Dr. Tottenham began her talk at the MIND with the statement that it takes a long time for humans to develop emotion regulation “as any parent can attest to.” Her lecture was part of the MIND Institute’s Distinguished Lecture Series. Talks which both researchers and members of the public attend to learn from scholars studying diverse topics relating to development.
Dr. Tottenham explained that her lab studies early experiences that lead to differences in emotional functioning in adulthood. Dr. Tottenham explained that in children there are key differences in the neural circuits underlying emotion. Specifically, in adults, connections from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala are useful for controlling fearful experiences. Children do not show these connections. However, children show “buffering” of fear when in the presence of a parent. This buffering is so strong that children will even preferentially explore a “fear-conditioned” stimulus if they learned in the presence of their parent. Adolescents and adults do not show these behaviors. Additionally, they show mature PFC-amygdala connectivity.
Why then, does it take so long for this circuitry to develop?
Dr. Tottenham studies this question by asking families to participate who have adopted children from international institutions. In the previously institutionalized children, approximately 60% of 5-9 year olds show a more adult-like pattern in their neural activity. These children show lower anxiety than previously institutionalized peers who do no show the adult-like pattern. The children with the adult-like pattern also do not show the parental buffering seen in typically developing children. This research indicates that the accelerated circuitry development is an adaptation to their harsh environment. There’s a trade-off, however, because showing parental buffering is associated with fewer internalizing problems (such as depression) in adulthood.
The talk was enjoyed by researchers and the public alike. I look forward to seeing further work from Dr. Tottenham.
On Friday, February 26th Dr.s Tatiana Kazdoba, Prescott Leach, and Jacqueline Crawley presented on their work at the UC Davis MIND Institute. In Dr. Crawley’s lab, scientist’s use genetic mouse models of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Crawley opened with an explanation of the usefulness of these mouse models. She explained that though it doesn’t make sense to think of these mice as having autism in the same way humans have autism, they still show some of the characteristics of the disorder. These characteristics may include social deficits or repetitive behaviors. When a mouse model reliably shows one of these symptoms, scientists can attempt to reduce the symptom using pharmaceuticals. If the pharmaceutical is effective in the mouse, it may also be effective humans.
The three scientists discussed progress they have made on inter-related projects examining different genetic lines of mice. Mouse lines and pharmaceutical interventions are selected based on multiple criteria. They must show genetic relevance (the genes affected in the mice must also be affected in humans), symptom relevance, generalizabity (for example, working in both mice and rats), feasibility, and replicability. Further, the lab examines behavioral, EEG, and physiological measures.
The projects are already beginning to show results, but at differing levels of public report. I look forward to seeing more results and progress over time.
The bi-weekly MIND Institute Research Seminar Series continued on October 23 with a presentation by Dr.s Randi Hagerman and Norman Brule. Dr. Hagerman kicked off the presentation with a discussion of the importance of this program. Clinical trials at the MIND Institute typically consist of children with neurodevelopmental delays trying treatments, or clinicians looking for potential biomarkers. Though many clincial trials are drug trials, others include probiotics (Dr. Kathy Angkustsiri) and therapeutic video games (Dr.s Marjorie Solomon and Julie Schweitzer). Dr. Hagerman explained the importance of these trials as an interface between basic science and what the parents really care about — improvements in their kids.
The clinical trails program at the MIND facilitates all parts of the clinical trials process, including regulatory documents, budget negotiation, protocol visits, data entry, and ensures guidelines are followed. The hard work of the team resulted in a “squeaky clean” audit from the FDA, as well as AAHRPP certification, a very high standard in human research studies.
Dr. Hagerman additionally presented results from one of the studies. She indicated exciting results in improvements on visual perception, fine motor, and composite scores in children, however noted how difficult it is to pick outcome measures before beginning a trial.
Future directions for the team include a host of new and exciting trials, as well as incorporating outcome measures and interventions from other teams at the MIND Institute.
Attendees at the fifth annual Center for Mind and Brain Idea Blitz heard exciting talks from five CMB faculty members.
Dr. Simona Ghetti kicked off the event by describing new neuroimaging work on infantile amnesia. The study uses a clever paradigm to examine if an increase in dentate gyrus and CA3 volume positively or negatively predicts memory performance. Toddlers are asleep during the scan, but the team is able to get functional measures in addition to the structural by playing a song the participants had previously encountered either forward or in reverse.
Dr. Tony Shahin spoke next challenging the traditional explanation of the McGurk effect. The McGurk effect is observed when participants view a speaker whose lip patterns do not match the audio signal (usually “ba” versus “pa”). This effect is usually attributed to fusion of the signal in auditory and visual cortex, but Dr. Shahin proposes a model where visual cortex directly affects the representation in auditory cortex.
Next, Dr. John Henderson described a new neuroimaging technique with an exciting name. FIRE (FIxation REgistered) fMRI uses co-registered eye-tracking and fMRI signals. Dr. Henderson will use this technique to examine prediction in language. While participants are reading a paragraph, the fMRI signal can be related to how well the fixated work fits expectations and how constrained (predictable) it is.
Dr. John Olichney gave a rapid fire presentation of his new R01, which will use ERPs to improve detection and treatment of Alzheimers Disease. Dr. Olichney explained that ERPs are sensitive, and thus may aid in early detection of Alzheimers Disease, provide a measure of treatment response, track disease progress, or detect potential mechanisms for how therapies work.
Finally, Dr. Steve Luck asked how we are able to complete tasks we had never done before. For example, if a friend asks us to “get the big blue bowl from the cabinet to the right of the microwave?” how are we able to complete this task with no training or feedback? Dr. Luck explained that while humans can complete these novel tasks easily, neural network models generally require lots of training and cannot rapidly switch between tasks. He plans to use a combinatorial task generator to make an enormous task space for undergraduates to complete in the lab (with no practice or feedback) so that he can propose biologically plausible neural network models to explain this behavior.
I recently attended an information session for UC Davis’s FUTURE program. You can find much of the information about this program (and apply for the certificate track) at the website.
The information session was led by Dr. Jen Greenier and Stacy Hayashi. They opened with an explanation for why the FUTURE program was started. In 2012, the NIH Workforce Initiative reported that graduate and post-doctoral training programs need to train scientists in the biomedical and life sciences fields for a wide range of career options, rather than exclusively for academic settings. Additionally, they said that such training should not increase the length of time of training. This report led to the BEST initiative. UC Davis is one of only seventeen institutions to receive a BEST award, a grant that the institution uses to broaden training for graduate students and post docs. At UC Davis, this grant led to the FUTURE program.
The tracks of the FUTURE program are described thoroughly at the website, so I will keep the descriptions brief. There are two tracks, the certificate track, and the self-directed track. For the certificate track (which requires an application), students complete nine professional development workshops, covering topics such as individual development plans, interviews, and resume building. These workshops are expected to occur on Tuesday mornings between January 12 and March 8 (though I don’t think that is set in stone yet). Following this process, trainees will meet with a career advisor regularly to discuss their goals, primarily relating to securing a full or part-time internship in an area of interest. Internships can be on or off campus, full or part-time, and can occur up to 6 months following a student’s graduation (or the end of a post-doc’s appointment).
The self-directed track provides similar opportunities, but on a sign-up basis.
Additionally, trainees are able to apply for a career exploration fund. This fund could be used to attend a workshop or bring in a guest speaker.
One thing I found exciting about the program, is the results and recommendations will be reported to the NIH at the end of the five-year grant. So in addition to individual career development, trainees will be contributing the NIH initiative to broaden training.
A number of UCD students recently attend the Beyond Academia conference at UC Berkeley. For those not familiar, the Beyond Academia conference is designed for students in PhD programs to explore options outside of the standard tenure track professor route. The conference features panel discussions with PhD recipients in alternative careers including nonprofit, management, scientific writing, software engineering, and data analysis; as well as workshops on public speaking, branding yourself, or picking a target company. I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering leaving academia or who just wants to explore!
One piece of advice I hadn’t considered before attending Beyond Academia was to begin creating a portfolio of your work. This can mean different things for different careers, for example if one is considering a career in writing they might collect (non-academic journal) articles they had written. Or, if one is considering a career in data analysis, it may be worthwhile to begin storing scripts your write in a github repository. Having these sort of resources can help show potential employers that you are serious about the work you would be doing outside of academia, and that you have the skills they are looking for.
Those who know me know there are two things I care very strongly about: women in science, and podcasts.
Naturally I was very intrigued by the recent Science for the People rebroadcast regarding women in STEM. I always enjoy Science for the People, but I particularly endorse the second interview in this episode.
Dr. Hazari discusses research based techniques educators can use to retain women in STEM disciplines. I was surprised to find that many things she said do NOT work (for example, discussing historical female scientists in lectures) were what I had been exposed to, while those things that DO work (for example, discussing microagressions) I had never experienced in my classes. I wish I had heard this before attending last year’s Diversity Dialogues, as it may have influenced my suggestions!
As someone who is constantly looking for data on the next step, I found this article about why it’s hard to track post-docs’ career trajectories interesting and enlightening. The article also gives some information about where the known post-docs end up, and links to further information.
This week is Brain Awareness Week, described by the Dana Foundation as a “campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.” UC Davis students participate in a farmer’s market booth (pictured) and run workshops at local high schools and elementary schools to tell the public a little about the brain.
Awesome job everyone!
Online Mock Interviews with Aggie Job Link
The Internship and Career Center at UC Davis recently added a feature to their web offerings where you can do a “mock interview” from your home computer whenever you are available (questions are prerecorded). Interview types include Academic Positions, and you can either watch your recordings or get feedback from someone at the ICC following the interview.
To access, log in to the Aggie Job Link and from the “Resources” menu select “Mock Interviews.”
I haven’t tried it, but it seems like it could be useful!