The ultimate goal of neuroscience is to explain real-world behavior in terms of the activities of the brain and to translate these discoveries into therapeutic approaches that can help those suffering from neural disorders. Our ability to understand and treat debilitating neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's disease, will depend on our knowledge of how the human brain fails to make memories and forget, not only in controlled laboratory experiments, but also in experiments that capture the complexity, scale, and functional characteristics of memories made in the real-world. When navigating our everyday lives, our brain processes a continuous stream of sensory and perceptual information, yet our reconstructed memories seem to be parsed into distinct episodic events at nested timescales. Current theories suggest that our continuous experience is parsed into distinct events by rapid shifts in sensory, perceptual, or psychological contexts (i.e., doorways, turns, actions, goals, emotional experiences, expectation violations, etc.) known as event boundaries. Neuroimaging studies have found that medial temporal lobe regions like the hippocampus often increase in their activation around event boundaries determined from produced films, which is correlated with subsequent memory. However, no study to date has been able to determine how the brain segments continuous experience in complex, real-world experiences like spatial navigation. To expand our understanding of real-world event segmentation, patients with implanted neural recording systems (NeuroPace RNS) completed a navigation and episodic memory task around a college campus while MTL activity was recorded and synchronized with a variety of wearable sensors.
The student's role will be to work with our graduate students and post docs to analyze a rich dataset of 5 participants navigating the real-world while direct brain recordings were captured. This is a large dataset with a variety of data streams that require various types of processing. The student will gain hands-on and directed research experience working with these data while also developing a sense for the challenges of doing neuroscience research with real-world experiments. They will learn to develop hypotheses, understand scientific literature, and develop procedures for analyzing complex, rare neural datasets. They will also likely be involved in the development of a new project based on this prior real-world navigation dataset to be collected in Utah in Fall 2023. They would be involved in the planning and piloting of this experiment throughout the summer experience.
Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits
This experience will prepare students for their future by providing a hands-on research experience that might help shape their future research pursuits. One outcome of their experience will be the ability to formulate novel questions about unique data, discuss those interests with the principle investigator and lab members, and learning to take ownership over an independent project that fits in to a larger project. They will also experience what it means to work as a collaborator in a team of scholars and how to effectively communicate with mentors and other students in the lab. Finally, they will develop a sense for the kinds of career opportunities that might be available to them with the pursue of cognitive neuroscience research from industry to academia.
As a mentor in the laboratory, my job is to provide a collaborative environment where I can scaffold opportunities for mentees to learn, while still providing space and support for independence when applying their knowledge to specific research projects. During graduate school and my two postdocs, I have been privileged to mentor brilliant high school, undergraduate, and graduate students with diverse backgrounds and interests ranging from an independent high school student to biomedical and electrical engineers to M.D./Ph.D. students in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. In particular, I've directly supervised four students completing honors theses. One is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Cambridge, one is studying to work in the neurology field, and one completed a Master's degree in Education at Harvard. Based on these in-depth mentorship experiences, I've grown to recognize that individual students learn, attend, and are motivated in different ways and that the types of support required evolve throughout training. I love the challenge and continual growth that accompanies mentoring students. I often grow just as much from mentoring as the student grows from learning. Students can expect to meet with me every week in a variety of meetings, including individual meetings at project milestones. They can expect candid conversations about my career path and encouraged interactions with all lab trainees.