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Nine Lake Forest College undergraduates and four neuroscience faculty attended the 45th Annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting held at McCormick Place in Chicago from Oct 17-21 (2015). Students presented undergraduate research on Parkinson’s disease and they highlighted the success of the college’s neuroscience program in a special science education session.
The Lake Forest contingent was among the over 30,000 neuroscientists from all over the world that attended what is considered the world’s largest marketplace of ideas and tools for global neuroscience. Neuroscience professors Naomi Wentworth, Jean-Marie Maddux, Dan Curlik, and Shubhik DebBurman accompanied the students.
Dr. DebBurman points to Chicago’s easy access as one of the greatest boosts to the college’s curricular strengths. He states, “Our biology and neuroscience majors expose students early to authentic research experiences that complement the academic course work. Alongside research, we hone strong skills in professional communication that have become one of the strongest assets in our students because of the length and strength of our constant work with them. Chicago provides exceptional and frequent opportunities for our students to engage with the larger professional community and practice these skills. The national SfN meeting is perhaps the best of such examples of world class access.”
Neuroscience and education senior Charles Alvarado ’16 presented his senior project entitled “Alpha-synuclein familial mutant analysis in yeast models”, which he conducted in Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Dr. Shubhik DebBurman’s Parkinson’s disease lab. His co-authors were Natalie Kukulka ’13, Maiwase Tembo ’15, Morgan Marshall ’16, Maribel Munoz ’16, Emily Ong ’17, and Viktoria Georgieva ’18. Alvarado ’16 will pursue an M.A.T. degree after graduation and hopes to become a high school science teacher. Kukulka ’13 is currently pursuing an M.D. degree at the University of Missouri Columbia, while Tembo ’15 is pursuing her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh.
Biology major Morgan Marshall ’16 presented her senior project entitled “Evaluation of alpha-synuclein nitration in yeast models”, which she also conducted in Dr. DebBurman’s lab. Her co-authors were Keith Solvang ’11, Charles Alvarado ’16, and Yuliya Zayats ’18. Marshall ’16 will pursue a full-time research position after graduation before embarking on a career in medicine. Solvang ’11 is pursuing his M.D. degree at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.
Alvarado and Marshall also presented their posters a second time at the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) Social during the meeting.
Neuroscience seniors Kayla Huber ’16 and Sarah Chiren’16 co-presented a science education poster entitled “Building Neuroscience at Lake Forest College: Integration of curriculum with public education, K-5 outreach, and peer learning”. Saul Bello Rojas ’16 was a co-author. Kayla was the president of the Nu Rho Psi chapter at the college last year, and Sarah and Saul were the co-presidents of the student organization Synapse. They also presented this poster again at the meeting’s Brain Awareness Campaign Social. Huber ’16 hopes to pursue post-graduate studies in social policy issues. Chiren ’16 is planning for a career in medicine, while Bello Rojas ’16 is applying for PhD programs in pharmacology.
Neuroscience senior Alexandra Roman ’16 was formally recognized at the annual national Nu Rho Psi meeting, held concurrently during the SfN meeting, for winning a 2015 Nu Rho Psi undergraduate research grant that is allowing her to conduct her senior research on Parkinson’s disease in Dr. DebBurman’s lab.
After returning from the meeting, Alvarado ’16 offers these reflections: “The most challenging aspect of the meeting was also the most beneficial. Presenting to experts in the field of Parkinson’s and other well-trained scientists encouraged me to use the science I’ve accrued throughout my time at Lake Forest College to answer their questions the best I could. Learning from them and their views on my research gave me different perspectives and ways of thinking about the work I was doing. he process required time and perspiration, but was rewarding once the story that I worked hard to develop started to come to fruition. Having important scientists from around the world actively and attentively listening to my presentation was the biggest compliment I could receive. In preparation for a career as a science educator, it’s important to be aware of science as a dynamic field, and SfN demonstrated that there’s always more to learn. In the future, I’d want my students to understand that doing science is a way to actively explore the world around you.”
The Neuroscience Program offers its students many professional presentations at the college, but a national conference can be the ultimate experience.
Marshall ’16 shares how she got ready for her talk: “Preparation for the meeting took place by planning out a schedule for experimental goals and practicing presenting my research to both my lab peers and advisor. I measured my own success by how well I was perceived by others I talked about my work with and how well they understood it. Attending SfN helped expose me to other researchers and projects that are currently happening and showed me all the different possible career paths that are available, ones that I wouldn’t have thought to be an options before.”
Huber’ 16 observes: “Competing in speech and debate in high school endowed me with the rudiments of communication and argumentation, but I never felt quite comfortable speaking in front of others due to my social anxiety. All of the presentations I have done throughout my time as a neuroscience major at Lake Forest College has allowed me to effectively manage that anxiety, and communicating my work to the public is now second nature. It’s always easy to spot a Lake Forest College student in a crowd. They are confident, they are informed, they know how to respond to criticism, and they are excited about what they do. It was great to see my peers in their element during the poster sessions at SfN. They were brilliant four years ago, and they are even more brilliant four years later, largely due to the rigorous and supportive environment at Lake Forest College”.
As students grasped the complexity of the latest scientific advances, many realized the impact of their own education. Chiren ’16 describes a salient moment: “Although we attended many fine lectures, it was during a lecture on translational plasticity that I ultimately saw the “big picture”. I understood how classes in the neuroscience major (molecular biology, molecular neuroscience, research methods and statistics) helped us to cultivate the knowledge crucial to understanding any science lecture. Although I had little prior knowledge on translational plasticity before the lecture, the tools we acquire in the major make it possible to attend any scientific lecture and immediately grasp main concepts, methods, and results.”
Among the attendees were three sophomores majoring in neuroscience and biology who had just completed their First-Year Richter Scholar research project in Dr. DebBurman’s lab this past summer. Quite possibly among its youngest attendees, two of them were co-authors on poster presentations because of the Richter work. All three students hope to one day pursue biomedical careers.
Paul Jones ’18 shares, “Attending SFN has made me aware of the true diversity in both research areas and careers in the field of neuroscience. It has given me opportunities to expand my education in ways I did not expect both here and abroad. It has ensured me that a career in neuroscience is both viable and desirable”.
Yuliya Zayats ’18 adds, “Seeing LFC undergraduates presenting at a major conference like SFN makes me feel pride for our college, and I am grateful that I am able to be a part of an institutions that makes major scientific contributions.”
Viktoriya Georgieva ’18 was just as inspired and she concludes: “I plan to continue doing research as an undergraduate because I believe it teaches many skills, which are useful for graduate or medical school. Furthermore, I enjoy being able to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom in a hands-on experience and create something to expand what is already known in the science field. Finally, I believe doing research as an undergraduate teaches many valuable lessons, such as persistence and carrying a positive attitude when things don’t go as expected, which happens quite often in science.
The Lake Forest group rounded out their conference experience over a celebratory dinner with many college alumni now pursuing neuroscience-related research careers. They included Dr. Lokesh Kukreja ’08 (PhD, Northwestern University), Emily Hankosky ’09 (PhD studies, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign), Jennillee Wallace ’09 (PhD studies, Rush University), Madhavi Senagolage ’12 (PhD studies, Northwestern University), Sydni Cole ’12 ( MD/PhD studies, Northwestern University), and Amanda Allred ’14 (Research technician, Northwestern University).