Reflections from FUN Travel Award Recipients
Thursday, February 6, 2020
by: Haley Rhodes, St. Edward’s University & Destynie Medeiros, University of Hartford & Mark Kate Dougherty, Saint Joseph’s University & Dylan Taylor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Section: Features

Haley Rhodes, St. Edward’s University
Preparing for the presentation forced me to think critically about what information was most pertinent to a broad scientific audience, how to communicate these ideas clearly and accurately in a limited time frame, and how to respond to various questions that could be raised. I know from my own experience at conferences how easy it is to feel lost or overwhelmed during a presentation on an unfamiliar subject, so I felt accomplished when people demonstrated engagement by staying to ask challenging questions or requesting finer detail on the study. I think this skill of connecting with an audience is necessary in science, as it allows labs to understand and advance each other’s work, and allows for scientific findings to become accessible to the public. I also learned a lot from the questions that other attendees asked about my research. For example, I was asked about potential shortcomings of my design that I had previously overlooked. Contemplating and discussing ways these flaws could have been avoided has surely improved my critical thinking skills and will aid my success in future projects. In addition to presenting my own work, I was able to attend symposia, round table sessions, and poster sessions to learn about others’ research. I was therefore able to learn about an assortment of topics that I may not be taught in school or learn about through my lab. Exploring these less familiar topics always helps me to refine my ideas on what I would like to study in graduate school and how I want to study it, which is crucial right now as I apply to PhD programs. In fact, attending these research presentations put me in contact with a couple principal investigators and graduate students that are investigating topics I might like to pursue in the future. The graduate school fair was also an important part of my experience at the conference. I was able to meet representatives and students from top institutions that I had already identified as being of interest. Engaging with these people face-to-face gave me a much clearer idea of their programs and if I would be a good fit, which is invaluable information that is not always easily extracted.

Destynie Medeiros, University of Hartford
Being my first time attending the Society for Neuroscience conference, I was bewildered with fear and stress, worrying whether or not I would be able to fit in with the neuroscience community, and whether or not I could present my poster in par with all the expectations. This soon changed the second I arrived at the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) reception and poster presentation when I put my poster up, smiled wide with my mentor for pictures, and was immediately asked to explain my research. I was asked questions and was beyond eager to tell everyone and anyone all that I have learned over the past year in the lab. The FUN reception provided me with a great preview to the conference for which I was presenting at the following morning. By Monday morning my stress of presenting was short lived as I recalled the praises I received the previous night at the FUN reception. Not only was it exciting to meet and exchange knowledge regarding my research, it was also thrilling to see how I too could grow to become like the second year graduate student presenting on the side of me. Not only was it invigorating to test my presentation skills, but it also allowed my curious mind to wander into topics of neuroscience that I cannot find at my smaller liberal arts university. Despite being a senior undergraduate student, I was able to communicate and understand enough of the background research to then be led by the presenter into their research project. The Society for Neuroscience conference enlightened me to think critically not only about my work, but others as well as build upon concepts from my undergraduate studies to understand graduate and post- graduate level research. Additionally, by volunteering my time at the FUN booth on Tuesday morning I was able to converse with fellow undergraduate students and faculty, which was something I could not do as much during the FUN reception as I was presenting my own research. This allowed me to gain perspective as to how undergraduates in neuroscience work at universities all around the country and gain a few additional contacts!

Mark Kate Dougherty, Saint Joseph’s University
Coming to the conference in San Diego, I suddenly found myself among thousands of fellow neuroscientists, and the sheer scope of the research I encountered amazed me. I was able to listen to talks about areas of neuroscience that I had never even considered, such as place cells, which I was fascinated to learn fired only when an animal was in a certain location. I also encountered concepts and terms completely new to me, like an engram as the way that the way that the brain changes to form and store a memory. I was also able to present my own work to a community of experts who offered their questions, insights, and critiques. My experience at SfN has opened my eyes to many new facets of the field of neuroscience, and I was able to see for the first time that I am a part of a global scientific community where so many great discoveries are possible.

My first exposure to the wider world of neuroscience was not only enlightening, but professionally constructive as well. As an undergraduate in my senior year, I am looking ahead to my next steps after graduation. At this turning point in my life and career, I was privileged to meet many researchers at SfN who provided me with valuable insights on both the immediate next steps I want to take in my career and my longer-term goals. I was able to meet recent college graduates who are currently part of the NIH’s IRTA postbaccalaureate research program, to which I am applying as one of my plans after my graduation. By making these connections at SfN, I was able to get many valuable insights on how the program functions, how to apply, and how to find a PI to work for in the program. Looking further down the road in my career goals, I would like to pursue an MD/PhD, and I was able to meet professionals with this dual degree who are actively researching and practicing in the clinic. They were able to give me valuable insight on the admissions requirements for MD/PhD programs, such as being clearly committed to this path, and the importance of communicating well, and being published. They also shared what a career as a physician-scientist is really like and what it takes to be successful. Thanks to their advice, I have a clearer idea of what my future could look like and the steps I should undertake to make my plans a reality.

Dylan Taylor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
I currently investigate olfaction, cognition, and their relationship to the development of Alzheimer’sdisease. Previously I have had limited opportunity to present these ideas to my peers and to leaders in the field. At the Society for Neuroscience Conference and Fun Travel Award Social I was given this opportunity, and was glad to present and hear from current and future leaders in the field. There was a surplus of individuals presenting on similar variables, to myself, both in combination and independently. The opportunity to hear these investigator’s ideas, and have them critique my own has greatly influenced how I view my current research and elucidated a number of phenomena, previously unknown to myself. Hearing about their research and receiving input from them about my own has changed my perspective and improved my knowledge on these phenomena.

I hope to attend medical school in Fall 2019. Hearing the world’s leading neuroscientists discuss dementia, spinal cord injury, and mild traumatic brain injury, and their various ideas on how to treat these disorders has reaffirmed my decision to continue on with my education and attempt to become a physician. I am still not sure where I would like to specialize but neurology is definitely a consideration and attending the
conference has given me stronger evidence that this would be the correct direction.
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