SfN 2016 ~ Thoughts & Photos

The 2016 Society for Neuroscience meeting is over. 30,000+ neuroscientists of varying ages, ethnicities, religions, genders, nationalities, and political persuasions came together in San Diego to celebrate their science. I was there with five Albion College students (two of whom presented their research); here are some of my thoughts upon returning from the meeting.2101

  • Students need to be taught how to tell people about their research appropriately.  When talking to a:
    • senior neuroscientist: “I’m examining the role of NMDA receptors in learning and memory in the earthworm using an escape learning task.”
    • fellow students: “I put earthworms in a running wheel and they learn to crawl to turn off a bright light.  Some get a drug that blocks learning in rats; if it has a similar effect in the worms this will tell us if the neural mechanisms of learning are conserved across evolution.”pb1301271
    • person sitting by you on a plane: “I study learning in earthworms to see if their brains work the same way as ours. If so, it will tell us about how memory works, and maybe someday lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s.”
  • Neuroscientists are friendly, and like to help students.Several prominent colleagues agreed to meet with my students to discuss their science and to offer advice and guidance. We had dinner with Debra Bangasser, afternoon snacks with Colin Saldanha and Steve Ramirez, and visited with Ramachandran at his lab.
  • Albion neuroscience alums rock!I was fortunate enough to see a few of them present their research, and I caught up with many others at our alumni get-together.
  • Some talks are great; others are not worth attending.
    • Including optogenetics in a behavioral study does not by itself make it a good study.
    • Speakers need to honor their time constraints.
  • My friends rock!
    • Julio Ramirez was honored as one of the founders of Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience.
    • Bruce Johnson received SfN’s Educator of the Year award.
    • Many un-acclaimed friends contribute to our knowledge and mentor fabulous students.
  • There are still many great avenues of research out there, just waiting to be explored.

Some photos from the meeting appear below.  To see all of my photos go here.

 

 

 

 

 

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MindFlex, Fall 2016

Students in the Honors course Neurophysiology for Beginners used their minds to levitate a ball and move it around an obstacle course.  Well, no–the device allegedly monitors brain waves and in turn controls a fan, blowing with more force when evidence of concentration is present; the user then turns a knob that changes the position of the fan.

Regardless of the science underlying it, the device is fun, at least for a while.

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Cranefest!

Cranefest 2016 takes place Saturday and Sunday, October 8 & 9. Thousands of sandhill cranes should make an appearance at the Kiwanis Youth Conservation Area in Bellevue, MI (about a 30-min drive from Albion).  Go about an hour before sunset, and marvel at these beautiful birds returning to the site after foraging during the day – descending individually or in groups of up to 50 at a time.

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Cranefest 2015

Take a lawn chair or blanket, binoculars or a camera with a long lens, and enjoy nature.

Arts and nature crafts are available at the Festival, but the real reason to go is for the cranes.

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Pavlovian Society ~ 2016

Just returned from another great meeting of the Pavlovian Society. This group exemplifies the best of science – sometimes theoretical viewpoints differ, but issues are all reseolved by the end of the night (occasionally with the assistance of the hotel bar). Among the highlights for me:

  • John Pearce introduced a revision of the Pearce-Hall model, suggesting individual-stimulus-driven changes in attention while associative strength varies globally.
  • Catharine Rankin offered a new way of thinking about habituation.
  • Matt Lattal mused about the baseline problem – we often ignore or overlook differing baselines becasue we focus on the CR.
  • The meeting ran smoothly – no fires to put out.

Here are some of my favorite photos (this will save you the effort of going through the hundreds that I posted to Facebook).

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Neurophysiology Build & Use

EDIT: We used the Spiker Boxes today, with great success.

The great physiologist of the 19th and early 20th centuries all built their own amplifiers (and other equipment).  It was a rite of passage, and besides, they couldn’t simply purchase the equipment because it was not commercially available.

Albion believes in tradition. Our Honors Neurophysiology for Beginners students also build their equipment. For many it is their first experience in electronics; the end-products don’t always work, but we’re batting better than .500.  Here the students are building one- and two-channel Spiker Boxes from Backyard Brains.

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Playing with the Sky

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My new camera, an Olympus OM-D EM-10, offers a feature that makes it easy (OK, easier) to get great shots of star trails. Called “Live Composite,” the feature allows the camera to stack many repeated images into one. However, unlike a typical multiple exposure image, LiveComp adds to the image only pixels that have changed since the first exposure. This means that the original unchanging image does not become overexposed (the tree in the foreground retains its dark loomingness, the dark sky between stars remains dark); but as stars or other sources of light change position or appear, this new information is added to the image.

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I’m sure I’ll play more with this – looking forward to shots of the Hudson River and the NY City skyline at night, with boats and other traffic moving through – but for now enjoy my first star trail shots.

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Plagiarism: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

OK – Just joking. There is nothing good about plagiarism.

Source: http://visual.ly/did-i-plagiarize-types-and-severity-plagiarism-violations

Source: http://visual.ly/did-i-plagiarize-types-and-severity-plagiarism-violations

Here are some examples of plagiarism. If your paper contains one of these the most you will receive on the paper is 60% (that assumes that the paper contains something redeeming, contributed by you.

Melania Trump – Michelle Obama Example:

Michelle Obama’s speech:

“… Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.  And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Melania Trump’s speech:

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.  They taught and showed me morals in their daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to many generations to follow because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Trump’s speech contains the same ideas, in the same order, with many of the same words and only minor rewriting.

Examples of Various types of Plagiarism

Original from Vurbic and Bouton (2011)

The relevant contemporary research has been conducted mainly in fear conditioning. In three conditioned suppression experiments reported by Richards and Sargent (1983), a modest secondary extinction effect was found in the first experiment but was not replicated in the subsequent two. Two other reports using the conditioned suppression preparation failed to demonstrate the secondary extinction effect. In two experiments, Bouton and King (1983) paired a tone and a light with a shock US in separate sessions and reported that extinction of the tone CS had no effect on suppression to the light CS when it was tested later. In three experiments, Kasprow, Schachtman, Cacheiro, and Miller (1984) likewise reported null results, using both lick suppression and leverpress suppression paradigms.

Nearly Verbatim Submitted Text:

The relevant contemporary research was conducted mainly in fear conditioning. In three conditioned suppression experiments, a modest secondary extinction effect was found in one experiment but was not replicated in the subsequent two. Two other reports using the conditioned suppression preparation failed to demonstrate the secondary extinction effect. In two experiments, Bouton and King (1983) paired a tone and a light with a shock US in separate sessions and found that extinction of the tone CS had no effect on suppression to the light CS when it was tested later.  Kasprow, Schachtman, Cacheiro, and Miller (1984) likewise reported null results, using both lick suppression and leverpress suppression paradigms.

Minor changes (mostly taking the form of omissions) occur. This would get you a grade of 0 on the paper, and notification would be sent to the Provost.

Submitted Text with Synonyms Substituted and some Re-Arrangement:

The relevant modern research looks at fear conditioning. In three conditioned suppression studies by Richards and Sargent (1983), a small secondary extinction effect was found in the first experiment but was not repeated in the later ones. Two other reports using the conditioned suppression preparation did not demonstrate the secondary extinction effect. In two experiments, Bouton and King (1983) paired a light and tone with a shock US in independent sessions. Results showed that extinction of the tone CS did not affect suppression to the light CS when it was later tested. In three experiments, Kasprow, Schachtman, Cacheiro, and Miller (1984) also found negative results, in both lick suppression and leverpress suppression procedures.

Synonyms are substituted for many words. This would get you a grade between 0 and 60 on the paper, and notification would be sent to the Provost.

Submitted Text with Same Ideas But Different Wording:

Now fear conditioning is studied.  Some evidence for a slight secondary extinction effect was demonstrated by Richards and Sargent (1983) in only one of three experiments on conditioned suppression. Also using conditioned suppression, Bouton and King (1983) found that extinction of one CS does not affect responses to a second CS. In lick suppression and leverpress suppression studies, Kasprow, Schachtman, Cacheiro, and Miller (1984) also failed to find support for secondary extinction.

This is Vurbic and Bouton’s paragraph, rewritten.  This would get you a grade between 0 and 60 on the paper, and depending on how much of your paper looked like this, maybe notification would be sent to the Provost.

 Appropriate use of information provided by Vurbic and Bouton:

Vurbic and Bouton (2011) discussed three published papers that, on the whole, suggest that secondary extinction is not common.  The studies used the conditioned suppression paradigms, common in studies of fear conditioning, and only rarely showed even slight evidence of secondary extinction.

Nothing wrong with this.  It conveys the relevant information without giving the impression that you reviewed the three papers and drew the conclusions.

Please be conscientious in your writing. If an idea or piece of knowledge was not yours, do not present it as if it was.

Vurbic, D., & Bouton, M. E. (2011). Secondary extinction in Pavlovian fear conditioning. Learning & Behavior, 39, 202-211.

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Where are they going? Plans of top Calhoun County High School Grads, 2016

Each spring the Battle Creek Enquirer publishes the names and college plans of the top high school graduates from each school in Calhoun County. Each year I summarize the students’ plans, mostly with an eye toward determining how well Albion College attracts these good students. The answer is: Not very well this year.

Of the 195 students listed in the paper, only 1 is coming to Albion. I know this student, and I can affirm that he is an excellent student – Albion will benefit from his presence. However, I can only wonder how much we might also benefit from the presence of more of these great students.

To be sure, only 13 of the 195 plan to attend liberal arts colleges; major universities (e.g., U of M, MSU, OSU), regional universities (e.g., WMU, GVSU, Trine), and community colleges are by far the most preferred destinations. But Albion should be able to attract more of those students aiming for the liberal arts, and should draw more of those headed for the other types of schools.

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Musings on Education

I’ve been teaching at the college level for a long time.  My first class was a statistics class taught to marriage and family counselling students (masters level) at Pepperdine University in 1984; since then I’ve taught exclusively at the undergraduate level at both state and private colleges. Here I address a change that I have noted in recent years.  I  believe that this reflects a sudden change–not a gradual shift.mnemonics

Students are far less willing now to take chances in the classroom. I routinely ask students to answer questions as we cover new material.  These questions require thought, guided by the material under discussion. The questions are not difficult; in many cases there are multiple possible answers that could be correct. The purpose is to get the students thinking.  Over the past two years or so, maybe even more recently than that, it has become clear that students are not willing to answer.

I don’t think that the reluctance is the result of ignorance, or fear of being wrong. Instead I believe that it reflects the students’ lack of experience with this kind of situation. K-12 education is so focused on standardized testing, on ensuring that students get the right answer, that students have not learned to think. Memorize facts, demonstrate that the material has been learned by answering multiple choice questions… that approach does not foster an ability to think. It does not foster an appreciation for the possibility that there are varied ways of thinking about a problem, or even that thought might be brought to bear in a productive way.

I am sad about this. I am sad not only because it impacts the students’ (and my) experience in the classroom, but also because it adversely affects their test performance.  My tests (and I am not alone in this among my colleagues) typically ask students to apply what they have learned. It is not enough to memorize material–they have to understand concepts. Students are less capable of doing this now compared to a few years ago. Many students have asked for study guides before exams; by this I now understand that they mean a list of facts that they need to know. I do not offer such guides, for two reasons. First: the guide would suggest to students that its content is all that they need to know; on my tests all the material that we have covered might serve as the basis for a question–how can I offer a study guide that includes everything that we have covered? And second: life does not offer study guides–students need to learn to filter, organize, and extract the relevant material for themselves.

Beyond that, I am sad because few of these students, if they cannot overcome this tendency to want to be given facts rather than to think, will succeed in positions where they are expected to synthesize material and generate original ideas. I tend to think of the next step for many of my students: graduate school. Until they learn to think, and recognize that answers are not always available, many of my students will face serious problems in graduate school. The few current students who are willing to think stand out as exceptional. That is unfortunate–they should all be willing to think.

And a final note to students:  If you have read this far, take heart! There is hope. Begin by asking questions. Ask your professor an absurd question related to the material under discussion. Listen to the answer; listen as s/he reasons away the absurdity and explains why the question is unanswerable (or ridiculous – depends on the professor). You will learn from this.  You will see the thought process in action, and you will overcome your hesitancy to ask questions. Over time you will recognize that you, too, could probably have offered that response. Realize that you are capable of thought, despite not being encouraged to do it in the past. And you will learn.

 

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“Wisdoids” from Dick Thompson

At the 2015 Pavlovian Society meeting in Portland, OR we honored the memory of Dick Thompson, who had died one year earlier. Ted Berger (USC), who had worked with Dick, offered a list of what he called “wisdoids” that he thought had guided Dick’s work and life. Good advice – I thought I should share them.thompsonwisdoids

See Thompson’s Google Scholar citations here.

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11145233_926385100033_8757878482478694365_o 12030424_926385075083_7516618340180417436_o

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