Kane York: Retinofugal Projections In Nine-Banded Armadillo

Last year I attended an academic conference in Washington D.C., the Society For Neuroscience annual meeting. Neuroscientists from around the globe gather to present research and discuss the current status of the discipline. This year, over 30,000 people attended, and approximately 13,000 posters were presented. The numbers do not mean much when reading them, but take it from me: I have attended conferences in the past; most were smaller regional conferences, and they pale in comparison to the scope of this one. At previous events, I could easily go to every poster and attend almost all the presentations. However, in D.C. I had to select a small number to attend.  Much of my research at UCA is about the neuroanatomy of understudied animals, but I spent most of my time in the cognition section, specifically language. There was one poster discussing pragmatics. This aspect of language is when we can decipher meaning beyond the words and syntax. For example, if your friend is telling you about an uncomfortable subject you have no interest in hearing about (details of a surgery, death, etc.), you could change the subject by mentioning something totally unrelated. This signals that you want to change the conversation despite neither of you explicitly stating this. For the purposes of the poster, the researchers had participants of different linguistic backgrounds read sentences in their native tongues that communicate some pragmatic meaning. They found that Japanese subjects had different areas of activation in comparison to those that spoke romantic languages—Spanish, French, Italian, etc. This is very fascinating to me, because one of my areas of interest for research in graduate school is the linguistic differences in the brain. So, after listening to the presenter, I made sure to exchange emails.

Research aside, I did not anticipate to grow such a strong bond with some of my lab partners. While I see them regularly, rooming with them only served to strengthen the relationships we had established. My project lead, in particular, was one that I really connected with.  This trip, with all its meals, science, and tourist appeals, allowed us to go beyond the artificiality of just being on the same project.
Finally, I was able to meet a number of institutional representatives. The principle investigator of my lab offered to take a few of his students out to dinner alongside his colleagues. My project lead and I along with another undergraduate worker decided to go. While there, I was able to meet scientists with connections to universities that I have considered applying to for graduate school. Surprisingly, after only one dinner together, one of them offered to write me a letter of recommendation if I applied for a graduate program she has been affiliated with. This was wonderful news. I had worried that I had not networked effectively. I was glad to be proved wrong.
I’d say the trip was a success. I presented research at an international conference, found institutions that line up with my research interests, established stronger relationships with my lab partners, and made contacts that serve to benefit me in my academic career.