It’s been two days, and already, my inexperienced undergraduate mind is overwhelmed by the magnitude of Neuroscience 2013. When I say “magnitude,” I’m talking the sheer mass of knowledge to be gained, future plans to reevaluate, fellow neuroscientists to meet, lab mates to bond with, free stuff to obtain, San Diego residents to tell (jokingly), “Hey, the Padres suck, go Giants.” All this brain-related stimuli has been captivating (some would even say, “stimulating”) to every sensory facet, possibly my most intense exposure to the neuroscience field thus far, and I love it.
Each day is open, unpredictable – I find myself doing mental gymnastics each night looking through the programs, deciding which symposiums/special lectures/posters I want to attend the next day, trying to find the perfect balance between general interest and research applicability in the Glenn lab. Saturday night, I starred three 8:30 am – 11 am symposiums for Sunday, along with six other starred events at various times throughout the day, times that I knew I couldn’t commit to. With all this planning, I failed to factor in jetlag, absolute exhaustion from flying from Portland, ME to San Diego, CA. Nor did I think about the time allotted to getting breakfast – the closest Starbucks was about a mile away and the line of caffeine-dependent brain researchers (who apparently choose to disregard the dangers of caffeine overconsumption – caffeine intoxication is real, people! #TeamNaturalAdenosineCycles) was ridiculously long. The only talk I ended up attending that morning was Dr. Anthony Grace’s “When Good Neurons Go Bad,” which was an awesome first lecture for me because 1) it was both interesting and challenging, covering fascinating areas of study like the neuroanatomical systems of schizophrenia and depression, and pushing me to reevaluate my understanding of these respective structures and pathways, and 2) even on a huge stage like Ballroom 20, I could understand Dr. Grace’s work, his methods, his findings, and the thinking behind the study. This talk has made me realize how thankful I should be for my Colby College undergraduate education and preparation. It seems that all the textbook reading and hours spent studying paid off. When Dr. Grace finished his talk, the crowd burst into applause, a sense of admiration for Dr. Grace’s presented work in the air. I’ve been to conferences before and I’ve attended a number of psychology, biology, and neuroscience keynote lectures, but in Ballroom 20 of The San Diego Convention Center, among a couple thousand clapping neuroscientists, I really felt the breadth of Dr. Grace’s research. No textbook reading or small conference symposium could have captured that.
Along with the more formal, public lectures, I’ve been on the hunt for some one-on-one learning opportunities. One major goal I had coming into Neuroscience 2013 was to locate some researchers experienced in the behavioral test attentional set-shifting task (A.S.S.T.), which I have been having trouble successfully running for my independent study. A reliable source passed on word to me that David Morilak, the principle investigator on an A.S.S.T. paper I often reference, was hanging around at the graduate school fair. Naturally, I Googled his face on my phone’s web browser on the bus ride over to the convention center and headed straight to his booth. Lo-and-behold, I found him there, happy to advise me on whatever questions I had. He was incredibly open, kind, and generous with his time and advice. I left the conversation with a better sense of what I needed to do, some feedback on my handmade apparatus and experimental methods, and one or two contacts from David’s lab that worked on A.S.S.T. for further inquisition. Of course, it couldn’t be all good: I may have also accidentally opened the web browser on my phone in front of David and brought up a picture of his face on the screen (forgot to close the Google search…oops)…not sure if he saw it, but for the record, I did it for the acceleration of science and not to be, you know, creepy.
After meeting David, I met up with former labmate C. Nickerbocker. With her was her childhood friend Sarah, another researcher who had previous experience with A.S.S.T. Sarah just happened to be in the process of writing a research proposal involving the behavioral paradigm at the time, which was quite the coincidence! Talk about a chance meeting, right? I spent a good amount of time discussing and comparing A.S.S.T. methodology with Sarah, which helped me troubleshoot my project. It was a very productive conversation and despite having to leave earlier than I would have liked, I gained a lot of great insight and another contact for the future. Meeting new people, helping fellow neuroscientists out whenever possible—these aspects of Neuroscience 2013 are major benefits of the conference for undergraduate students looking to broaden their mentors network. Trust me, gaining contacts is quite the rush. By Wednesday, I may be addicted to networking.
(Waylin Yu, Colby College, ’15)