Branching point, n. The point at which a projection extends from the cell body or from another projection.

As a research technician, I spent long hours tracing the projections that extend from neurons. These projections transmit information between cells, and the complexity of their branching pattern says a lot about what kind of neuron they belong to.

branching pattern of a simple neuron by Ramon y Cajal

 

Some, like this neuron on the right, can look pretty simple

 

 

 

while other neurons, like this Purkinje cell, have much more complex branching patterns.

 

 

 

But neurons aren’t born looking like this. Immature neurons look like little blobs (technical term) before they start sending out their first projections whose growth is shaped by guidance cues in the local environment that can attract or repel their advancement. The drawing to the right is over a hundred years old and probably the first to show this process of projections growing out from an immature neuron.

 

I am in my second year of graduate school and feeling a little like that immature neuron. At first there was only one path I could foresee after grad school:  academia.

But (and let me run with this simile here) I’ve encountered a few guidance cues along the way that haven’t exactly attracted me to the life of a research professor. For those who still want to stay in science research, a career in industry can be appealing. Scientists commonly speak of “academia vs industry” as if those were the two options. So here we have a branching point:

People must take other paths after grad school, though, and I wanted to learn about them. I’ve now talked with a couple dozen people about their career journeys and when I picture the possibilities after grad school it now looks a little more like this:

I made this site to share my story of how I’m finding all of these other branching points.

 

(a big thanks to Ramon y Cajal, the 19th century Spaniard and father of neuroscience, for these drawings of neurons. For years I thought Ramon y Cajal was a team of two Spanish guys, but nope, it’s just one guy with the Spanish word for “and” in the middle of his last name.)