John Zarick STEP Neuroscience Research Experience

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STEP Reflection                                                               Name:  John Zarick

STEP Experience: Neuroscience Research in Contextual Memory via Neuro-Life Logging



What? –For my STEP project, I decided to dive further into the world of neuroscientific research. I’ve been a research assistant in Dr. Per Sederberg’s computational memory lab since I was a freshman, and now as a senior I wanted to be able to get a fuller experience of being a researcher. Working with both my STEP advisor Dr. Rosemary Loza, and my lab director Dr. Per Sederberg, we came up with a project that satisfied both the interests of myself and my lab. The project we decided upon was a bit of a step outside the box for our lab in terms of research.  We normally study contextual memory in the lab, via computer-generated context. That can mean either pictures or words or even just splotches of color on a screen.  I thought it was time to take the concepts that we study in the lab, to a less manufactured and forced context of the real world.  The experiment went like this, each participant was given a small camera called a narrative clip, which takes up the area of about 1 square inch. This is attached to the collar of the shirt the participant is wearing. This narrative clip takes pictures inconspicuously every thirty seconds.  The participant is not aware of when the camera will be taking pictures, as no noise or flash is made when it does so. They pick a day of the week on which to wear the camera throughout their school day, to and from classes. The same day of the week, a Tuesday for example, will be when they wear the camera for the second time. Having the participant wear the camera on the same day of the week ensures that they will have a pretty similar schedule. They will go to the same classes, have the same meetings, etc.  On the third week of the experiment, the participant comes into the lab, where we perform an EEG (electroencephalography) test on them while they complete the difficult task of deciding what day each picture was taken on. I select roughly 200 pictures and present them, mixed up, to the participant on a computer screen while we measure their brain activity through the EEG.  The average response correctness was around 70% correct overall. We also measured reaction time and other variables for further analysis.  After completing the task, participants were compensated monetarily for their help in this project.  The project is ongoing, but STEP funding allowed me to stay in Columbus over the summer so I could do research, as well as take a calculus class.

So What? – Throughout this experience, I’ve learned a lot. Not only did I learn how to use programs like ipython notebook, EEG pycorder, and other complex software, but I learned valuable lessons such as how to recruit people in a timely manner, how to organize your files in a way that makes it easy not just for yourself but for others, how to keep to a schedule, and how to ask for help when you need it.  That last one is a big one.  Sometimes I get carried away and think that I have to prove myself by being able to do everything on my own.  This is good sometimes, but can lead to big issues if you don’t have the skills necessary to complete a task.  As a student researcher, there are plenty of things that I don’t know, and if I were to simply charge ahead on my own and not consult someone with more experience, I usually ended up getting myself into a problematic situation that could have easily been avoided if I had swallowed my pride and asked for help.  This has been one of those experiences that you go into thinking that you will be prepared for, but find out how little you really know.  It has been fascinating and humbling at the same time.  I’ve gotten to know some of the grad students in my lab on a more personal level and am now able to relate to them more closely since I have now experienced a portion of what they do on a daily basis while working towards their PHDs. Overall I’m very glad that I chose to do research as my STEP project.  It allowed me to push myself in an area that I’ve had interest in for quite some time.  I would not have had the financial means to stay in Columbus without having to work a full time job if it weren’t for the money that STEP provided.  I have gained a tremendous respect for everyone that pursues research as a career, seeing the amount of work that goes into collecting even a small amount of data. I had a small taste of research, and it was difficult, but also satisfying to be able to accomplish what I have so far
Now What? – Through the STEP program, I got to move one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a Nurse Practitioner.  In order to be an effective healthcare practitioner, you need to be able to understand the theories and basic science behind the practices that you utilize to take care of people.  It isn’t enough just to go through the motions.  You have to know why each step in the process of healthcare is taking place.  Why are certain treatments better to start with than others? Why was this medication formulated in the specific way that it was?  If you have only experienced one link in the chain of healthcare, then you aren’t going to be able to fix things when they go wrong.  Having an understanding of the entire system is always going to result in better care for the patient. I believe that my research experience will be very helpful as I seek to integrate research into patient care.  It does the patient no good to use outdated information, so I want to be able to stay up with the latest research in order to get the most out of my education. I am positive that this experience will enrich and inform my future professional life as a part of the healthcare system.


























STEP Research Reflection


For my STEP experience, I worked as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in a research lab in the psychology department. I was assigned to graduate student whom I worked under. During my time in the lab, I learned many new computer skills including basic programing with Matlab as well as an open source photo editing software called Gimp. I also was exposed to using new technologies such as eye trackers, heart rate monitors, and EEG machines. The majority of my time was split between the testing phase of our EEG experiment and the final data collection and analysis for a children’s computer based pattern recognition experiment. For the EEG experiment I was responsible for recruiting new adult participants through flyers, monitoring and responding to emails from potential participants, scheduling and conducting pre-experiment screenings (eye dominance testing and head measuring mostly), scheduling the EEG experiments and paying them upon completion. The conducting of all of the EEG experiments was handled by our post-bac though I did learn how to gel EEG caps. For this experiment, I also spent a lot of time editing pictures of fruit and cartoon characters. For the second experiment I worked on, I conducted a computer based experiment on 3-5 year olds by driving out to preschools. Since this experiment was already written by the time I joined the lab, I mostly just followed the pre-written script, monitored the children’s behavior during the experiment, and ensured the computer was recording the data properly. After we had collected all of the data we needed, I was involved in writing a MATLAB code to sort the data from individual text files from every participant into one large manipulatable data matrix.

So What?

Though I did enjoy my time working in the lab, I enjoyed the people much more than I enjoyed my work. Much of the work done in psych research is very isolating and involves hours upon hours of staring at a computer screen editing something or writing code which is something I did not honestly expect. I am a very social person and work best when working with others in a group environment which is something I did not get while in the lab. I’m very hesitant to say I hated working in the lab but a lot of what was said was going to be expected of us vs what we actually were asked to do were two very different things and I think if I had known that going in, I would have either chosen a completely different lab or done a completely different STEP project all together. There were days where I dreaded going into lab because it was a very agitated and somehow correspondingly lonely environment. The grad students didn’t bother to learn our names and often assumed that we had limitless time and energy because working in the lab was more important to them then having a job or going to class. Overall, I did learn a lot about myself and the field of research. I used to think research and grad school was something I wanted to do but now I know that it is definitely not for me. I learned that I need socialization as part of my future career and that I cannot tolerate just working alone behind a computer for the rest of my life.

Now What?

If I had discovered how I felt about psych research before half way through my junior year, I honestly would have changed majors. Unfortunately, I would not be able to change majors and graduate on time and financially, I have to graduate in 4 years because of scholarships. Therefore, I started looking for other future career goals that didn’t involve research or grad school. That’s when I found the Disney College Program so for spring semester my junior year, I happily quit my research lab, abandoned all the other negativity in my life, and moved to Florida of 7 months to work and live at Disney World. Honestly, it was one of the best life decisions I have ever made. I have now decided to make a living out of the theme park world and am currently in the process of applying for a management internship with Disney World. Come graduation, I will be moving to Florida to start the rest of my magical life in the happiest place on earth.