7th Annual Neuroscience Awards Ceremony Recap

By Ashlyn Johnson

On May 22nd, 2019, the Neuroscience Graduate Program held its 7th Annual Awards Ceremony. Students and faculty came together to celebrate another year of accomplishments and successes, while also enjoying drinks and delicious food from Alon’s Bakery and Market. Nominations for each award are solicited from all members (both students and faculty) of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. The recipients of each award are chosen by the Awards Committee, which is comprised of Neuroscience graduate students, Alejandro Lopez and Elizabeth Heaton, as well as Neuroscience faculty members Drs. Sam Sober, Gordon Berman, Arthur English, Ellen Hess, and David Weinshenker. Congratulations to all of the award recipients!

Scientific Outreach Award: Erica Akhter

For four years, Erica engaged middle school and high school students around Atlanta in the most exciting neuroscience-themed competition: the Brain Bee. First as a Brain Bee Workshop Coordinator and Lead Instructor, Erica was instrumental in helping students prepare for the competition. Then, as the Brain Bee Chair and Lead Coordinator, Erica organized workshops, promoted the competition, and coordinated with the International Brain Bee organization to ensure that the event went off without a hitch. In addition to her work with the Atlanta Brain Bee, Erica has developed and taught neuroscience lessons at over 7 schools to over 650 students and has served as a judge at over 8 regional and state science fairs in Georgia. Erica has consistently demonstrated a commitment to sharing science with the public!

From left to right: Erica Akhter (Scientific Outreach Awardee), Lindsey Shapiro, Rachel Tillage, Stephanie Foster, Alexa Iannitelli, and Alicia Lane.

University Service Award: Alejandro Lopez

The University Service Award is given to a student that has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to service within the Emory community. Alejandro has served as both Vice President and President of the GDBBS Involved in Volunteerism at Emory (GIVE) organization, where he has led other Emory graduate students in volunteering in the Atlanta area. He has also dedicated his time and talents to the Neuroscience Program as a recruitment coordinator for the program, as well as a student representative on the Neuroscience Awards Committee. As a rising third year in the program, Alejandro wasted no time in giving back to his Emory community, and we are grateful for his service!

Outstanding Early Achievement Award: Alejandro Lopez

The Outstanding Early Achievement Award is given to a pre-candidacy student who has demonstrated excellent scholarship during the first year of study. Since joining the Neuroscience Program, Alejandro has hit the ground running. He already has one first-author and another co-author publication in review. He has earned travel awards from the American Society for Neurorehabilitation and a 1st Place Travel Award Winner from the GDBBS Student Research Symposium. Alejandro is also a Neuroscience Scholars Program Associate and was accepted into the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence, and Success (SPINES) at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Additionally, he gave a Nanosymposium presentation at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience meeting on the influence of descending cortical projections on spinal reflex excitability in post-stroke individuals. Alejandro has a lot to be proud of, and we can’t wait to see what he achieves next!

From left to right: Alejandro Lopez (University Service and Outstanding Early Achievement Awardee), Elizabeth Heaton, and Ellen Woon.

Excellence in Teaching Award: Andrea Pack

Andrea has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to teaching at multiple institutions including Emory, Phillips State Prison in Buford, Georgia, and the Whitworth Women’s Facility in Hartwell, Georgia. Through her work as the Science Education Coordinator for Common Good Atlanta, Andrea has taught several courses covering neuroscience topics ranging from the neurobiology of mindfulness to systems neuroscience at multiple prisons in Georgia. At Emory, Andrea was a teaching assistant for the fall neuroscience course for first-year graduate students, as well as a guest lecturer for an undergraduate neurobiology course. Andrea’s teaching efforts are extensive, impactful, and wide-reaching.

Dr. Sam Sober congratulating Andrea Pack (Excellence in Teaching Awardee).

Excellence in Mentorship Award: Arielle Valdez-Sinon

Arielle has demonstrated a strong commitment to mentorship through mentoring three undergraduates, four rotation students, and two graduate students. Just this year, she was the primary mentor for two rotation students from the Neuroscience Program. Most notably, one of her mentees received a summer fellowship for the National Fragile X Foundation and was selected as a Barry Goldwater Fellow. Arielle prioritizes training her mentees in technical skills as well as professional development with instruction in writing research proposals and preparing poster presentations. Outside of Emory, she has served on career panels for students at Georgia State University who are interested in applying to MD/PhD programs, and has mentored several students through the MD/PhD application process. Arielle has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to multi-faceted mentorship.

Dr. Victor Faundez detailing Arielle Valdez-Sinon’s (Excellence in Mentorship Awardee) dedication to her mentees.

Leadership Award: Erin King

The Leadership award is presented to a student who exhibits exceptional leadership within the Neuroscience Program and goes beyond the expectations of a Neuroscience Program member. As a testament to her leadership, Erin is the current president of our Graduates In Neuroscience (GIN) organization. Last year, she received the GIN Student Service Award for her participation in and support of the program while not formally holding GIN office. She has organized poster sessions for recruitment, led town halls, helped organize retreat, organized GIN coffee hours, and many other events as president and member of GIN. She has consistently demonstrated a commitment to leading and supporting the program in both an unofficial and official capacity. We are grateful for her leadership!

Dr. Michael Borich discussing Erin King’s (Leadership Awardee) many leadership efforts.

Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award: Pernille Bülow

Pernille, or Penny, is most certainly deserving of the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award. Penny discovered a new form of homeostatic plasticity and identified two kinds of disrupted homeostatic plasticity in a culture model, the details of which can be found in her first-author publication in Cell Reports. Additionally, she is a co-first-author on a book chapter on homeostatic plasticity in the central nervous system, as well as a co-author on two other publications. She has been invited to give talks at the National Fragile X Foundation International Conference and the Emory Frontiers in Neuroscience Series, and she has given poster presentations at Society for Neuroscience meetings and the Gordon Research Seminar and Conference on Fragile X and Autism Related Disorders. Most excitingly, she was awarded the Junior Investigator Award from the National Fragile X Foundation in 2018. Congratulations, Penny!

Dr. Pete Wenner describing Penny Bülow’s (Outstanding Scientific Achievement Awardee) many successes!

GIN Faculty of the Year Award: Victor Faundez

The GIN Faculty of the Year Award is presented to a faculty member who exhibits outstanding mentorship qualities that set them apart from their peers. Victor Faundez has been an outstanding mentor to many students and an excellent teacher to all who have come through the Neuroscience Program. Since 2011, Victor has been director of the cell biology module in IBS 514. His lectures are exciting, interactive, and always thought-provoking. He has also lectured and directed modules in courses at Emory College, the medical school, as well as the graduate school. Outside of the classroom, he has been the thesis advisor for ten students and has served on 105 dissertation committees. Finally, he was junior director of graduate studies (DGS) for the Neuroscience Program for 6 years. His service as DGS was instrumental in helping students have a smooth and strong start to graduate school. Victor has consistently shown a strong and unwavering investment in the development and success of students. We are so grateful to have him in the Neuroscience Program.

Left to right: Kamyra Edokpolor (GIN Student Service Awardee), Trisha Lala, Dr. Ellen Hess, and Dr. Victor Faundez (GIN Faculty of the Year Awardee).

GIN Student Service Award: Kamyra Edokpolor

The GIN Student Service Award is given to a student for outstanding participation in and support of Neuroscience Program activities while not formally holding a GIN Office. Kamyra has consistently supported GIN events through activities such as volunteering to help set up the recruitment party, and being present to assist wherever needed at GIN events. She has even driven the vans for recruitment (which requires van certification)! Additionally, Kamyra has continued to provide thoughtful and constructive feedback to the program whenever asked, which has served to improve our program over all. Kamyra’s presence and efforts make the Neuroscience Program better, and we are grateful to have her in our program!

Editor: Kristie Garza

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Hey, You Touched My Brain!

Authors: Ashlyn Johnson and Meghna Ravi

The Atlanta Science Festival is an annual, two-week endeavor dedicated to “bringing people together through the wonder of science” (https://atlantasciencefestival.org/about/). The festival features over 100 events and engages over 50,000 people in and around Atlanta. The Exploration Expo, a free event inside Piedmont Park, is the culmination of the festival and includes over 100 hands-on, interactive booths to engage people of all ages.

On Saturday, March 23rd, graduate student volunteers from Emory and Georgia State came together to host a booth at the Exploration Expo titled “Hey, You Touched My Brain!” where visitors were allowed to touch real human brains. Volunteers helped run the booth by allowing attendees to touch the brains (with gloves on!) while pointing out fascinating brain areas and answering the attendees’ many questions. Many of the volunteers noted that their favorite parts of their experience with the booth were the excellent questions from the many excited children. Frequent questions included: Are these real human brains? How do you have the brains in the first place? Why aren’t these brains red? Why can’t we see the memories inside the brain? Are the brains from a dead person? As two of the neuroscience graduate students volunteering at the booth, we appreciated the wonder these children had for a field that is no longer novel to us. Although we volunteered at the festival to get the public excited about neuroscience, we left the booth with a renewed enthusiasm for our field.

Along with the opportunity to touch a human brain and ask questions, science festival attendees also got to visually compare human brains with brains from other species, influence cockroach movement through microstimulation, give awkward high-fives while wearing prism goggles, and learn about the upcoming Brain Bee and  other programs available through Georgia State’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Additionally, a King of Pops stand was conveniently located next to the booth, making for an excellent post-science snack.

Volunteering at the booth was a fantastic opportunity to answer many fascinating questions and to get adults and children alike excited about neuroscience. Be sure to check out next year’s festival to continue Atlanta’s investment in science! Check out the Atlanta Science Festival’s website for ways that you can get involved and pay attention to emails for your opportunity to volunteer at next year’s neuroscience outreach booth at the Exploration Expo.

Jasmine Hope (Emory) and Laura Cortés (GSU) proudly display the information table stocked with booklets, stickers, pencils, and brain shaped erasers.
Alyssa Roeckner (Emory) shows a human brain to visitors.
Dené Voisin (GSU) demonstrates how to influence cockroach movement through microstimulation.
Jessicica Root (Emory) shows off a mouse brain as people wait in line to see the human brains.

GIN Wellness Week


Monday April 8th: 

Meet and Greet with Campus ResourcesStop by and learn about the resources available at Emory for health and wellness. Snacks from Alon’s!  WH 500 4:00 p.m.


Tuesday April 9th: 

  1. Therapy Dogs- Hang out with some PAWS for life therapy dogs and eat king of pops. Outside RRC ( rain location TBD), 12:00 p.m.
  2. Yoga: Free Yoga session from Student Rec and Wellness. Outside RRC ( rain location TBD), 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday April 10th: 

Wellness Panel Discussion- Various participants across Emory for a panel discussion on graduate student health and wellness. Med Grill provided. WH 400, 12:00 p.m.


Thursday April 11th: 

Therapy Dogs Part Two— Hang out with more PAWS for life therapy dogs and eat king of pops. Outside RRC ( rain location TBD) at 4:00 p.m.


Friday April 12th:

  1. Guided Meditation with Emory-Tibet Initiative. 4:00 p.m. Location CNR 1034.
  2. Morning Run: Group meets at Lullwater Entrance at 8:00 a.m.

Please RSVP on OrgSync to sign up for these events.

GIN Spring Town Hall Notes

Notes adapted from Secretary, Lindsey Shapiro, with introduction by Trisha Lala.

The Spring GIN Town Hall was held on March 7th, 2019. GIN Presidents, Archana Venkataraman and Erin King, invited students to discuss items related to the Neuroscience program, such as the most recent round of recruitment, strategies for early detection of  student and mentorship issues within the program, the neuroscience curriculum, and upcoming campus events. The GIN Presidents also relayed topics discussed in the most recent faculty Executive Committee meeting to students. The goal of the GIN Town Halls is  to promote transparency between faculty and students in an effort to improve our program. Snacks are provided at these meetings, so please try to attend!

Recruitment

  • We have 5 acceptances, 7 declines so far.
  • Changes to the process moving forward:
    • Poster Session: Will be held on the top floor of the Rollins Public Health Building, no faculty will be present.
      • If students receive PDS funds, they are supposed to present at an Emory function, and this would count for that (DSAC also counts).
    • No more campus tour: The tour was replaced with coffee hour with information about student organizations and Emory cores. Students and faculty will be invited. Students can tour the campus on Saturday before their flights if they want.
    • Friday Dinner: We are changing the dinner to a cocktail hour and dinner for a small group of students. After dinner, the event will open up to all interested students. GIN covers drink tickets for current students, program covers cost for recruits. There will no longer be a house party. 
    • We may add 3rd recruitment coordinator position to help manage all the work/driving.
    • We need more volunteers for escorts (especially at Yerkes).

Mentorship

  • This is an issue consistently brought up by students.
  • As the new junior DGS, Sam has been collecting feedback about students’ mentoring experiences, both through regular in-person meetings and an online survey, and he will use this information to advise future students on different potential mentors.
    • Fill out the survey if you have not already!
  • What does it mean to be a bad mentor? How can bad mentors be removed from our program or have privileges removed?
    • We need a way to approach this with Nael McCarty, the GDBBS director.  He needs to hear from students that this is a concern. Perhaps we can write a letter to submit to him.  
    • We need a way to more formally define bad mentorship in order to streamline a process for removal of a faculty member. There is currently no way to remove a mentor for the program (other than for not meeting teaching requirements).
      • Can someone go through the survey feedback and find common traits/themes for mentors who are not well-received by students and use this to make a type of rubric?
      • If an individual leaves a lab, that person and their mentor should have a formal means of discussing what went wrong. Perhaps this could be some type of exit meeting/survey?  However, this does not target the bad mentors who have not had students leave their lab.
      • Should/ can we have a more formal way for students to assess mentors on a semi-regular basis?
      • One potential solution is a mentorship contract upon joining a new lab (some PIs already do this). This way, there are well defined metrics if something goes wrong, and ways of managing expectations.
        • We would need to formalize this in some way so there are specific items on the contract.
    • Need ways to train new faculty in mentorship – ASOM (Atlanta Society of Mentors) meetings or training by senior faculty were some ideas.

Strategies for early detection of problems with students/within the program

  • Related to mentorship issues above, we are looking for ways to avoid serious issues that students face when things are not addressed appropriately.
  • In addition to the senior peer liaison position that is new this year, we could potentially create a junior liaison position for each of the cohorts.
    • This person would be a voice for  their cohort and help bring attention to specific issues a cohort is facing.
    • This would have to be an elected position.
    • There were concerns expressed that if issues are at the discretion of this individual, they may get lost in the mix and not reach the appropriate place.
    • Are these peer liaisons more relevant for 1-2 year cohorts who spend more time together?
    • There was an idea brought up for an anonymous email system for people who have concerns but are not ready to escalate the matter.

Other Changes to Protect Students

  • 3rd year and above will have project update meeting with executive committee members without their mentors present.
    • These meetings will not be mandatory
      • There was a concern that if the meetings are opt-in, faculty may not take time for it.
      • The goals of these meetings would not necessarily be for scientific feedback, but for other concerns (i.e. advisor concerns, etc.).
      • Concerns were raised that this is not different than going to the DGS. If too loosely defined, concerns will not get where they need to go.
    • An idea is a mandatory survey where students answer specific questions and then the appropriate person can reach out based on these concerns?
      • Problem with that is scales on surveys can be very subjective.
  • There will be protected time with committee without your advisor
    • There can be a mandatory five minutes at the end of every committee meeting dedicated to discuss any issues without the student’s advisor present.
  • We discussed other ways to help people avoid a bad situation before it escalates:
    • What about panels to teach students how to pick rotation mentors, how to form a committee, etc.? This does not have to be a formal class but could be organized on a volunteer basis.

Mandatory Reporters

  • All Emory faculty, postdocs, technicians, and staff are mandatory reporters, except for licensed mental health professionals and certain staff members in the RESPECT Program. Also, if a student is serving as a TA they are considered mandatory reporters both for the students in their class, and may be considered mandatory reporters for all students (we have gotten inconsistent feedback on this from OEI/Title IX ​and are working on getting clarification).
  • Peer liaisons will always be students who are NOT required to be mandatory reporters (e.g. only students who are not currently TAing ​are eligible to be liaisons). Starting in 2019, liaisons will be elected during GIN elections.
  • If you are unsure, and it matters to you, always clarify if a person is a mandatory reporter. If it helps Emory’s legal case, they will use any information available. Also, be wary of sending information over email, this can also be accessed/used by the university.
  • We have Leah Roesch as a new outside faculty member to talk to if we have issues- working on defining what the Leah’s relationship to the program will look like.

Wellness Week

  • Notes in executive  committee notes (sent out via email), but let Archana and Lindsey know if you have ideas.

Curriculum

  • Is there a better time to do alternative career opportunities than 1st year professional development course?
    • Should that class be moved?
    • What about a seminar series?
    • We discussed a possible alumni symposium to discuss career paths
      • How do we contact alumni? Contact recent graduates, who may know a larger network of alumni. GDBBS keeps a list. 
  • Statistics course will be changed at level of GDBBS, so people will have more options.
  • Elective courses are now 3-credit requirement. There was some frustration about lack of what is available. Neeti will be working on survey of what people have taken and thoughts about courses.
  • What about journal clubs as classes? We could make those which are already established as a for-credit course


Please try to attend the Town Halls as the GIN Presidents really appreciate all student feedback !

Virtual Reality on a Night Out

By Trisha Lala

Think of your favorite bar: Is it a lowkey locale with a fantastic menu? Is it a barely lit bar with a great sound system? Or is it a very humid basement location that could use some more airflow and is packed to the brim on 90’s night (I think we all know where I’m talking about)? A good bar can improve your mood and set the tone for your night by providing you a great experience.

 A recent trend for  bars is to include activities for their patrons. Some bars now have board games, video games, bingo, bocce ball, bowling, shuffleboard, pool, and arcade games. What could be more fun than being out at a bar where you can enjoy the company of others while playing a game? The Revery is Atlanta’s first adult-only virtual reality bar, conveniently located in Midtown near Ponce City Market. The Revery has revolutionized what you can expect on a night out.

Danny Lustberg (MSP program) and Trisha Lala (NS program) at The Revery

Owners Vincent Wynn II and Michael Rudolph were inspired by Korean karaoke rooms.  The Revery’s goal is to create a fluid social atmosphere where its patrons can enjoy ambience with great lighting, music, a full stage, amazing (my friends and I would say, dangerous) drinks, all while friends take turns playing virtual reality games!

For $40/hour a group of up to 6 (although larger rooms accommodate more people for a higher rate) can take turns playing virtual reality games. Does this sound boring for those not playing the game? Hardly! The rest of the group can listen to fantastic music by local DJ’s, sip yummy cocktails and chat while a friend makes a fool of themselves playing one of the many games they offer. The games are for any skill level and range from combat games to sports, with new games circulating in regularly!        

In addition to this jovial application, virtual reality has many practical clinical uses. VR Therapy, also known as Virtual Reality Immersion Therapy, a form of exposure therapy,can  be used to treat fear disorders, such as PTSD. Emory’s own Dr. Barbara Rothbaum has found that this technology is an accurate way to trigger responses of the limbic system.Upon use of this technology, patients display increased cortisol levels and higher heart rate. This technology can also treat autism, stroke patients, and help  train soldiers. And now, this powerful technology can even make a night out a little more interesting.

It is fascinating to think how this technology affects our experiences on a night out. How are our brains affected by virtual reality? Virtual reality has been found to activate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The DLPFC is thought to reflect the experience of “presence”. Presence refers to “subjective feeling of being in a virtual environment while being transiently unaware of one’s real location and surroundings and of the technology that delivers the stream of virtual input to the senses” (Jäncke et al, 2009). The DLPFC, which receives combined inputs from a variety of structures, integrates the sensory input that VR provides and creates a subjective experience.

Perhaps the most alluring aspect of VR technology is how it can be uniquely designed  for each patient. For example, patients with anxiety disorders can show a range of phenotypes and VR provides the platform to individually treat each patient.

The burgeoning research in this field reflects its great utility. VR must also activate the hippocampus as we generate spatial and episodic memories. In fact, the Singer lab (shout out to Nuri Jeong, Steph Prince, Lou Blanpain, and our Editor-in-Chief Kristie Garza, members of this amazing lab) uses augmented reality to understand the neural correlates of learning and memory (virtual reality is a fully immersive experience while augmented reality is a visual enhancement of reality)!

As technology shapes our daily experiences more and more, it is interesting to think about how our social lives and activities will also be constructed by technology in the coming future. I am even more excited to see how this technology will be utilized to treat patients as more is learned about how it affects the brain. But in the meantime, check out the Revery VR bar and have a great time!

Follow the Revery VR on instagram: @revery_vr !

References:

Jancke L, Cheetham M, Baumgartner T (2009) Virtual reality and the role of the prefrontal cortex in adults and children. Front Neurosci 3:52-59.


Best of SfN 2018

By Stephanie Foster

The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting has come and gone as quickly as a Byrd scooter speeding along the sidewalks of San Diego. (Really though, scooters have taken over that city.) With close to 30,000 attendees each year, SFN is a monster of a conference. Because of its sheer size, it’s nearly impossible to attend every talk, poster, and social that might appeal to you. If you were unable to attend SFN this year – or if you went and were simply unable to be in four places at once – here is an overview of some of the major conference highlights.

Presidential Special Lecture by Bryan Roth – I had heard that Bryan Roth was an amusing speaker, and this lecture proved those rumors to be true! Roth, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill who is perhaps best known for developing the chemogenetic tool DREADDs, gave a lecture entitled” From Salvia Divinorum to LSD: Toward a Molecular Understanding of Psychoactive Drug Actions”. He started his lecture with an entertaining video of a man experiencing salvia-induced hallucinations. He then discussed how his lab discovered that salvinorin A, the active compound in the salvia

plant, selectively binds the kappa opioid receptor to exert its effects. Roth also discussed his lab’s more recent publication of the crystal structure of an LSD-bound serotonin receptor. By understanding the crystal structure of key G-protein coupled receptors, Roth envisions that scientists will be able to identify compounds that will become the next generation of psychiatric pharmacotherapies. He finished his talk with a description of his drug discovery program, in which novel compounds can be tested against the entire human GPCR-ome in massively parallel screens.

David Kopf Lecture on Neuroethics by BJ Casey – This was a phenomenal talk that demonstrated how cutting edge neuroscience can be used to guide policy. Casey, a professor at Yale University, has long argued that immature cognitive function should be considered when assessing whether an adolescent should be charged as an adult for a crime. Her most recent work has shown that while adolescents may be similar to adults regarding cognitive abilities, their psychosocial maturity is not yet fully developed, rendering them more likely to make poor choices due to peer or emotional influences. Casey ended her talk with an emotional call to action, urging that we use developmental neuroscience to protect adolescents from the trauma that many face when treated as an adult in the judicial system.

#MeTooSTEM events – In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women in STEM fields are also speaking out about their experiences and advocating for a culture shift in academia. New to SFN this year, a room was reserved during the conference to provide a dedicated space where people could share their experiences and discuss ways to affect change. This movement was also recognized during the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience Luncheon that occurred later during the conference.

Laney Reception – Emory SFN attendees were invited to spend an evening at the house of Laney Graduate School alumnus Dr. William Rice. Attendees enjoyed delicious appetizers and drinks while networking with alumni of the Neuroscience program. Students were able to get advice regarding careers in industry, patent law, teaching, and more. But the most popular guest was Dr. Rice’s adorable dog, who wore a leopard print coat and spent the night begging unsuspecting people for meatballs.

Art of Neuroscience Exhibit – Do you love science-themed crafts? Then this exhibit would have been for you!SFN invited artists to showcase their neuroscience-themed work during the conference. The exhibit featuredhandcrafted jewelry, pillows decorated with hand-stitched, rainbow colored brains, scarves with neuronsprinted on them, and a number of watercolors andphotographs.

As you can see, one of SFN’s strengths is that it has a little something for everyone. From science and socials to art and activism, this conference offers many opportunities to look at neuroscience from a new angle. If this appeals to you, consider attending Society for Neuroscience 2019 in Chicago!