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NBS - Getting started

Paul Grobstein's picture
Welcome to the on-line forum associated with the 2008 senior seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.  Its a way to keep conversations going between course meetings, and to do so in a way that makes our conversations available to other who may in turn have interesting thoughts to contribute to them.  To get started, perhaps  few words about who you are, what you bring to the conversation that may be different form others, and how you currently think research in neural and behavioral science is (or isn't) important for human well being generally?  If you need something to get your thoughts going about the last point, there's a summary of a recent meeting on the subject here, and some links to recent news reports on our course home page.  
Ian Morton's picture

Hi everyone. Sorry for the

Hi everyone. Sorry for the late post!

I am a biology major at Bryn Mawr and I am doing my senior research with Paul Grobstein. My reason for majoring in bio at Bryn Mawr instead of Haverford was largely fueled by my interest in approaching biology on a more theoretical and macro level than I felt Haverford would offer. I was matched with Paul Grobstein for an advisor and have continued to work in his lab both for the summer of 2007 and for my senior research. Working in Paul’s lab has probably been different from most of your lab experiences. I don’t poke the brains of rats, observe axon growth in frogs, or study child behavior. Instead I read papers and search for overarching themes, which I then discuss with Paul. One could accuse me of taking an armchair philosopher approach to biology, but I believe my current research will play an important role in shaping how I approach and interpret research when I do make empirical investigations.

Last semester I wrote a research paper on the field of social neuroscience, which is available here. I hope to build upon this research to inquire into the nature of how social organization emerges from the interactions of social brains.

Additionally, Like Dan and Liz, I’m also interested in the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness: how does consciousness arise from neural processes? What gives us a sense of subjectivity? What is it about an experience that makes us perceive the experience as our own? While neuroscientific research has offered insight into the “easy” problems of consciousness, such as neural processes and structures related to emotion or learning, the hard problem remains unresolved. This question is itself central to the mind-body debate. According to materialists, the Mind arises from purely physical processes (the brain), thereby dismissing the notion of Cartesian duality. While I, and I believe many neuroscientists would adopt a materialist perspective, those who contend this view point out that as of yet no explanation for how neural processes could create a sense of subjectivity has been verified. This “hard problem” of consciousness is certainly an important issue and I think it would be interesting to discuss the mind-body debate in class. For further discussion, see here.
atuttle's picture


Hi Everyone,

My name is Alex Tuttle. I am currently completing my last semester at Haverford College as a Psychology Major, where my primary interest lies in studying animal behavior. For the past two and a half years my research has focused on understanding how environmental influences modify both pain perception and behavioral responses in mice, during which time I had the pleasure to work on several projects with both Kara Brown and Elizabeth Bitler, under the direction of Dr. Wendy Sternberg.

As an undergraduate student working primarily with research animals (although we do human testing as well!), I have had to come to terms with many issues regarding the validity and benefits of our research. While I am interested to explore these issues further with the class at large, this forum is designed to promote discussion outside of the classroom. Therefore, I would like to propose a few points relating to the benefits of animal models which I have thought about for the past several years. First and foremost, I believe that animals have allowed scientists to study otherwise unanswerable questions relating to behavior and the brain. Using my own experiences as examples, Dr. Sternberg’s lab has been focused most recently on how environmental factors influence pain behavior in animals which are evolutionarily similar to us. It has been demonstrated, for example, that mice appear to modulate their pain-directed behavior when they are with fellow cagemates, or mice who share a close social environment. This modulation of pain response has been dubbed by some researchers (Langford et al., 2006) as a low-level, “perceptual” form of empathic behavior when they are in proximity with one another. In other words, these animal models appear capable of demonstrating complex social interactions with one another, as well as modifying other behaviors based on a social context.

Why is research like this important? In the long run, we hope that this research will lead to a better model explaining social dysfunctional disorders like Asperger’s and Autism. In the immediate future, however, these findings suggest that neuroscientists have an immediate way to parse out the different environmental, genetic, and biological factors which compose this human-like behavior. It should be noted that mice do not appear to have the same level of emotional or cognitive development as humans; as such, it is foolish to claim that their social behavior is identical to that of humans. Rather, it allows scientists to selectively manipulate different aspects of the animal’s biology, genetic makeup, and experiences to put forth theories as to how empathic responses are generated (or disrupted) in mammalian models. It also allows scientists to causally explain why or how a behavior is generated, rather than being limited to explaining these phenomena in terms of correlations between human behavior and other factors.

As a researcher, I would like to believe that all of my research is directly applicable to solving human problems and bettering our future. It is hard to prove in every instance, however, that animal research will lead to eventual human therapies or remediation. Instead, a behavioral neuroscientist must do his or her best in designing targeted research paradigms which maximize success and minimize excesses, as scientists do in other disciplines. Unlike a chemist or physicist, however, neuroscientists do not have adequate artificial or computational models to effectively answer our questions. While science has made wonderful advances, from building an artificial heart to constructing an entire prokaryotic organism from scratch, the brain remains the most complex (and elusive) machine that humans have encountered to date. In answering the question of empathic behavior, for example, our lab has already discovered that several sexual hormones and neuropeptides appear to mediate social responses in mice, but only in certain socially specific contexts. In order to further explore the biochemical underpinnings of these behaviors, however, we need brains. As Tom Cruise once said, “…There is no substitute.”

The question of animal rights is a complex issue, and one to which many have an opinion. I look forward to discussing these issues with you as this semester continues, but I would like to leave this topic with a final thought. Human history has relied on the domestication and the use of many animal species; many rely on animals as a source of food, clothing, fuel, fertilizer, friendship. I would argue that the use of animals to save human life, as well as to make it better, justify animal research. Furthermore, I view animal research as a step that stems from our long and intimate relationships with other animal species. In the area of pain research alone animal research has already lead to significant discoveries which have markedly improved human life. For example, Kosterlitz and Hughes used pig brains in 1975 to discover one class of the body’s innate opiates, which they dubbed enkephalins. More recently, researchers used animal models to discover that both central and peripheral analgesia are necessary to prevent long-lasting postoperative pain, as well as central sensitization and “wind-up,” which can lead to permanent changes in the way the body perceives physical stimuli following a traumatic event. It is important to add that humans are not the sole beneficiaries of these discoveries; veterinary science has also been greatly furthered by this research. In summary, it is my hope that our current work with animal models will continue to lead to new discoveries which better all of animal-kind. Thanks for reading!


~Alex Tuttle

Haverford '08's picture



Hello everyone!

My name is Tamara, I'm a Biology major/Psych minor/NBS concentrator. My thesis research is in Prof. Thapar's Human Aging and Cognition lab, where I am working with adults, both health and those with Alzheimer's disease, on a cognitive training program.

I think that research in neuroscience is extremely important in human well-being, and is continuing to gain importance as the baby-boomer generation is aging. We have more elderly people today living fulfilling lives than ever before, much of it possible due to the advances that have been made in the field of neuroscience. At the same time, we are seeing a huge increase in the number of diagnosed diseases of the brain, whether this be considered mental illness, neurodegenrative diseases, etc. This increase is alarming, and makes me wonder if we really are getting sicker, or if we're just better at diagnosing (or just more paranoid). Further research will be essential for finding what makes us tick, what makes us sick, and how to get better.

Elliot Rabinowitz's picture

Hey Everybody!

Hi NBSers,

My name is Elliot Rabinowitz and like many of you, I am also a senior biology major. I currently work in Professor Punt's lab at Haverford, an immunology lab focused on T cell development and cell fate decisions, focusing on the underlying molecular pathways involved in these processes. My research is a new project started this year on microRNAs and their most likely, but much unknown involvement (or lack there of) in this area. As for my life outside of the lab, I'm currently applying to medical school and cannot wait to figure out where I will hopefully be going next year. I anticipate focusing in pediatrics, though am certainly open to my interests changing over the next few years with more experience.

As a freshman entering college, I decided to try something new and take some psychology courses. I immediately became interested with the intro biopsych course that began the year. I have found that science classes often lack the aspect of interesting discussion that courses in some other subject areas promote. The NBS classes I have taken have provided an inclusion of that fascinating discussion while holding on to an interest in the molecular, biological bases behind the topics that I also find so important and intriguing. Just creating our list of ideas last class proved extremely interesting - we will obviously have plenty to talk about.

I am not specifically drawn to one topic that we discussed on Tuesday. Reading people's responses to different areas they find attractive keeps making me change my mind. Neuro-ethics, and ethics in general, is an issue that I find particularly interesting, especially how it will relate to a future career in medicine. Therefore, the whole "talking cure" vs. "drug cure" also grabbed my attention. Our wide variety of topics relates to so many fundamental parts of people's lives (education, health, etc.), that further analysis and discussion by all people of these NBS topics is crucial. This class is a great place for at least us to start these conversations. I am already looking forward to Tuesday's class and to the rest of the semester ahead.

T Dan's picture


Hi all,
I’m Dan Logan and am a senior Biology major at Haverford College. Currently, I am working in Andrea’s lab with a focus on axon guidance in the frog, specifically the role of α6β1 integrin, a laminin-1 (an extracellular matrix protein) receptor. As with my research, my background is mainly focused on a cellular approach to NBS, thus I am excited for the opportunity to broaden my perspective. As far as long term plans go, I want to take some time off from school and work in a field related to medicine, but eventually I would like to go to a joint MD/MBA program. I’m not quite certain where that will lead, perhaps into business, civil service, or health policy.

Though I am primarily interested in the biological happenings in the brain, what also transfixes my curiosity is the translation of biological processes to behaviors, particularly how consciousness arises out of a neural network. However, after class I realized that I had not even considered the possibility that non-pharmacological approaches to psychological treatment could have a biological result. I, for one, had never heard of talk therapy, nor considered it as a method of altering the chemical balance. I think it is wise that we have alternate treatment for psychosis than drugs, but I have to admit, I am skeptical. Have any particular therapies been shown to specifically target certain biological targets? Also, how were these therapies developed? With drugs, one can examine the effects in animal models and clinically, which we are unable to do with talk therapy. As a side note, I would like to agree with those above who mention an interest in genes as they translate to phenotypes; I am also interested not only in how genes affect later pathology, but also the extent to which they factor in to one’s personality. Hopefully, we will explore some or all of the issues throughout the course of the semester!

Jessica Krueger's picture

Late to the party, as always...

My name is above, and I'm from Arizona, though I grew up in a small town in Colorado. I'm dual majoring in German and Psychology with the obvious adjunct concentration. I've applied for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistanceship grant, and while I'd love to get it and teach English somewhere in Germany, I'm also hedging my bets and searching for work in the area. After meandering for a year or two, I'd like to enroll in a postbacc program and get the credits necessary to enter medical school, though I haven't completely eschewed pursuing a further degree in psychopharmacology, behavior analysis or perceptual neuroscience yet.

I feel like I don't bring much to this particular conversation other than a nascent background in behavior analysis as taught by Professor Neuman. I've spent two summers volunteering/working in labs here at Bryn Mawr, one in Thomas' lab and the other in Neuman's, and I have about eight years experience working in a local veterinary clinic. Beyond that, I've pretty much been through every class everyone else here has, and am in most cases less informed than most of you.

During this seminar I hope to explore the validity of the diagnostic categories of the DSM-IV TR, the validity of animal models of human mental phenomena, the potential effects of "talking to the brain," both beneficial and deletorious, the construction of reality and the self, and more generally an idea of what one can do with a degree colored by the NBS concentration.

Marissa Patterson's picture

Hi everyone!

Hi everyone!

My name is Marissa and I am an NBS biology major at Bryn Mawr with a minor in anthropology and an interest in public health. I am from the Midwest and am currently doing my thesis research with Earl Thomas on anxiety in rats and working to elucidate the ways in which the medial prefrontal cortex affects and/or works with the amygdala in controling anxiety. I am currently planning on taking a year off to hopefully do some kind of work in public health or the non-profit sector before going to medical school to study either pediatrics or public health (or both?).

At the moment I am very interested in the ways in which the brain can compensate for damage or problems and still function normally, such as in children who have hemispherectomies, and the ways in which the brain is not able to compensate. I am also intrigued by the huge varieties of ways that the brain is different between individual people. If there is indeed a large variation between one person and another, how can we make any kinds of assumptions from research, especially if it is performed on animal models. What level of variation is "not important" and to what extent our brains are unique, and what these differences mean.

I think it is extremely important to continue studing animal models to understand the human brain, but it is also necessary to develop better ways to image and study the human brain itself. There are so many instances where studies have shown animal models to behave very differently than humans and we are not able to generalize all of the time. However, better ways of looking at the human brain will hopefully help in some ways to deal with this issue to some extent.

One more thing--we had talked last Tuesday about differences between brains relating to anti-depressants, and the next dayI read this article about a possible genetic componant that causes these differences. They talked about "personalized antidepressant treatment according to genetic makeup" that seems a very interesting way to think about the brain, but would the drug companies go for it?

krosania's picture


Hello! My name is Kara Rosania, and I am a Bryn Mawr Psychology major. I have been a research assistant in Rob Wozniak's lab for a little more than two years now, working on research related to gesture production and comprehension. I became really interested in neural and behavioral sciences late in my sophomore year, and have been fortunate enough to integrate this interest with my background in gesture research for my thesis work. I will be assessing gesture ability in adults recovering from strokes that caused Broca's aphasia, which impairs speech production. I am hoping that what I find will indicate whether gesture is effective as a substitution for speech in communication, as well as the interaction between gesture use and the recovery of speech ability.

I also spent last summer as a research assistant at Albert Einstein College of Medicine where I worked in an auditory neuroscience lab. There we studied how the brain integrates and segregates streams of sound using analysis of auditory evoked potentials. This kind of research has a lot of important applications, including a possible explanation of what causes language delays and speech impediments in some children. Other research that I worked on in this lab provided important information about the plasticity of the auditory cortex in hearing-impaired individuals to better understand the effectiveness of cortical implants at various stages of development. I really enjoy research and hope to go to graduate school next year to study neuroscience. Specifically I want to integrate the areas that I've studied so far and learn more about the relationship between auditory perception and speech development. I'm also interested in a lot of tangential topics related to these feilds, but I figure this is a good place to start. Obviously I think studying neuroscience is important, since I hope to do it for many years to come, if only because of the possibilities for increasing the quality of life for so many individuals. However, I hope to discuss at greater length the ethical issues involved in applying what is learned in this field. 

I hope that in this class I can learn more about the research that is being done in other areas, and how they relate to the work that I've done and am hoping to do in the future. I find it exciting that we all come from such different backgrounds and vary so greatly in our experimental approaches and research topics, and I think this will lead to some really great discussions. See you all on Tuesday!

aamen's picture


Hi, my name is Alex, and I'm an NBS Psychology major at Haverford.  Like a couple other people who already posted, I'm from the west coast and I plan on heading back over there after graduation.  I've spent the last couple of years trying to decide whether I'm interested in pursuing a career in research versus medicine, and for the moment at least I'm leaning more towards research.  I'm planning on taking the next year or two off and getting some experience as a research assistant, and then applying to graduate schools for neuroscience.


I've always been specifically interested the biological basis of neurological disorders, and how this can be used to understand (and hopefully treat) the symptoms of patients with these conditions.  Last summer I worked in a lab at Oregon Health and Sciences University where they were studying the mutation of a specific protein in the neurons of mice bred to have Huntington's disease, which is definitely the kind of research I can imagine following up on later.


Like Amelia said, I think that in neuroscience research fields it is equally important to study animal models and the clinical population.  Part of what makes neuroscience so interesting to me is the many different methods by which people can study the brain, and how all of these methods are important in understanding the big picture.  Since people in the class come from such a wide range of backgrounds, I think it will be an interesting way to look at neuroscience from a variety of perspectives.

Felicia's picture


Hey everyone--


I'm Felicia and I'm a bio major at Haverford. I'm from Indianapolis, and I'm planning on medical school after taking a year off. I'm in Rachel Hoang's lab studying Drosophila development, and while it doesn't directly relate to neuroscience, I find it fascinating that the same organic molecules we're studying are involved in everything from early embryonic patterning to later, more complex organ and pathway formation (like the nervous system).

I am very interested in exploring and discussing how this happens - how genetic material translates to development, formation of characteristics and social behaviors - and how differences in genes affect the latter two. I think one of the more pressing problems the field of neuroscience faces is trying to define and characterize a "normal" brain with a narrowed view of normality.

With an interest in medicine, I am fascinated at the amount of medicating that goes on. One of the things that has struck me most about my doctor shadowing experiences is just how medicated we as a society are. Is there a problem with turning to drugs first to treat symptoms? It's definitely often times the easiest of choices, but part of the reason I became interested in medicine was because I appreciate how resilient our bodies are - and I think taking advantage of that through alternative therapies is important to consider. I'm also interested in the relationship between diet and health and in addiction/reward pathways. Looking forward to the semester!

ehinchcl's picture


Hey all--

My name is Emily Hinchcliff and I am a senior biology major at Haverford. My current research has little to do with the NBS field, though the basics of cellular development, mechanics, etc. are applicable to almost anything. I'm working in Professor Punt's lab, with Elliot, doing immunology research. Basically, we are looking at the underlying physiological differences between mature and immature T-cells and the resulting differences in cell fate decisions; I'm particularly focused on the cytoskeleton/microtubule modifications. I'm pre-med and will attend medical school eventually, but really want to take a gap-year to go abroad and teach (hopefully!).

The reason I am NBS is because I was drawn early on to the psych courses offered, especially those with a molecular/biological basis. I think its fascinating to try to connect cellular phenomena with actual mental function, and I am especially interested in research that deals with neural development. After the last class discussion, I thought a lot about the use of animal models-- like what Kara said, how accurate can an animal model truly be? and can we get all the information we need from them, without true feedback about mental state? can we even get 'true feedback' from human subjects, what with differences in perception and response? Another thing that I was thinking about, as well, was the idea of the use of drug models for disease. Can we truly mimic disease states (the issue of what is a disease state is a whole different topic) with drugs/chemicals? how accurate will such experiments be if we really only model based on phenotype/outcome? I think this would be a really interesting discussion topic for one class.

See you all on Tuesday...

kbrown's picture

Hi There

Hi everyone, my name is Kara and I am a psychology senior at Haverford. I am from Washington State and am planning on applying to veterinary school in the future after a year or two off to gain more experience in the field. The majority of my experience in neural and behavioral research centers on pain perception and how pain perception can alter social behaviors such as affiliation and approach, which is the main focus of my thesis with Wendy Sternberg, Alex and Amelia. I have also always had some interest in hormone regulation and its effects on behavior, also a part of our thesis.

After our discussion last Tuesday I found myself particularly drawn to continuing a discussion on the use of animal models versus human models in psychological research. Certainly the ethics of this question is one which is very interesting, whether it is right to allow types of research on animals which we would invariably not allow in humans, and the fact that the vast majority of the research that I have been involved in uses animals as subjects, but that wanting to be a veterinarian clearly puts me in a place in which I do not feel that animal life is in any way "expendable" makes this question interesting to me. I think that those of us who do use animals in our research should not shy away from a discussion of this issue but should embrace the opportunity to really question and solidify our views. However, besides the morality of animal research, I think the question of whether animal research is truly generalizable to human conditions or human mental processes is fascinating. I myself feel that in most ways it is, but I would be really interested to hear other people's opinions about this dimension of the validity of animal models in psychological research. It would be especially interesting to me to hear from some of the biology majors about this point, as I have thought about whether studying animal behavior can be extrapolated to the human mental condition, but don't really have a good idea of if the differences between biological processes in animals and humans provide a challange in neurobiological research.

Part of why I think neural and behavioral research is important is the knowledge that we gain about the cognitive and emotional capabilities of animals. Obviously this is mostly because my interests lie in veterinary medicine, but having been around veterinary practices I find that learning more about what environmental or social factors could possibly affect an animal's well being or medical care experience could drastically improve veterinary medicine.

Alexandra's picture


Hi, my name is Alex, and I'm an NBS Psychology major at Haverford. Like a couple other people who already posted, I'm from the west coast and I plan on heading back over there after graduation. I've spent the last couple of years trying to decide whether I'm interested in pursuing a career in research versus medicine, and for the moment at least I'm leaning more towards research. I'm planning on taking the next year or two off and getting some experience as a research assistant, and then applying to graduate schools for neuroscience.

I've always been specifically interested the biological basis of neurological disorders, and how this can be used to understand (and hopefully treat) the symptoms of patients with these conditions. Last summer I worked in a lab at Oregon Health and Sciences University where they were studying the mutation of a specific protein in the neurons of mice bred to have Huntington's disease, which is definitely the kind of research I can imagine following up on later.

Like Amelia said, I think that in neuroscience research fields it is equally important to study animal models and the clinical population. Part of what makes neuroscience so interesting to me is the many different methods by which people can study the brain, and how all of these methods are important in understanding the big picture. Since people in the class come from such a wide range of backgrounds, I think it will be an interesting way to look at neuroscience from a variety of perspectives.

Liz Bitler's picture


Hi, I'm Liz Bitler and I'm a psychology major at Haverford College with a concentration in the neural and behavioral sciences. I'm from Pittsburgh and when I started at Haverford I was planning on continuing on to med school. Right now I'm planning on taking a year off to work in a lab before applying to grad schools for a PhD in biosychology or neurobiology. I think it's interesting to think about the biological mechanisms that affect our experiences of the world or our behavior.

I spent this past summer working on a research project about the relationship between exposure to enriched environments and pain behavior in mice. Enriched environments have been shown to promote cell growth in the brain (neurogenesis) and the field of neurogenesis research has really grown in the past several years. Although researchers have identified some interesting cognitive and behavioral changes associated with neurogenesis, it hasn't been thought about with relation to pain behavior until now. Currently Emily and I are hoping to induce neurogenesis with galantamine (and Alzheimer's drug) and decrease it with nicotine to compare pain behavior in relation to various amounts cell growth.

All of this research has gotten me interested in plasticity in the brain, although my interest is definitely focused on the later-life brain development than initial early-life development. I'm interested in thinking about the ways that our brain is able to recover from damage and how this may be relevant to treatment of disease or disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. I thought that the interview with Dr. Whitehouse was really interesting; I didn't realize that all people develop the neuritic plaques and tangles that are associated with AD. I also think that the question about how the changes associated with AD can lead to alterations in personality, and I think this may have implications about how we think of other personality disorders and the "damaged" brain.

For this class I'm curious to hear about neural correlates for free will and consciousness, and I think that the discussions about neuroethics should be really interesting. I'm currently taking a class on writing about science where we're focusing on the misrepresentation or misapplication of scientific findings, so I think that should help me think critically about how we're using technology and treatments in neurobiology. Overall I think it should be an interesting seminar and I'm looking forward to the discussions!

Jenna's picture


Hi everyone! I’m Jenna Wissocki and I’m a senior biology major at Haverford. I am from New Jersey and will return there to go medical school this fall. I am not sure what type of physician I want to be yet, but since I have always been interested in NBS material I am currently leaning towards that field. However, I have not been exposed to many of the medical professions so I am still keeping my options open.

Although I am a Haverford biology major I am doing my senior thesis research with Professor Thomas in the psychology department at Bryn Mawr. I chose to do this because I was interested in his research about anxiety because it has a direct connection with human conditions. I am particularly interested in anxiety and depression because it is so common and the drug treatments are somewhat controversial. It will be interesting to discuss whether animal models are good for humans because this has a direct effect on my research this semester.

I think that NBS research is important because it is necessary to continue improving the effectiveness of health care for neural disorders. For me, this should be the ultimate (even if far-removed) goal of most research. I am very interested in the discussion of the effectiveness of drugs on neurological disorders and neuroethics because I find this the most interesting area of NBS material.

Alexandra's picture


Hi, my name is Alex, and I'm an NBS Psychology major at Haverford. Like a couple other people who already posted, I'm from the west coast and I plan on heading back over there after graduation. I've spent the last couple of years trying to decide whether I'm interested in pursuing a career in research versus medicine, and for the moment at least I'm leaning more towards research. I'm planning on taking the next year or two off and getting some experience as a research assistant, and then applying to graduate schools for neuroscience.

I've always been specifically interested the biological basis of neurological disorders, and how this can be used to understand (and hopefully treat) the symptoms of patients with these conditions. Last summer I worked in a lab at Oregon Health and Sciences University where they were studying the mutation of a specific protein in the neurons of mice bred to have Huntington's disease, which is definitely the kind of research I can imagine following up on later.

Like Amelia said, I think that in neuroscience research fields it is equally important to study animal models and the clinical population. Part of what makes neuroscience so interesting to me is the many different methods by which people can study the brain, and how all of these methods are important in understanding the big picture. Since people in the class come from such a wide range of backgrounds, I think it will be an interesting way to look at neuroscience from a variety of perspectives.

Andrea G.'s picture


Hi, I'm Andrea and I'm a Psychology and Chemistry major at Bryn Mawr.  Until very recently, my plan for after graduation was to go right into a PhD program in behavioral neuroscience next year.  Instead, I'm going to take a year or two off to do some more lab work and hopefully make a more informed decision about what I want to do with myself after grad school.

I spent my summer at the University of Minnesota working in a lab that does a lot of work on opiate withdrawal in rats.  As a result, I've become very interested in addiction and reward pathways in the brain.  I'd be interested in discussing several aspects of addiction in class, including the process of forming an addiction, the withdrawal process, as well as clinical treatments for drug addiction.

Looking at some of the topics we discussed last week, I'm finding myself more and more interested in the topic of the use of drugs vs. psychotherapy (or some combination of the two).  I've never been particularly interested in many clinical aspects of psychology, but this is a huge issue, and I'd like to explore it more fully in class.  I haven't read any studies that look at neurological changes as a result of psychotherapy, but I'm sure they're out there, and I'd be interested in looking at how various methods of "fixing" the brain are actually changing things.

Mawrtyr2008's picture


Hello everyone! My name is Rebecca Woodruff, and I’m a Bryn Mawr pre-health, NBS biology major. I’m doing my senior research with my lab partner, Danielle Marck in the psychology department, supervised by Prof. Earl Thomas. I’ve lived in Austin, Texas for most of my life, but I’ve also lived abroad in Tokyo, Japan and Edinburgh, Scotland. Most of my course interests at Bryn Mawr have focused on biology, sociology, East Asian studies, issues of social justice, and public health. Right now, I plan on taking a year or two off and then attending graduate school to obtain an MA or a PhD in public health.

Right now, my main interests for this course include:

  • intersections between the brain, mental healthcare, and education: I worked last summer on an applied neurobiology project in Paul Grobstein’s lab that dealt with this topic.
  • anxiety: Danielle and my research focuses on inhibition of anxiety from the medial prefrontal cortex on the amygdala in the white rat. Basically, we infuse an anxiolytic drug into the mpc and record from the amygdala. While I’m really interested in the psychopharmacology related to anxiety, I’m also interested in learning more about anxiety from different perspectives.
  • language acquisition later in life, like in school or immersion settings. When I was in high school, I went to live in Japan totally out of the blue and without any prior knowledge of Japanese culture and language and left the country speaking Japanese. I’ve continued studying the language and the problems associated with aging and language acquisition really frustrate (!) and interest me.
  • evolutionary neurobiology

I definitely think research in NBS is important for human well being in a general sense. In my experience, as I gained a greater understand of NBS, specifically what Paul called “applied neurobiology”, the more my view of institutions that I had previously taken for granted changed. Last summer, I worked in Paul’s lab on a project that dealt with how understandings of the structure and function of the brain played a role in better understanding methods of education and mental healthcare. At the end of the summer, I walked away from the project with really different ideas about how those two fields are currently operating, and what could be done to improve them. For this reason, I think that making the results of NBS research accessible to others, specifically those who don’t have an understanding of the scientific culture and jargon, could positively impact many other disciplines.

natsu's picture

Hello from Natsu!

My name is Natsu and I’m a Psychology major at Bryn Mawr.  I have a particularly strong interest in developmental and cognitive psychology and starting this past summer, I've been working in the Cognition and Aging lab.  I work many hours every week with elderly people, some of who have Alzheimer's disease.

However, what I am actually really interested in is social behavior and how that relates to the brain, especially in very young children.  I have had a considerable amount of experience working with children who have autism spectrum disorders and language disabilities, and recently I have become fascinated by a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome.  I am particularly interested in the contrast that is made between patients with autism and those with Williams Syndrome – especially the fact that children with autism tend to avoid human interaction and appear to be anti-social or “hyposocial” while those with Williams Syndrome are extremely friendly or "hypersocial".

During my research in the Cognition Lab, I have also been thinking a lot about the social behavior piece.  So far we have been fortunate (?) to work with many nice patients, but I have often heard that there are patients who become extremely unfriendly or mean as they develop Alzheimer's. I find it puzzling and intriguing that disease-related changes in the brain can even change the way people interact with and behave towards others.  Social behavior or sociability is hard to measure in research (how could one really measure meanness or friendliness objectively?) and not often the main focus of research, but I think it is a very interesting and important aspect to look at when considering the effectiveness of treatment.

 Changing the topic a little bit, I saw a clip from ABC news just an hour after we had our first seminar on Tuesday.  It was an interview with Dr. Peter Whitehouse who spoke of his book called "The Myths of Alzheimer's”. I haven't had a look the book yet, but what I found interesting was that the author was trying to redefine the condition that we have been calling Alzheimer's as severe/accelerated aging by arguing that we all develop Alzheimer’s to some degree. I thought I would bring this up, since this seemed relevant to our topic of the week.

Danielle's picture

About Me!

Hi, my name is Danielle Marck and I am a senior biology major at Bryn Mawr. I am also premed and plan on applying to medical school over the summer. As a future physician I look forward to becoming a pediatric neurologist or neurosurgeon.


I have always been intrigued by the complexities of the brain and the large role the brain plays to ensure proper functioning of the entire body. I am very interested in the methods of treatment for various neurological diseases, differentiating between cognitive behavioral therapies, physical therapy, and drug treatment plans. I enjoy taking Pilates classes and recently learned that there was a special Pilates class for people with beginning and advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. These individuals have made tremendous progress over a year long period and suffer less from tremor and muscle rigidity after taking Pilates. The improvements noted in these individuals is very intriguing to me especially since it shows that physical therapy is effectively slowing and making their Parkinsonian symptoms more manageable. Although Pilates is not curing these individuals of Parkinson’s disease, it is helping their body adapt.



I think neuroscience research is very important being that the connections made throughout our body are vital to our survival. Studies conducted in rats can at times be questionable being that scientists do not know enough about subtle differences between each person’s brain to accurately compare a human and rat brain. Since the brain and nervous system is so important to human survival, I feel that research in neuroscience is imperative to further our understanding of human longevity. I feel that research in neuroscience takes two routes, either studying behavior or chemical pathways. I think that for future research, these two routes need to be combined so that a deeper understanding of the brain can be accomplished.
Amelia's picture



I'm Amelia, a senior Psychology major, German minor, NBS concentrator from Haverford. I'm in the process right now of interviewing at and deciding on PhD programs in Behavioral Neuroscience (both in Psychology departments and Neuroscience departments). After graduate school I am undecided as to what I would like to do, but know that I am interested in doing research as a career.

In general terms I'm interested in the neural mechanisms of behavior, the influence of chemicals on neuropsychological function, and pain perception. I would like to be able to use both animal models and clinical human populations as subjects to get a better overall understanding of the mechanisms of behavior. I have done research with both populations, and I think that to find 'true' results they must both be taken into consideration.

This class will be a great forum to discuss ethical concerns, future promising research, and the role of neuroscience in the modern world.

Gillian Starkey's picture

Hi everyone

Hi everyone, I'm Gillian Starkey, and I'm a senior Psych major/NBS concentrator at Bryn Mawr. Like Stephanie, I'm from the West Coast (Berkeley, CA), and I hope to go back to the Bay Area at some point later in life.

Up until last summer, all I knew was that I was interested in psychology. Then I did an internship at the University of Louisville with Dennis Molfese, who studies cortical activation differences in language development and learning disabilities using ERP (a kind of EEG) technology. Since then, I've been hooked on brain imaging research, and for a while I was fully convinced that my goal in life should be to someday run my own brain imaging lab with various types of imaging technologies.

However, I've also always been interested in doing clinical work -- that's what drew me to psychology in the first place. So, for next year, I'm applying to several clinical positions as well as several research-assistant-type positions in the hopes that I can figure out before I go to grad school whether I want to focus on research or head down the clinical path. I'm sure that quite a few of us are in the same position of uncertainty about exactly where in the field of psychology/biology/neuroscience we belong.

With regard to this class, I'm excited to hear different perspectives on neuroethics as well as people's views on how psychopharmacology and neuroscience relate to issues of education. Looking forward to next Tuesday...

Paul Grobstein's picture

Neural and behavioral science issues, "broken brains"?

Think its going to be a rich semester; lots of interesting suggestions from our first meeting for possible future discussion. Among them: aging, consciousness/free will as emergent properties and epigenetics (see Exploring the Consciousness Problem (old, needing update), From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond , Free Will? (also old, needing update)), the gene/brain relationship (Genes, Brains, Behavior, also old etc), animal models and their relation to humans, imaging technologies present and future, education and the brain (Brain and Education: Thinking About New Directions, neuroethics in general (Neuroethics Society), ethical problems of therapeutics including psychopharmacology, "talk therapy".

Related to the last was some interesting discussion of "broken brains", and of the pros and cons of various therapeutic approaches, that seemed like a good starting point for our next discussion (and maybe more: is changing the "chemical balance" of the brain pharmacologically the same as talk therapy? is there a "cellular basis" for all brain disturbances?). Some readings on the validity, or lack thereof, of the "broken brain" perspective are provided on our course website as background for our next meeting.


Stephanie's picture


Hi Everyone!

I'm Stephanie. I'm a senior Psychology major and Education minor at Haverford. I planning on going to graduate school next year either for a master's in speech-language pathology or for a psyD in clinical chlid psychology. I am from Arizona and I love the West coast. I'm enjoying being on the East coast and will probably go to grad school out here, but I hope to ultimately return to the West.

I am very interested in discussing neuroscience and its effects for education, especially ways in which neuroscience can better inform our teaching methods. I also look forward to thinking about ways for children to think about neuroscience and the brain. As an education minor, I am enrolled this year in a year-long senior seminar for education and I think I will draw on my education perspective in this course.

I am also interested in psychological disorders that affect children and also the different treatments for these disorders in children. One interesting issue in the field I'd be interested in discussing is the idea of "medicating children." Should we do this? The pros? The cons? Long term effects?

Another interest of mine is language and its relationship to the brain. Language is uniquely human and no other species possesses this complex ability. Language ability can be affected by certain neurological and psychological disorders, and I look forward to exploring this further in this seminar.

I think research in neural and behavioral sciences is very important for human well-being in many different arenas, including education, health, health care, mental health. The more we can learn in the field of neural and behavioral sciences, the better. I think human well-being will benefit from the knowledge that this research generates in many different ways, but especially through health care.

See you all in class on Tuesday night!


Emily Alspector's picture

My Info

Hi, I'm Emily Alspector, I am a senior Psych major at Haverford. In addition to completing an NBS concentration, I'm also a minor in linguistics. I have no clue what I want to do with my life, except I know that it's going to be interesting because I get bored easily. I really enjoy travelling and observing people, so if I could somehow get to do that and get paid, I'd be set. But I'm a realist, also, and I know I will probably end up travelling for a little while until my bank account gets dangerously low and I'll settle down somewhere, maybe wherever I am when that happens.

I am very interested in cultures and learning about cultural differences, especially with regards to cognition and language. I think the developmental processes of language are interesting as well as nonverbal communication and what we are saying through gestures, intonation, etc. I'm not exactly sure how I can relate neurobiology to linguistics, but I would be very interested if anyone has any ideas or articles I could read.

I am also taking Neurobio and Behavior with Professor Grobstein and am very excited for both of these classes. I think they will be a great opportunity to think differently about psychology and science in general.

As far as our presentations are concerned, I would be very interested to learn more about psychosomatic symptoms and what they entail, and maybe how they relate to phantom limbs and other post-traumatic-related phenomenon, so if anyone has any interest in this topic, email me ( and let me know and we can work something out.