One goal for any budding researcher is to see their work have a tangible public impact. But, with endless hours spent in a lab or hunched over a computer, there are times where research can feel abstract or removed from reality. Neuroscience, in particular, faces this stereotype. True, many (including myself) believe that neuroscience holds the key to understanding our conscience and, by extension, our modern predicament. But the question remains: where can an aspiring neuroscientist find the life-altering research they seek?
Ironically, the answer might just lie in reality-altering substances. From neuroscience to public policy, psychedelics is a budding topic across many different fields of research. While Princeton itself is yet to enter the field, the Princeton Science of Psychedelics Club (PSPC) serves as the hub for all students interested in this emerging field. I sat down with PSPC and senior Neuroscience Major President Camilla Strauss to talk about how students interested in psychedelics research could learn more.
In PSY/NEU 338, From Animal Learning to Changing People’s Minds, my group recently presented our capstone project for the course: we researched irrationality, trying to understand when humans make irrational decisions, how that is implemented in the brain, and if certain things might actually be incorrectly labeled as ‘irrational’. Our emotions are a leading example: although some call them irrational, in practice, they play a key role in fine-tuning our decision-making and reasoning abilities. When you’re happy, for example, everything might be going more positively than expected. Your mood is thus encouraging you to continue the behaviors that led to those rewards, since that positive trend might continue (for a neuroscientific discussion of this topic, see this paper).
To demonstrate this phenomenon first-hand, we had students in the class play what is known as the Ultimatum Game:
You are the proposer. You have been given $100. You are tasked with splitting your money with a stranger, the responder. If the responder accepts the split that you propose, you both keep the money after the game ends. If the responder does not accept, no one keeps the money.
The question: how much money do you decide to offer the responder?
After reading this, students had five seconds to provide their answer. They were then asked to report their mood. The question we wanted to answer was simple:
Is the amount of money people offered statistically different between those who reported “positive” versus “negative” moods?
In this post, I’ll explain some of the basic statistics I used to formally answer this question, bolding some key terms in the field along the way. In my next post, I’ll walk through the programming aspect for visualizing those statistics.
In a continuation of last year’s seasonal series, this winter, each PCUR will interview a Princeton alumnus from their home department about his/her experience writing a senior thesis. In Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Alumni Perspectives, the alumni reveal how conducting independent research at Princeton influenced them academically, professionally and personally. Here, Ellie shares her interview.
Jacob Schatz graduated from Princeton in 2015 with a degree in Psychology. After graduation, he worked as a lab coordinator at the Temple University Infant and Child Lab until this past fall, when he began graduate school in New York University’s Applied Psychology program. I had the privilege of talking with Jacob about the independent work in psychology that he conducted at Princeton. He provided the following insights on how his interests in psychology and education inspired his senior thesis research on how children learn from storybooks and his professional trajectory beyond Princeton: Continue reading Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: A Conversation with Jacob Schatz ’15
With finals season approaching, a sense of dread sets in every time I take notes in lecture—how am I supposed to remember all of this information at once? Often the prospect of beginning the study process is so overwhelming that organizing all the information seems almost impossible.
As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’ve realized that a lot of my psychology research and coursework have provided many useful tips to make studying as effective and efficient as possible. I have compiled a few here to help you get started and hopefully feel more comfortable diving into studying when reading period comes around.
I have never liked open-ended projects. The ones that ask you to “pick one concept and explore it” or “pick something that interests you and expand on it” always overwhelm me. How can I pick just one thing to focus on from a semester-long course that I took for the explicit reason that I was interested in all of the subject matter?
Last spring, I was faced with one of these final projects in my cognitive psychology course. We were asked to pick one of the central concepts in cognitive psychology, identify a question and hypothesis related to it, and design an experiment to test it. The first thing I did was read over my notes from the semester to try to find something I was particularly interested in but…plot twist…I was interested in pretty much everything, so I needed to come up with a different strategy.
I decided to reverse engineer my search for a topic. What is a question I want to answer? What would I be interested in learning about right now? What is relevant to me at this moment? Well, at the time we were coming up on finals season, so naturally studying was all I could think about. How could I most efficiently study for all of my upcoming exams? Luckily, learning and memory are fundamental concepts in cognitive psychology so I was on my way to developing a successful, interesting, and relevant project. A project that not only appropriately connected to the material in the course, but one that I could apply to my day to day life.Continue reading Learning how to Learn: Making Research Relevant
As early as November of my freshman year, I remember hearing conversations around campus about summer plans. These conversations were not about the anticipation of vacation and relaxation, but rather the frantic and stressful search for the perfect summer opportunity to pad their resumes. It was safe to say that I was freaking out.
But this pressure motivated me to learn about my options, which ultimately allowed me to further explore my interests and participate in an incredibly rewarding research opportunity. After many meetings with my amazing academic advisers and career advisers at Career Services, I secured a position as a research assistant at a developmental neuroscience lab at UNC Chapel Hill.
This position consisted of nine consecutive weeks of unpaid, nine to five workdays, and the occasional shift on evenings and weekends. Sound draining? Yes, but I loved every second of it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of work. But what was so enlightening about the experience was the fact that I actually enjoyed doing the work. I found something I was passionate about and I had the opportunity to engage with it every single day.
The first day was a blur—meeting everyone in the lab, getting familiar with the lab space, moving into my office (my own office!!!), and running around campus collecting my various parking permits and ID badges. After taking care of these logistical details, I hit the ground running.