janhavi bhalerao in lab

Spider discovers her niche in neuroscience

May 13, 2022


When recent grad Janhavi Bhalerao came to the University of Richmond from Pune, India, she already knew she was interested in psychology and wanted to work closely with faculty.

She jumped in right away, taking classes like Neuroscience of Photography and The Psychology of Drugs. Along the way, she developed an interest in neuroscience but wasn’t sure where she wanted to focus. Bhalerao connected with Kelly Lambert, co-coordinator of UR’s Neuroscience Program, who shared her research and gave Bhalerao a tour of her lab.

Bhalerao quickly applied for a summer fellowship and landed a research position in Lambert’s lab after her first year.

“After I started working in her behavioral neuroscience lab, I was really interested in the techniques,” Bhalerao says. “It’s a good blend of behaviors from the psychology side and the neurobiological underpinnings from the biology side. I like looking at this holistic picture of what’s going on.”

Her first work in the lab was focused on research techniques and skill-building. Bhalerao joined Lambert’s project looking at the effects of early life stress and how restricted resources can affect development, movement, immune responses, and behavior.

The summer after her junior year, she supported Lambert’s National Institutes of Health grant, which studied how rats respond to effort-based rewards. Bhalerao has been involved in everything from training the rats to behavioral tests to studying activation in the brain. 

Bhalerao’s senior thesis will further explore the impact of effort-based rewards. She also received a travel award from the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society to present her thesis at the society’s annual conference in Scotland this summer.

Bhalerao credits Lambert with helping her find her niche in neuroscience. She plans to continue studying the effects of stress and depression in graduate school as she pursues a doctorate in neuroscience. 

And, she says, her experience in Lambert’s lab laid the groundwork for the graduate-level research experience she’ll need next year.

“I kept saying this in my grad school interviews,” she says. “Because we’re a small liberal arts school, I got to work with Dr. Lambert one-on-one. She calls us student principal investigators and gives us ownership over the project. I’m equipped with all of these behavioral neuroscience skills going into grad school.”