[Danielle Chaloux]: Welcome to Live and Learn, a production of the Honors Program at the University of Connecticut. I’m Danielle Chaloux and this week we’re hearing from students.
[Taylor Edgar]: Hello, my name is Taylor Edgar. I am a junior biology major on the pre-med track, and I am in Dr. Heather Read’s lab, researching auditory physiology and sound discrimination.
[DC]: So when you go into the lab, and you say, “Hello I’m here!”, what do you do?.
[TE]:For most of the day we’re running what we call behavior, which is the actual experiment. So the morning crew comes in and they set up all the technology, they boot the computers up, they get the rats ready. We have a set of rats that we bring up from the vivarium. Throughout the day we are bringing the rats in one by one, and putting them in what we call behavior boxes, where the experiment itself is run. They are very controlled environments. And so when you’re working your shift, you could be moving the rats in and out of behavior boxes, you could be recording data, you could be running the rats on what we call enrichment, which is where we put them in little wheels for them to run around in which is their exercise. Near the end of the day you could be weighing the rats, and calculating how much food they should be getting because they are on a food restriction diet to ensure they are motivated to actually complete the tasks that they do. But essentially throughout the day you can be doing whatever needs to be done.
[DC]: And when the rats go into the behavior box, what do they do?
[TE]:So, when they are in the behavior box, they are in this polymer cage within a much larger box, that’s soundproofed. They are essentially subject to little bouts of sound. So they have sound currently, they are in phase zero. And they essentially listen for a sound coming from the left or a sound coming from the right. And depending on where that sound is coming from, they go and tap on a little port, and if they get a sound direction correct then they are rewarded with, we give them strawberry flavor ensure, and if they are wrong then they get a little fifty second timeout where the lights come on and a little sound plays that they don’t enjoy. To initiate each trial they need to poke on a center port, so phase zero is essentially them training to discriminate between the direction of the sound.
[DC]: And what is the goal of the research? What is the question that will hopefully be answered?
[TE]: So again like I said, they are in phase zero right now. The next phase is taking away the direction of the sound, so they have to discriminate the type of sound and whether they associate it with the left or the right. Essentially, what we’re trying to do is train them to discriminate sound and once we achieve that we are going to launch into something called optogenetics, which is a new field which that essentially goes into the brain of the rat and we essentially able to inhibit certain parts of the auditory cortex and from that we’re able to see which part of the auditory cortex is controlling that sound discrimination, that ability to tell what a sound is and where it is coming from and what it means. Research into the auditory cortex, exactly what it does, what the parts do, is currently what we’re trying to achieve.
[DC]: And how did you end up in Dr. Read’s lab?
[TE]: A lot of times people on campus they, the reason they land in labs is that they’ve contacted professors, they’ve connected through the teachers they’ve had or they’ve emailed people that they’ve seen the research of and say they’re interested. And after a lot of emailing and a lot of communication, eventually they do land in a lab. I was actually connected through one of the current lab leads. She is a brother in my academic fraternity, and she knew that Dr. Read’s lab was going to lose a lot of members because they were all graduating, and she knew that I was looking for a lab and she thought I would be a good fit. So she put me in communication with Dr. Read, and that is essentially how I got the position.
[DC]: This would be another example for those out there listening of networking.
[TE]: Networking with other students, because people always think networking is, you know, with adults, people older than them that have already achieved high above. But networking can just be with your peers on campus.
[DC]: If you were to give yourself a piece of advice a year ago, or two years ago, what would be the advice you would give to your younger self?
[TE]: Well, to my younger self, I would probably tell her it’s ok to fail. Because I came from a very competitive high school, and because of that, I’m very grateful for being able to go there because it allowed me to develop the skills I needed to be in the Honors Program and to do well in school. However, it did put a weight on my shoulders when I hit college that I expected to be a straight A student just like I was in high school. And, for college, it’s a good idea and it’s a good thing to strive for, but it’s not always achievable. And it’s ok if you get a B, if you get a B-, in a class, if you get lower than that you can always retake the class if it’s really that big of a deal. And, it was a very big stressor when I was a freshman, even when I was a sophomore, that I thought I was a complete failure because I wasn’t doing as well as I did in high school. So being able to say, “Hey, it’s okay. You’re still doing well. You can still do this.” would be a good bit of advice.
[DC]: Is there a resource on campus that you would recommend to your peers? That they might not already know about?
[TE]: Specific to Honors or specific to UConn?
[DC]: No, just to UConn in general.
[TE]: I think everyone is aware of this resource, but a lot of people are hesitant to use it, as I was in my beginning years. Knowing that your professors they have office hours for a reason. And they want to see you at those office hours, because they want to see that if you don’t understand the material or if you’re a little unsure about something, they want to help you. They’re there for that, they don’t want to see you fail! For me it was very intimidating having to tell myself, “Hey you need to see a professor you can’t deal with this on your own.” So definitely seeing your professors during office hours, seeing them anytime you can.
[DC] For a minute, I’d like to go back to the idea of failure that Taylor talked about. For high achieving students, failing an exam or a class or not getting the internship you applied, even getting less than an A is devastating. I know, because I’m one of those students who didn’t get a B in anything until college, and when I saw it on my transcript I went home and cried. If this hits a little close to home, on Friday January 26th, at 4PM in Laurel Hall 306, the Honors Program is hosting a “Stay Whelmed” workshop, on failing well! Members of the enrichment team will share their own stories of failing, and we’ll be talking about finding the silver lining in failures. Attending this event counts toward Sophomore Honors. That’s all for this week, for previous episodes, and to enter in to win an Honors Program long-sleeve t-shirt, visit honors.uconn.edu/podcast, where the code word is, you guessed it, failure.