How a Rat Helped Me Get a College Degree

A rat helped me get my undergraduate degree.   To fulfill a science requirement and avoid biology or botany, I took one undergraduate psychology course .  It qualified as science since it was a behavioral psych course with a lab requirement.

Students were all assigned their own lab rat with STERN instructions not to name it or get attached to it in any way. At the time, I thought that was to maintain our “Scientific Objectivity”.

They were albino rats, pure white with pink eyes and long pink tails.  I liked my rat.  It’s fur was soft.  I avoided touching its tail which looked like a snake.

To pass the lab I had to train my rat to drop a marble in the hole of a box in the middle of the training cage.  Attached to each cage was a food pellet  holder.  I controlled dropping the pellets, one by one, into the cage.

I won’t go into all the training but for those of you “science types” it was based on operant conditioning – successive approximations and behavior modification.

Basically every time the rat comes “close” to doing something I want I reward him with a food pellet. The anti is, step by step, continually upped.  Finally he has to perform the exact task to get the food reward.

My rat was a very smart rat.  (He caught on much more quickly than I would have had the roles been reversed.  The food choice would also have had to been changed to motivate me.)  It took a semester and twice a week labs to train him.  We were together a lot.

I passed the course but wished I had never trained him to put the marble in the box.  Once the rats are conditioned to do a task they no longer can be used again for the next lab.  It’s good I didn’t name my lab rat and kept my “scientific objectivity”.  At the semester’s end all the rats were fed to snakes in the biology lab. Forty-seven years later, I still think about him .

This is exactly what my rat looked like. Cute, huh?

Look what else our rat friends are doing for us – amazing creatures!

ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2012) — “While it is well known that starfish, zebrafish and salamanders can re-grow damaged limbs, scientists understand very little about the regenerative capabilities of mammals. Now, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine report on the regenerative process that enables rats to re-grow their bladders within eight weeks.”

“In PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, online publication, the scientists characterize this unique model of bladder regeneration with the goal of applying what they learn to human patients”.  

“There is very little data on the mechanisms involved in organ regeneration in mammals,” said George Christ, Ph.D., senior researcher and professor of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist.. “To our knowledge, bladder regeneration holds a unique position — there is no other mammalian organ capable of this type of regeneration.”

“If we can understand the bladder’s regenerative process, the hope is that we can prompt the regeneration of other organs and tissues where structure is important — from the intestine and spinal cord to the heart,” said Petersen.”

Read the full article: ScienceDaily

Research was supported by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases under award number R21DK081832.

Co-researchers were Charles C. Peyton, M.D., lead author, David Burmeister, Ph.D., and Karl-Erik Andersson, M.D., Ph.D.

7 thoughts on “How a Rat Helped Me Get a College Degree

  1. Aww, thanks, now I feel bad for the rat too and I’ve even named her in my head. RIP. Where you come up with all these different ideas for blog posts I have no idea. I’m beginning to think I was adopted. Love you mucho, Peachy Keen, Laurie F .Westerfield Jr. P.S. You could have told us that the rats had a nice rat family in a lovely farm in upstate New York, would we have known the difference?

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