By Carly Moran
After receiving a grant through the PURE program, second-year neuroscience student Jacqueline Boon spent 12 weeks in Dr. Giuseppe Iaria’s NeuroLab conducting research in the area of spatial cognition. What she expected to gain was a deeper understanding of the role of the hippocampus in spatial navigation and orientation; what she didn’t expect was how much her work would relate to her studies in the classroom.
Boon’s research focused on testing tasks that require specific structures of the brain to perform. Her focus was a set of tasks involving the hippocampus—a major component of the brain that controls spatial navigation. Each side of the hippocampus performs a specialized task required to form and use cognitive maps that help orient a person in their environment. Specifically, her research looked at how study participants performed tasks normally associated with one side of the hippocampus after it had been removed as a treatment for epilepsy.
“It was interesting how much my exposure to research in the lab reinforced what I learned in the classroom—before and after,” says Boon. “The hands-on experience connected directly to theories I had already learned, and coming from the lab made subsequent classes easier since I was already familiar with many concepts being introduced.”
Another benefit to Boon’s experience was the daily interactions with others in the lab, which included graduate students, international students and principal researchers. She was able to gain insight into what to expect in future years, and could compare her experiences to those of neuroscience students in other countries.
“Interacting with others from a variety of backgrounds helped give me a sense of what I could gain from the neuroscience program,” says Boon. “It also gave me some perspective on the types of career and academic opportunities that may exist after I complete the program.”
Although Boon is still exploring her options, she is considering graduate studies as a next step.
“Having this opportunity has drawn me to research as a potential career option,” says Boon. “I look forward to getting involved in my next research project this summer to broaden my scope and help focus the remainder of my education and training.”
The Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) provides financial support to undergraduates to conduct research for 8, 12 or 16 weeks between May and August. The deadline to submit online applications and references for summer 2012 projects is Feb. 10.