McKearn Program – Research Reflection – Blog 7

This week we were asked to address any problems or challenges that we have encountered with our summer research projects. I would have to say that my biggest obstacle has come from the unpredictability that is research. Throughout the summer, I have had to adjust and deal with time limitations, the addition of components to my project, as well as balance my other lab responsibilities. Thankfully, I have had many resources that have been helpful in this process. One essential item that has made all of the juggling possible is my lab key. I honestly do not know what I would have done this summer, had I not had access to the lab at all hours. I have been there from as early as 5:30am to as late as 1am, and sometimes both in the same day. Another vital resource has, of course, been my mentor. He has been there for me throughout the summer, every step of the way. For him and all of his teachings and support, I will always be grateful.

In regards to my project, I am most proud of how much this is my own project. Especially as an undergraduate in a lab setting, most projects are collaborative efforts. Yet for this research, I can proudly say that I have conducted most of the work, and am the “expert” (along with my mentor) on the project in the lab. However, much work remains to be done, and I am nervous about the time restraints that are tightening as we come closer and closer to the end of the program. I know the work will get done, I just I hope I can do it in a timely fashion without too much extra stress.


McKearn Program – Leadership Practices – Blog 6

Throughout the McKearn program, we have been reading sections of the book, The Leadership Challenge. One aspect of the book that we have been focusing on is the five practices of leadership that the book presents. According to the book, these practices are key components to successful leadership, and are therefore practices that we have been studying and working on in an effort to improve our individual leadership. The “Five Practices of Leadership” presented in the book are the following:

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart

For me, personally, the hardest practice of these has been challenging the process. For one, challenging the process requires some form of confrontation, and that is something that I have always tried to avoid. Also, I had it hammered into me from a very young age that authority is to be respected, not challenged. Because of these two aspects of my life, challenging the process can feel inherently contradictory. However, if I feel strongly enough about an issue, I am confident in the fact that I can, and will, stand up for what I believe in. Although I already knew this fact, the time in the McKearn program has helped to make that more clear. I have learned the value of strength in numbers, because through multiple people agreeing on a topic, I can feel assured in the decision or opinion we share. This confirmation that others share an opinion helps me to feel more capable in challenging the process when necessary, and I am glad that I have learned that through the program and the support of my fellow McKearns.

McKearn Program – Taft Retreat – Blog 5

This past weekend we spent at Lorado Taft, a small campground-like area in Oregon, Illinois that NIU uses for various retreats. Our retreat there focused on writing skills, the peer review process, examining and defining the bigger picture associated with our projects, and pitching our project. Since I have been doing research for three years already, most of this information was review. But, it was nice to see how much of the tips and tools we were given this weekend I automatically incorporate into my work. It gave me a boost of confidence in myself and my work, which helped me a lot during our group activities. I am by nature more of an introvert, so doing group exercises is not something that I generally look forward to. After the first workshop though, I felt like I did have information and knowledge that I could share with my peers; and that was a good feeling.

Another workshop that felt very helpful was the “Pitching your project” workshop. Although it put us all on the spot, it gave every one of us the opportunity to try and condense our projects into 90 seconds or less. And, not just that, but make it relevant and understandable to a general audience. I must say, I really enjoyed this exercise. I had fun coming up with suggestions of how other people could start off their pitches, or tie the pitch together with a strong finish. I may not be very funny or creative, but I had fun throwing ideas out for so many different fields.  The exercise of pitching our projects was such a success too! I was honestly blown away by my McKearn Fellows and other peers. You did an amazing job! 🙂

This “Pitching your project” workshop was definitely the one that I took the most away from. I learned not only about other people and their projects, but learned about myself. I also learned more about leadership and my style of leadership, especially when it comes to contributing. I learned this weekend that everyone has something to contribute to a group, and that we should all make sure to step up and share that with the group. I learned that leadership is not always about speaking or acting first, but about opening yourself up and exposing yourself, your talent, and your contribution to the group to maximize the group success. Through talking about our own ideas and the ideas of others, we strengthen them all.

And with that, I’d like to say thank you to my fellow McKearns for a great weekend, as well as to all of the people that helped make it possible!

McKearn Program – Project Background – Blog 4

The purpose of my research work and project is to better understand how specific parts of the brain contribute to spatial orientation. The members of my lab and I are researching this in order to gain more knowledge on the wandering that is often a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke. Our reasoning is that, if we can better understand which parts of the brain play a role in spatial orientation, then we can better formulate novel therapies and methods for dealing with this wandering symptom as well as these neurological disorders.

To do this type of research, I work with rats. Rats are a great animal model for many reasons, including the fact that they have previously been shown to orient themselves in space by similar means to humans. One article/source that has been essential to my project is “Movement characteristics support a role for dead reckoning in organizing exploratory behavior”, an article published seven years ago in the journal, Animal Cognition. This article is a highly credible source due to its thoroughness, content, and authors. The first author of the article is my mentor, Dr. Douglas Wallace, with whom I have worked now for three years. Because of him and his quality of work, I can personally and professionally attest to the credibility of this source.  🙂

Without this article, I could not analyze the results of my study in the way that I am. The research conducted in the source describes the movements of rats, and documents multiple characteristics of their movements along with ways to calculate and quantify the movement. The article provides evidence that my quantification methods have value, and are based off of previously determined features of rat behavior. The experiments for this source were also conducted under very similar settings, including the same apparatus. Such similarities provide strong parallels and ties between this article and my own work, thereby strengthening my project. Without the information of the article, my project’s methods and measurements would lack a foundation and merit. However, now I can build off of this data for my own study, and apply it to the three groups of rats and their movements. By using the information from this article, I can better assess if there are differences between the three rat groups in my research, which will help me determine if and how the medial frontal and orbitofrontal portions of the prefrontal cortex contribute to spatial orientation, or the lack thereof, which is seen in forms of dementia and stroke.