautiful places I've seen were in New Zealand. I can't wait to go back.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
My best memories are just being ridiculous with my roommate. Once we played leap-frog all the way down College Street during Homecoming weekend. The alumni seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

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Backpacking in New Zealand.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to go back to school for an M.D. in neurology or Ph.D. in neuroscience. I have not decided which, yet, but at the time I am leaning more towards a Ph.D. I've been particularly interested in research on neurodegenerative disorders so maybe I'll end up pursuing a career in that field. Regardless, I plan to take the first year after graduation to "play." I'd really like to continue teaching whitewater kayaking and leading trips. This has been such a rewarding experience for me at Bowdoin so it has sort of become my dream to spend some more time doing this before I go back to school. I am currently applying to whitewater kayaking schools in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
When I look back on my time at Bowdoin I'll never regret skipping a few parties to go on an Outing Club trip, or holding off on work to hang out with friends. I'll never regret being too busy. I'll never regret going abroad. There are so many opportunities that you have here and will only have during these four years, so take advantage of them.

Story posted on January 18, 2006

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