NIDA's Where Are They Now Series: Turning Tragedy Into Inspiration

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Two adults presenting and award to a teenage girl.

Yamini Naidu (middle)

SBB recently caught up with a few past winners of the NIDA Addiction Science Fair Award to find out what the teens are doing now. Not everyone has followed a science path, but they are all in college pursuing their interests. In this series, the winners offer advice for today’s high school students trying to figure out what to do after graduation.

Yamini Naidu from Portland, OR, impressed judges for the NIDA Addiction Science Fair Award with her project on methamphetamine addiction. After winning the award, she was invited to present her research to NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow and other scientists. As a result, she received the opportunity to spend summer 2012 as an intern working in NIDA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) in Baltimore, MD.

Yamini first became interested in neuroscience after her uncle passed away from a stroke. She felt driven to pursue research related to that disease, even though other members of her family weren’t particularly science oriented. “I think one of the best ways to get involved in science is to do a science project that interests you. We had a middle school program where all kids had to do a project; that was my introduction to science.”

She started working with her teachers in middle school and later in high school for support. “That gave me contacts and relationships with other people interested in science. They helped me act on my interest.”

A text box full of motivational quotes.

Discovering Lessons for Life

“Dr. Volkow is an inspiration to me,” said Yamini. “She revolutionized the idea of drug addiction as a disease and not a character defect. I admire the way she encourages young people.” The NIDA internship also opened a lot of doors for her. “It gave me a new perspective on science research. I had so much support from people at the IRP. I enjoyed the experience so much; I wanted to stay much longer.”

Yamini encourages other teens to pursue their dreams. “Don’t worry about failing or not living up to standards. Take one step at a time, and you’ll be able to help make a difference.”

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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