This post, by Ali Sayed-Ahmad of Wayne State University, is part of an occasional series written by undergraduate neuroscience students. If you are an undergraduate interested in writing about neuroscience for the Dana blog, or a professor who might have interested students, please contact Andrew Kahn at email@example.com for more information.
This school year was an exciting one for neuroscience at Wayne State University. Through our neuroscience learning community, we have promoted neuroscience by meeting our objectives of awareness, education, and outreach. A learning community (LC) gives students the close-knit, interactive experience of a small college within a major research university. Small groups of students work closely together to learn about a similar interest. Underclassmen are mentored by upperclassmen, along with a faculty advisor that facilitates discussions and activities. Being in an LC is also a great place to socialize and make friends with students who may be in your classes. Overall, it makes the college experience a lot less overwhelming for freshmen at a big university and provides upperclassmen the opportunity to hone their leadership skills.
Our LC started in January 2011 as a 15-member group of undergraduate neuroscience enthusiasts—a mix of biology, biophysics, psychology, and other majors—and has since flourished to 25 members within one semester. This is a testament to neuroscience’s interdisciplinary and collaborative nature. We participated in outreach activities such as the Brain Bee and Brain Awareness Week, during which I demonstrated a cow eye dissection to show students the various parts of the eye and how they relate to visual perception. We also displayed human brains from the Wayne State College of Medicine. We attended the Michigan Chapter of Society for Neuroscience Meeting, and inviting neuroscientists and physicians to discuss their research as well as the many career opportunities in neuroscience.
As a student in Dr. Karen Myhr’s lab, I had always shown an interest in learning about neuroscience and participating in public outreach activities through the graduate neuroscience group. There were also many students working in neuropsychology labs that expressed an interest in organizing an undergraduate group. Dr. Myhr helped us establish a learning community by obtaining official recognition and funding through the university administration.
Creating an LC is a rewarding and fun experience if you have motivated members and clear objectives. Many activities can be pursued even if there is not much funding. Our overall goal was to create a group of undergraduate students with an interest in exploring careers in neuroscience. We supported those career aspirations by doing the following:
- Having weekly brown bag lunches to discuss neuroscience research and opportunities
- Inviting guests, including a wide range of scientists and physicians
- Working with graduate students on outreach activities, such as the Brain Bee and Brain Awareness Week
Collaborating with other groups on campus, such as our graduate neuroscience group, gave us access to great resources and allowed us to conduct outreach effectively. This November, the LC organized a movie matinee for Awakenings (starring Robin Williams) to focus discussions about Parkinson’s disease and current research about the disease. We will continue outreach by planning school visits.
An important aspect of being a neuroscientist is interacting with other scientists to constantly learn more and improve the scientific process. This is why our learning community has made an objective to attend scientific meetings, whether they are on campus or at the state and national levels. At Michigan’s Society for Neuroscience meeting, Dr. William Klein’s talk was very insightful because of his ground-breaking research on Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Klein discovered a major neuropathology of Alzheimer’s by identifying the production of oligomers, long-lived neurotoxins capable of destroying cells responsible for memory in the CNS. I find that these talks from successful neuroscientists continue to inspire and teach young scientists how to be effective researchers. Hopefully, the Wayne State Neuroscience Learning Community will continue to pursue these activities in order to bring neuroscience to the forefront of scientific discussion.
Ali Sayed-Ahmad is a biology major at Wayne State University. He will graduate in May.