Thursday, July 18, 2013

Accepting The Challenge Of Undergraduate Research

Shiney David, a Verrazano Psychology major, has been doing research for independent study as part of her Verrazano course requirement.  Below, Shiney shares more about the research she's involved in and what she has learned from the experience.

Shiney David outside the lab
My name is Shiney David, I’m a Psychology major with a future goal of becoming a successful physical therapist. In order to fulfill my Verrazano course requirement and to receive my remaining three credits to graduate with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology, I decided to enroll in an independent research study with Professor Bertram Ploog. Professor Ploog’s research focuses on behavioral animal models to study abnormal attention patterns in children with autism. His particular field of interest was very appealing to me because my career goal is to become a physical therapist specializing in pediatrics.

Professor Ploog's current research, the project that I'm involved in, focuses on analyzing effects of taurine, a dietary supplement, on learning and memory.  In this research, the aim is to measure the improvement in memory and learning in aged pigeons that are treated with the taurine supplement.  Previous research has found taurine to act as an an agonist (a substance that binds to a receptor to induce a biochemical response) of GABA receptors in the central nervous system.  GABA is the most abundant inhibitory transmitter which is responsible for cognitive flexibility.  Furthermore, it has been found that taurine supplements lead to an increase in GABA levels.  If taurine increases the level of this neurotransmitter, then age-related brain dysfunction could be minimized and treated substantially and successfully.  Keeping these theories in mind, Professor Ploog created a paradigm where he divided a group of pigeons into three sets of four.  The first set was a group of young pigeons that were not treated with taurine, the second set was a group of old pigeons that were also not treated with taurine, and the third set was a group of old pigeons treated with taurine.  The first two sets served as control groups for this experiment.  My tasks involved bringing each set to the experiment room, placing them in the chambers, and running the test.  Once all sets were run, I had to weigh the birds and feed them according to their weights.  At the present moment, all the data that's critical to have for my paper has been collected.  I am in the process of analyzing it and am really curious to see whether any positive effects of taurine on learning and memory can be yielded.  

For my last undergraduate course, I wanted to challenge myself in a way that could prepare me for the graduate program I will be starting this fall.  As expected, this research experience transcended all the knowledge I had acquired over the past three years.  This course exposed me to methodological techniques that helped me polish up my analytical thinking and organizational abilities, along with my writing and problem-solving skills.  This opportunity also taught me how to engage in the creation of new knowledge on the cutting edge of an academic discipline.  As the course has come to an end, I believe that I can now confidently apply the skills and knowledge acquired to real-world problems when needed.  For students who are thinking about taking a research course during their undergraduate career, I would like to say that it is an amazing opportunity that one should not miss.  A research course will teach you the skills that you might not learn in a regular classroom environment.  Although you may face some difficulties, in the near future you will be very grateful for the experience.

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