in Features
March 8th, 2019

Any view from one of the offices near the top of the Kilachand Center for Life Sciences and Engineering building will leave you speechless. One particular office, with a baseball nestled amidst countless awards scattered about the desk, a bottle of celebratory champagne waiting to be popped open, and a giant inflated T-rex standing beside a whiteboard scribbled with complex calculations, tends to stand out from the crowd. This is the office of Dr. Steve Ramirez.

Dr. Ramirez is what you would call a “true Bostonian.” Growing up in Everett, MA, Ramirez decided to stay around the area by attending Boston University for his undergraduate career. However, he found a lot of trouble in deciding what he wanted to major in.

“I enjoyed everything,” Ramirez explained, “From physics to biochemistry to literature.” It wasn’t until he had a conversation with a familiar face of the BU community when he decided neuroscience was his fit. A conversation with Paul Lipton,  BU’s current undergraduate neuroscience director, eventually persuaded Ramirez to study the organ that had created everything he had a passion for, joining BU’s first graduating class of neuroscience majors.

After BU, Ramirez made the long journey across the Charles River to pursue his PhD at MIT. Here, Ramirez describes as “the best five years of my life.” Along with playing Mario Kart with his roommates whom he refers to his closest friends, Ramirez credits MIT with where he first got the inspiration in researching the interactions with memories.

Ramirez continues this research with his next long venture to Harvard University, where he completed his fellowship, serving as the “launchpad” of his own lab. Ramirez’s current research focuses on depression, anxiety, and PTSD, in which he is questioning whether it is possible to turn on positive memories – or turn off negative memories – to curing these diseases. This is done by tracking brain cells that respond to certain signals of light and then reactivating the cells to reproduce (or halt) the previous emotion, otherwise known as optogenetics.

At BU, Ramirez is the instructor for NE 337, Memory Systems of the Brain. This course works to study to neurobiological mechanisms of memory. By studying amnesia in humans and experimental models of amnesia in animals, the course is engineered to focus on evidence for multiple forms of memory and the distinct brain systems that mediate them.

The classes taught by Dr. Ramirez aren’t like your typical STEM courses. Ramirez makes it a priority to relate neuroscience to modern types of multimedia, basing his teaching methods off of a course he taught at Tufts called Neuroscience and Hollywood. It’s not uncommon for a homework assignment from Ramirez is to watch the Bourne Trilogy or Inside Out.

“A lot of stuff is wrong, but there are certain concepts they actually get right,” Ramirez explains. “The material has to be grounded in ‘why do I care?’” Ramirez answers as to why he assigns these films. “Of course there are also TED Talks and research articles, but I include these movies because they’re what I like to watch for fun.”

When asked how Ramirez likes working at BU, it was very evident the impact the community makes on him.

“At BU, the learning and memory community really are here to help in any way possible,” he begins, “Unlike other universities, research teams are not their own separate islands here.” Another important aspect Ramirez highlights is that “everybody actually has a real life and can enjoy life outside of the lab,” demonstrated through the Macaroni Mondays and Taco Tuesdays he partakes in with his peers.

For an undergraduate interested in getting involved in research, Ramirez suggests to reach out to professors and see if they could entertain having you in their lab.

“Not all research is going to interest you, but getting involved will help to determine what you are interested in.” Ramirez assures that it’s okay to not know exactly what you want to do with your neuroscience degree after BU. “Neuroscience is constantly changing, and with that, so are the opportunities. So the job you might have 10 years from now might not even exist today.”

This type of encouragement stems from the overwhelming adoration Dr. Ramirez feels for his parents, whom he continues to call twice everyday. “I owe them my life,” he explains, “Coming into the country illegally to give me a fighting chance at an education.” This sense of altruism is conveyed through his interactions with his students. “I want to see them fight through the tough questions science has to offer and succeed, and I genuinely think they will.” Ramirez credits his father with his sense of continued optimism.

“There’s a million different reasons to be angry in 2019, but there’s a couple worth celebrating,” Ramirez explains.

You are one of the few, Dr. Ramirez. Thank you.

Writer: Trey Moore

Editor: Emme Enojado

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