November is the month for psychologists to gather, and Albion College students distinguished themselves among present and future peers at two national conferences last month. Thirteen Albion students attended the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference in San Diego, with students Amanda Tilot and Cindy Cardwell giving poster presentations at that conference. "It's pretty uncommon for an undergraduate to present research among the world's best neuroscientists," noted psychology professor Tammy Jechura, who along with department chair W. Jeffrey Wilson, took the students to the conference. "We received a lot of positive feedback from former colleagues on their skills."
"While I was standing by my poster a man asked me how I was defining sleep, as well as some detailed questions about my results," recalled Tilot, who has been studying lizards that can "sleep" on one side of the brain while the other stays awake. "I looked down at his nametag and realized that he was a professor whose work I had been talking about for five minutes! I must say, I was very nervous speaking with him, though Dr. Wilson told me later that I did fine."
At the Psychonomic Society conference in Long Beach, Cam Harris, one of few undergraduates to even attend the gathering, also presented a poster. "Most of my colleagues and friends were surprised when they found out that Cam was an undergraduate, since it is such a rare occurrence to have them at our meetings," said psychology professor Mareike Wieth, has worked with Harris on a project examining how time of day affects people's ability to do "insight" problem solving (conclusion: individuals are better at insight problem solving during their own non-optimal time of day).
Like Tilot, Harris was excited and inspired by academic discussions with prominent researchers. "While we were presenting our poster, an influential researcher noted that our research offers an alternative explanation to a recent article in Nature," recalled Harris. "After discussing our work with him further, Mareike and I realized that our research is potentially very interesting to the scientific community as a whole."
Both Tilot and Harris plan to pursue graduate degrees in neuroscience or cognitive psychology, and both agreed that attending conferences is an important part of Albion's psychology program. "In addition to learning about what research other people are doing, I also learned more about how my research fits in to the rest of the field," said Harris of the conference.
"I also learned a ton about research going on around the country and how it may relate to the direction I plan to take," concluded Tilot. "This has me really looking forward to getting started in the spring."