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.


























Functional Connectivity in the Brain – Summer Research

In my STEP experience, I spent May-August 2014 doing undergraduate research in a neurological stroke rehabilitation lab at the Wexner Medical Center under the oversight of Dr. Alexandra Borstad. Working full time hours with the help of STEP covering my living costs, I spent my time in the lab independently learning the track-weighted functional connectivity analysis procedure, a technique combining both functional data and diffusion-track data into one comprehensive image.  We hypothesize that track-weighted functional connectivity is sensitive to sensory-motor changes caused by stroke. Through the TWFC method, we performed a whole brain analysis in order to assess frontoparietal white matter network connections.

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Essentially, the objective of my STEP undergraduate experience was to learn the TWFC analysis procedure, and to be able to perform the data processing with a high degree of understanding. This will allow me to utilize TWFC analysis in my future undergraduate research on diminished white matter microstructure in persons with stroke. Previous studies have suggested white matter connections are critically important for hand and arm function, and that these connections are diminished after stroke. These studies also suggest that through motor rehabilitation efforts, reorganization of white matter connections occurs. TWFC may be a potential resource for insight into efficacy of rehabilitation, overall damage to the brain network, reorganization of networks, and even predicting the success of rehabilitation methods.

In regards to my thoughts on my STEP experience, I overall felt like this research experience was a substantial challenge that I was happy to face head on. I had not previously had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of hours in a lab due to financial limitations, and STEP made this possible for the first time in my academic career.  I feel that I am much more confident in my ability as a student researcher, and am capable of performing such research in the future. Most of all, through my interactions with stroke patients attending therapy sessions in the Borstad lab, I also realized that I greatly enjoy and respect the clinical atmosphere of medical recovery, and that it is very rewarding improving the lives of patients that you interact with face to face. With this in mind, I will undoubtedly be pursuing a clinical position in my later career, so that I may continue to improve the livelihoods of persons suffering from ailments such as stroke.

I plan on continuing the research I began through my STEP project throughout the remainder of my undergraduate career, as this research is still far from completed. With the framework and understanding of the methodology, it is now a matter of applying it to have a positive impact on our understanding of stroke. Nevertheless, I gained an important understanding of what I want to pursue as a career through this research, as I realized I greatly enjoyed interacting with stroke patients and found it to be immensely rewarding. While I am not currently set on a clinical specialization, I do know now that I want to work with patients in the future, a huge leap forward from before my experience.  Previously, I had little to no idea of what I truly wanted to do with my field or science background, and was greatly confused about which path to take moving forward. Now, I have a solid general direction towards clinical graduate programs, and past research experience to back it up. I am truly thankful to have been provided the opportunity to learn, improve myself, and develop future goals through my STEP experience.

Luke Lundy – Neuroscience 2016