Abby Laman-Maharg wins $5,000 Chancellor’s Grand Prize for Best Oral Presentation

Our UCD neuroscience graduate group has consistently been well-represented at the GSA sponsored Interdisciplinary Graduate and Professional Student Symposium (IGPS) and this year was no exception. Major congrats to our very own Abby Laman-Maharg. Her oral presentation, Stress and Sex: How Context Affects Depression, won the $5,000 Chancellor’s Grand Prize for Best Oral Presentation and Dean’s Prize for Best Oral Presentation in Social Sciences! You can read more about this year’s (IGPS) event here.



A note from Beyond Academia: Creating a Portfolio

Dis my writing portfolio!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.


A Giant Inspires Once More

sacks_swimmingToday, the New York Times printed an Op-ed from the beloved Oliver Sacks. The title perfectly sets the tone of the piece and a catch in the throat: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer.

I imagine the next few months will bring stories of Sacks, re-runs of his pieces past, and, eventually, tributes. But, as he states in his letter to readers today, “This does not mean I am finished with life.” Guided by personal experience, I choose not to spend time saying goodbye until the moment of true goodbye. Instead, I seek to learn, experience, create with those with whom I will soon part.

To me, Oliver Sacks is a masterful ambassador of science, of critical thinking, of fun, and of humility. Thank you, Dr. Sacks, for what you have offered us, and what you will continue to offer us. May we all learn, experience, and create with your wit and keen eye, your creativity and humility. And may we all work to bring these qualities to science and to our conversations about science.

Interested in a career in science education? Check this out!

The Versatile PhD is hosting a web-based panel discussion on careers in informal science education (read: science education outside of the classroom). Panelists holding jobs in nonprofits, science centers, and government agencies will introduce themselves on February 23rd and answer your questions until the 27th. No registration necessary, but you’ll need to join VPhD to participate (VPhD is an amazing community for those exploring a variety of career paths, so joining the website is really just giving yourself a present. Do it!) More information about the panel here.

Possible Rules for Finishing Your PhD

This morning I stumbled across an editorial that list 10 Rules for Finishing Your PhD

Here are the rules, which you should read in full (citation below)

  • Rule 1: Plan Your Last Year in Advance
  • Rule 2: Make Your Priorities Clear
  • Rule 3: “The Truth Can Wait”
  • Rule 4: Enlist Support
  • Rule 5: Get Familiar with the Software
    • aka LaTeX >> Word
  • Rule 6: Know Your University’s Procedures and Regulations:
  • Rule 7: Exploit Synergies
  • Rule 8: Pay Attention to Your Career
  • Rule 9: Network
  • Rule 10: Leave on Good Terms
  • Andrea’s Rule 11: Find Time to Do Fun Things and/or Sleep

Ten Simple Rules for Finishing Your PhD

Jacopo Marino, Melanie I. Stefan, Sarah Blackford

Do you know what you need?

The term “mentor” does not mean one thing to all people. Really how can it? As graduate students we have a number of plates spinning above our heads. We all have needs that range from the personal/emotional to the professional. I find it highly unlikely that a single mentor, no matter how supportive and amazing, can or should be expected to cover each and every one of those needs.

As suggested in a recent email from the President of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity 

So instead of talking about “mentoring” and hoping that everyone means the same thing (when we know we don’t), let’s shift our thinking and our language to focus on two questions: 1) What do I need? and 2) How can I get my needs met?

Possible needs (edited from the list for faculty):

  • Professional Development: project management, attainment of certifications for future employment, etc… Possible sources: CETL, Grad Pathways
  • Emotional Support: dealing with experiments that don’t work, the qualifying exams, and figuring out what to do next is stressful! Possible sources: your fellow neurograds and postdocs
  • Community: UCD and Davis itself has a number of groups that would love to include you. Possible sources: student groups on campus, Rocknasium.
  • Accountability: with projects that span months, even years it can be easy to get lost in the forest. Being accountable can help you progress. Possible sources: PI and quals/dissertation committee.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. What other needs are the list missing?

Announcing CETI: Career Exploration Through Internships

Attn all Advanced-to-Candidacy students.

Here is a unique opportunity to explore career options!

The Career Exploration Through Internships Program (CETI) is a program at UC Davis that allows graduate students to do internships in a broad range of career settings beyond academic research/teaching. The goal of CETI is to provide graduate students with hands-on experience in appropriate career environments in order to help them make informed decisions about which of the many career paths to pursue. The program is open to PhD students in Biomedical Engineering, Food Science, Immunology, Integrative Genetics and Genomics, Integrative Pathobiology, Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Toxicology and Plant Biology who have advanced to candidacy. 

Applications are due Friday, November 14. All are welcome to the information sessions.

For more information, attend one of the CETI Information Sessions:

Wednesday, Oct 22, 12:10 to 1:00 pm, 234 South Hall

Wednesday, Oct 29, 4:10 to 5:00 pm, 2205 Medical Education Building, Sacramento

Thursday, Oct 30, 4:10 to 5:00 pm, 234 South Hall

Questions? Contact Janice Morand, UC Davis, CETI Program Coordinator.

Rediscover childlike wonder with a pen pal

pen pal certificateLetters to a Pre-Scientist connects students in low-income schools with scientists using the ol’ pen pal method. They ask that scientists sign up to send four letters over the course of the school year to an assigned student. Sounds fun, refreshing, and relatively easy. I only just found out about this program and the first letter receipt deadline has already passed (sorry!).  Anna, the organizer of LPS, told me that although the letters have already started up this year, she makes a waiting list for when scientist pen pals fall through, so sign up as a scientist-in-waiting and stick around for upcoming years. More info about your specific duties as a pen pal found here.

Beyond Academia: Engineering & Scientific Consulting

Are you interested in consulting? Learn about a career in engineering and scientific consulting at an info session at UC Berkeley. (This event is being run by the Beyond Academia conference) Register here!

When: October 15, 5:30pm – 7pm

Where: UC Berkeley


The Processing of Ryan Phillips: Getting past the default

That moment when you realize you’ve been intently staring at your boss for the last five minutes -watching his or her mouth move, you’ve even been nodding intently -and suddenly you’re acutely aware that you have no idea what has been said that whole time.  It’s an experience we all have had, perhaps more often than we’d like to admit. It’s a reaction that is unpredictable, hard to control, and generally inexplicable.

Ryan Philips wants to change all that.

During his time in the Carter Lab, Ryan has become interested in the functions of the Default Mode Network (DMN). Comprised of functionally correlated brain regions including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (PFC), posterior cingulate cortex, and inferior parietal sulcus, the DMN was originally defined by its tendency to decrease in activation during focused tasks, and has been generally thought to represent the brain at rest.  The DMN is also referred to as the “task-negative” network, distinguishing it from other “task-positive” brain areas that tend to be engaged during tasks.  Ryan, however has kept his eye on recent research suggesting that the DMN may be more than just “task-negative.” He thinks the DMN may subserve a set of processes that interfere with task performance, including self-reflective thought and mind-wandering.

Coming from a philosophical background (he holds a Bachelor of Arts in cognitive science with a minor in philosophy from Occidental College in Los Angeles), Ryan spends a lot of  his time wondering about neurological processes that may be difficult to define, but which affect our day-to-day lives. His interest in everyday mind-wandering, which he describes as short and involuntary shifts in attention away from a task, has motivated his current study.

“I’m interested in the interaction of logic and thinking intentionally with emotion or passions (like those that might arise during self-reflective ruminations) which are not as formal and rigid but which still compel us to do things,” he says.  “Especially when that interaction causes attention to fail and break down.”

Ryan has designed a task which he hopes will allow him to investigate the relationship between lapses in attention induced by self-reflective processes and activity in the DMN. He will attempt to induce such processes through the presentation of self-referential words while asking subjects to complete the AX Continuous Performance Task (AXCPT), an attention and cognitive control task. The AXCPT requires impulsivity control and context management. Subjects must suppress indication of the wrong target following an invalid cue and must only indicate the correct target when it is preceded by the appropriate probe. Ryan expects that presenting words with high emotional significance, such as “lazy,” will influence activation of the DMN differently than words with low emotional significance, such as “relaxed.” He also predicts that he will see poorer performance, indicating more lapses, when the words are particularly relevant to the subject.

Ryan is currently conducting a behavioral pilot study with undergraduate student participants to validate his task. He expects to see an effect of high significance words on reaction time and error frequency. If so, he hopes to begin incorporating functional imaging by winter. At that point he will be able to test his hypothesis that DMN activity will be positively  correlated with errors and long reaction times, which in turn will be correlated with high significance self-referential words. He is also curious to see how regions subserving executive control might play in.

“My main prediction is that the dorsolateral PFC might be incorporated into the processing of the DMN,” he explained. “The other prediction I would make is that as it increases in connectivity with the DMN regions, it may decrease in connectivity with other task positive regions. The ultimate idea being that the resources of the dorsolateral PFC are not available for task positive activities any longer.”

Ryan hopes that research in this area will eventually allow us to be able to describe mind-wandering as more than just some random, unpredictable phenomenon.

“I think we will find that it’s not just spontaneous activity in the DMN, but something important related to the self that is occurring.”


To learn more about Ryan’s research you can visit his poster entitled “Disentangling the Roles of the Default Mode Network in Attention Lapses” at the Northern California Consciousness meeting on Friday, October 17, 2014 at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.