Rachel Corbin, ES ’11

“There was no moment when I said “I’m going to be a scientist!” I did want to be other things, like a poet, a chicken farmer, the president—but I always thought I’d raise chickens or rule the country while still doing science,” exclaimed Rachel Corbin, ES ’11, when asked what inspired her to pursue a career in the sciences. She has followed through by incorporating science into every facet of her education – the Yale senior completed a 10-week research internship at the Pasteur Institute this past summer and has been involved with the DEMOS volunteering group since freshman year.

At the Pasteur Institute, Corbin worked on a bacterial protein of the nicotinic acetylcholine family of receptors which has a known homolog in the mammalian nervous system. Corbin’s project involved the manipulation of environmental factors such as pH and the different drugs in order to map bacterial growth curves. “I’ve worked in a lot of labs, but this one is the closest to what I eventually want to do,” said Corbin.

Besides for lab work, Corbin found plenty of time to experience life in Paris as a Parisian, in addition to learning to speak French as a native. “As I was speaking French, I started to think in French, and you can’t think in a language until you’ve been surrounded by it and have heard the way people communicate with it,” said Corbin.

Working at the Pasteur Institute allowed Corbin to pursue her passion for science and languages, while DEMOS has allowed her to pursue another of her passions—teaching. DEMOS is a tutoring program that sends Yalies in pairs to New Haven elementary schools to teach “hands-on, fun, exciting, the-way-science-is-meant-to-be” science lessons to students, in Corbin’s own words. Corbin has worked as a volunteer, school coordinator, and co-executive coordinator for DEMOS. “The most important thing DEMOS does is show kids that science is fun. They see that it’s something they can do, despite being less advantaged than other children their age,” said Corbin.

Corbin is a young woman who has already made significant accomplishments in the scientific field. When asked about her perception on being a woman in the sciences, Corbin admitted to having mixed views about the rising push for having more women enter scientific fields. “Once people start having special programs for women, you start asking ‘did she get in because she’s smart or did they lower the bar for her?’” Corbin explained, “The most effective way to integrate women in the sciences is to not make such a big deal out of it.”

Clearly, no one has been “lowering the bars” for Corbin. She already has big plans for the future. She hopes to combine her love for teaching and learning new languages through participating in a teaching program abroad after graduation for a few years before applying to graduate school in the field of neuropharmacology.

“Reality is interesting,” Corbin said in explanation of her field of choice, “but it’s completely and totally about what’s going on in our brains. People can create alternate realities with different chemicals in their brains. How do we know our reality is the right one when we just have different chemicals in our brain? Studying channels, proteins, and receptors is all about what is going on in your brain and [is] why I’m interested in neuropharmacology.” Looks like this senior is all lined up to start creating a scientific reality of her own.