NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – While many Bethel College students are involved in research projects, not many get the chance to present their results at one of the world’s largest forums for neuroscientists to debut research.
Aimee Siebert, senior psychology major from Topeka, had just this opportunity at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, Neuroscience 2009, in Chicago, Oct. 17-21.
Dwight Krehbiel, Bethel professor of psychology, encouraged Siebert to attend. “I've [been] working with him on his NSF research on the psychology of music for the past two years,” says Siebert, “and the experiments had reached a culminating point in the process that seemed to merit a presentation of everyone’s hard work.”
She adds that many people have been involved in the process, but because of her continuous work with the project, she is one of the few who knew enough about each of the stages to be able to articulate the various parts of the research.
Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, an organization under the Society of Neuroscience, sponsored the poster session and social at the annual conference where undergraduate students presented.
“The poster basically covered the second psychological assessment experiment we conducted to test a new musical search engine that’s being developed by Bill Manaris, Dwight’s colleague from the College of Charleston,” explains Siebert.
“The search engine claims to evaluate the similarity of music based on frequency patterns of certain musical metrics, like how often a particular interval occurs. So it’s using mathematical power laws to judge the similarity of music and we wanted to see whether people perceived the same relationships of similarity through natural listening, and then if they did, could the similarity judgments predict how pleasant people found the music.”
Because a more active left hemisphere in the frontal cortex of the brain is associated with pleasant experiences, “we measured this using the EEG equipment in the lab, and it was that aspect I think that especially qualified us for a ‘neuroscience’ conference,” says Siebert.
The poster session gave her the opportunity to talk with people from all over the world about the research. “I think music is naturally compelling,” Siebert says. “It’s at least as universal as language is.”
She adds, “I especially enjoyed chatting with a Ph.D. from Harvard who had been presenting his own poster at the larger conference about bird songs.”
In addition to Siebert, Donna Schulz, senior from Newton, also attended the convention. “The reason I decided to go back to college a couple of years ago was to study memory,” says Schulz, “therefore what’s new in neuroscience is very interesting to me.”
With approximately 32,500 people in attendance, “you were virtually guaranteed that anything related to the brain was going to be represented somewhere,” says Siebert
The presidential series lectures in the evenings, though, were some of the most engaging, she says. “These were big name speakers, like Liz Spelke [from Harvard] and Richard Morris [from the University of Edinburgh],” says Siebert, “whose names I recognized from classes, and who had been contributing to their fields for years and years and years.”
Siebert is thankful for the opportunity she had to present research. “Bethel’s faculty does a phenomenal job of encouraging those chances, and I’m grateful because I know it gives me an additional edge as [I] jump into post-graduation competition for academic and career positions.”
Schulz also appreciated the opportunity to attend. “It was exciting to meet these people who were once exactly where I am now and to see what they have done with the education that they received,” she says.
She continues, “The conference provides [the opportunity] to meet ‘everybody who’s anybody’ in the field of neuroscience. You are literally walking around and talking with people who have been in the business for decades as well as those who are undergrads just like you.”
While in Chicago, they were able to visit the University of Chicago, where they toured the social neuroscience lab since their host in Chicago, Bethel alumna Louise Hawkley, is now director of that lab.
“We also visited another pair of Bethel alumni, Rufus and Elsa Baehr in Skokie, Ill., at their clinic, NeuroQuest, where they treat depression and other disorders using neurofeedback,” says Siebert. “It was so interesting, especially because I’m interested in clinical research.
“I would say encountering Bethel alumni was probably the most enjoyable and memorable parts of the trip,” she adds. “It’s exciting to see how far Bethel graduates have gone in areas that I’m also interested in.”
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.