Psychology (Neuroscience IE Pre-Grad Intern) Senior Jennifer Krug
My internship experience has expanded on previously held ideas and expelled many others I preserved about grad school. Time spent during the internship gave me valuable opportunities to evaluate the many aspects that make up the grad school experience. These experiences included valuable wet lab practice and research familiarity in my area of interest, the chance to interact with mentors and top researchers in the neuroscience field at the annual meeting of the Pavlovian Society, observing and at times assisting my mentor TA a lower division biology class and learning the countless rules that one must follow when conducting research on live animals. The most imperative lesson I have learned is to make sure that I visit the lab I intend to apply to! Maybe even plan a couple surprise visits.
I will be graduating with a double major in anthropology and psychology in Spring 08. For the last two years I have been trying to determine what exactly it is that I want to do with the next 10 years. I spent last summer hiking the Appalachian Trail to do some soul searching about what I needed and wanted out of life. By the end of it, I emerged for the woods furry, stinky, hungry and knowing that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in one of the following fields: neuroscience, anthropology of activism or forensic anthropology. I spent a lot of time since exploring different programs, attending graduate school fairs and workshops put on by the career exploration center, talking to different graduate students and professors in those fields and even taking a Myers-Brigg test to make sure that I had explored every aspect before I committed to a graduate degree program. The only other logical thing was to start volunteering in my fields of interest to ensure that the real world experience was agreeable to me and my needs.
I started working with The-Sheng Ma from the Institute for Neuroscience in the Schallert lab. The lab is trying to establish itself among one of the top rodent vocalization labs in the country. Rats are one of the most common laboratory animals utilized in biomedical research, neuroscience and experimental psychology. This species has been extensively used to study basic mechanisms underlying emotional and motivational functions. Such research usually relies on overt behavioral measures, like approaching (or working for) an appetitive stimulus, or avoiding or fleeing from an aversive one. Besides, the presumed motivational and affective state is usually inferred from physiological measures, like heart rate, corticosterone excretion, or brain activity. In addition, or even extension of these measures, substantial information about the animal under study can also be obtained by gauging its vocalization, most of which often occurs in the ultrasonic range. Such ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) are behaviorally important for at least two aspects: For one, they can serve as a measure of its current state, and secondly, they seem to be an important communicative variable, which has to be taken into account when analyzing social aspects of such species (mating, nursing, aggression, defense etc.).
For my experiment I am hoping to prove that female rats use vocalization in mate preference to choose a mate. I will try to do this with a T-maze and play back speakers. First I will put the sexually experienced female rat in estrous cycle with the aid of hormones. Once she is in heat, I will place her in the T-maze and start playing different rats calls. On one side of the maze she will hear sexually experienced male rat calls and on the other sexually inexperienced male rat calls. (Pervious experiments have shown female rats can distinguish between sexually experienced/inexperienced males by smell alone.) By comparing the time spent in each arm of the maze I will be able to provide evidence that females can tell the difference between sexually experienced/inexperienced male rat calls as well. As a control I will also run an another experiment testing to see how much time sexually inexperienced females spend in each arm of the T-maze where sexually experienced male calls are played on one side and sexually inexperienced male calls are played on the other. I am still a couple of months from analyzing the data but I plan on presenting my finding in a couple of up coming research conferences. I must say that it has been delightful to see my ideas develop from a rough sketch on scratch paper to a working three dimensional T-maze.
The most valuable lesson I have learned from the internship is to make sure that I spend time with the lab I think I want to get my PhD in. While I was signed up for this internship I will also signed up for a psychology research internship in another neuroscience lab. Both experiences give me great insight into what I wanted and needed out of a lab and helped me formulate the types of questions to think about when choosing a lab. What I found was I need a primary investigator that is active in guiding me while I design my own experiment vs. one that designs it for me. I also found that I needed someone that was more loose in their management styles vs. an over controlling @#$%*!!!! I also found that I enjoyed a lab that actively worked together to achieve deadlines and goals vs. ones that had no group cohesion. This all sounds like common sense decisions but I found that I ran into all of these examples with both of my labs. The horrible experiences included forgetful graduate students that would not show up on time or miss coming into the lab at all that day to having to spend ten hours scoring rat behavior. My memorable experiences included learning new laboratory techniques to attending weekly neuroscience talks with my fellow lab mates and watching my professors argue amongst one another.
Overall I found my experience to be invaluable. Without it I might have found out a little too late that I do not enjoy certain things. I am sure as I draw closer and actually do apply for a graduate degree program I will pick up new things a long the way but this program let me investigate directly the many aspects that make up a graduate degree program.