STEP Reflection

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP Signature Project I worked as a research assistant (RA) on fMRI-related projects. As an RA I pre-screened potential fMRI subjects for my lab, created a database of contact information for fMRI participants, assisted researchers with running MRI studies, attended lab meetings and CCBBI users’ workshops, read background and foundational papers in the field of cognitive neuroscience, and analyzed fMRI data. My project culminated with a poster at the CCBS Fall Retreat.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Since my freshman year of college much of my interest in cognitive neuroscience has been driven the power of the fMRI machine. This piece of technology gives researchers the ability to (indirectly) see thoughts within someone’s mind. At the beginning of the summer, I was curious as to how powerful this tool could be for researchers.

However, by the end of my time in the lab I realized that fMRI is but a tool in the ever growing toolbox of cognitive neuroscience. The methodology behind fMRI still needs to be developed and defended—as with all cutting edge science. In conjunction with other techniques such as EEG and behavioral studies, fMRI can be used to ask provocative questions about the human brain. While my passion for research and being on the cutting edge of science remains undiluted, the scope of my interests has shifted. Rather than studying cognitive neuroscience in graduate school I plan to study computer vision.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Much of my time in lab was dedicated to processing fMRI data. In order to fulfill these tasks I needed to build a wide base of foundational knowledge such as fMRI methodology and technology, how to process fMRI data, and programming in Matlab. Additionally I took on a few side projects like learning to code in Python and understanding artificial neural networks.

My time in lab was not spent alone. I worked with a lab manager, a post-doctorate student, and multiple graduate students. The relationships I built with these people helped shape my expectations for graduate school; getting a PhD takes dedication and hard work. Seeing these people work alongside me all summer was inspiring and helped reaffirm my post-undergraduate plans.

However, I found myself drawn more strongly to the programming aspect of my work. The data I worked with was fascinating but my side projects with artificial neural networks felt more engaging. This discovery led me to the field of computer vision. Many theories in this field combine the computational elements of artificial neural networks and data from cognitive neuroscience.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Since discovering computer vision, my academic trajectory has shifted. Before this transformational summer I planned to enter graduate school and to fall into some project that I found interesting. Now, I see the need to take a gap year. I hope to work as a lab manager in a computer vision lab here at The Ohio State University or elsewhere so I can continue to build my programming skills and comprehension of cutting edge computer vision models. After spending time as a lab manager I plan to apply to graduate school and to work towards my doctorate degree.