Neuroscience Kick-Off highlights student research

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The school year may have just started, but neuroscience students at the University of Victoria are already in mid-year mode.

On September 6, as part of Neuroscience Kick-Off, graduate students showcased their cutting-edge research on everything from memory and learning to how people make decisions.

“The turnout was fantastic,” said Christine Fontaine, a Ph.D. candidate who planned this year’s event, an annual gathering hosted by UVic’s Division of Medical Sciences (DMSC).

“Because our neuroscience program is multidisciplinary – involving the DMSC and the Biology, Psychology, and Exercise Sciences faculties – it’s difficult to get our people together. This event, our biggest of the year, allows us to celebrate the success of all our research partners.”

One of this year’s presenters was MSc candidate Chad Williams, from Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education (EPHE). Williams is investigating people’s decision-making process when diagnosing a disease, and whether observing brain waves can reveal more about their thinking.

“Essentially, people fall between two types of decision-making: one that’s fast but prone to errors, and one that’s slow but accurate,” said Williams. “We may have found, in our initial studies, a neural indicator that tells us what decision-making strategy they’re using.”

Aside from sharing his own work, Williams also commented on how much he enjoyed the social aspects of the Kick-Off event.

“It is not only a great way to learn about research at UVic and make connections with potential collaborators, but also a good place to catch up with other neuroscience students and faculty.”

This year’s event also featured a keynote address by Dr. Serena Dudek, a Senior Investigator at the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Dr. Dudek is world-renowned for her work on synaptic plasticity – the ability for neurons in the brain to alter their function based on experience. Her research focuses on the hippocampus, responsible for long-term memory and emotion, and specifically on a relatively unknown area called CA2, which affects social memory, or the way in which we interact with members of our own species.

“I was flattered to be the keynote,” said Dr. Dudek, who, during her presentation, touched upon the importance of creativity in science and research. “I had a lot of fun meeting the students and learning more about their work.”

For Fontaine, who studies synaptic plasticity changes and who often cites Dr. Dudek’s work in her own research, the address was especially exciting.

“To meet Dr. Dudek in person and to hear her speak was empowering,” said Fontaine. “It was definitely a nerdy ‘meet you hero’ moment for me.”