October Feature: Neuroscience Axis

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(Above) Members of Neuroscience Axis and their advisor, Dr. Brenda Anderson.

This past week, one of our Cabinet Members, Benjamin Kerner, sat down with the President and Vice President of Neuroscience Axis, Joseph Arena and Katherine Maiorisi, in order to shine light on their endeavors and mission at Stony Brook. Neuroscience Axis works to facilitate the interactions between undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty in the field of Neuroscience.

B: What is your role in the organization and how did you get involved?

J: So my role currently, I am the president so it’s been a long road. I joined the organization my first semester of my freshman year.  I knew coming into Stony Brook that I wanted to do neuroscience and I had a passion for Psychology as well.  So I sought out this organization, based on the recommendations of upper classmen during my freshman year.  Second semester of my freshman year, I became a junior secretary, so I was like a secretary-in-training. Then my sophomore year I became secretary and junior year I became Vice President and senior year: Presidency. So I’ve been with this club for a long time. A long time.

K: I am currently Vice President of the club, I also joined freshman year.  I actually saw the neuroscience table at freshman orientation and it got my interest right away.  So yeah I’ve been part of the club since I was a freshman.  My junior year I was the events coordinator and senior year, Vice President.

B: Wow you both are quite seasoned. What are some things/events that your organization offers undergraduates?

J: So generally at least once every year, we try to have some sort of get into research event. So tonight actually, we’re having undergraduates come and speak about their experiences: how they contacted professors, how they sought out research labs, etc., and then next week we’re having Dr. Gergen and Dr. Parsons come speak to get a PI’s perspective. At those events we’ll also have examples of posters that are usually presented at URECA, and we’ll talk about URECA as a process.  The other events we do: Every year we do brain awareness week.  So during Spring Break, we go to local high schools and do sheep brain dissections, even gene demonstrations.  So it’s really an opportunity for us to share with our community what we’ve learned here at Stony Brook.  I think it’s going strong.

K: It gives our members an opportunity to teach other people, and I think you learn best through teaching. And our other big event every year, is the MD/PhD camp.  A lot of our members are unsure if they want to pursue an MD or PhD, so this gives them a chance to see the difference in the different paths they can take.  Or if they want to do both.

J:  We also have a newsletter called the Neurotic Times, in which students could come together and write about a topic of their choice. In the past, we’ve had articles on things such as MS or Parkinson’s. Our Editor-In-Chief would then organize everything and we would publish it and hand it out at the end of the semester. However, this semester we’re changing it up. We’re going to actually utilize our website so that students can actually have their name attached to something more frequently, and that way they can write about our club or things that are happening at Stony Brook, rather than just about topics in Neuroscience, so it kind of broadens who can participate.  So that’s something we’re actually, we’re working on building, this semester and hopefully next semester it will be a nice, smooth transition.  Apart from that, we also go to grand rounds every week, so over in the hospital, we sit in the same rooms as the physicians and nurse practitioners and PAs. They have researchers come from both off-campus and on-campus, and they discuss their latest research with the physicians. It’s really cool to see how clinicians and researchers interact.  We also participate in the conferences here at Stony Brook, such as the Neuroscience symposium with the graduate students every year, the Meeting of the Minds with the Neurobiology department, and the Neurology Conference in Port Jefferson. To kind of fill the gaps we have researchers come from both the Psych department and the Neurobio department and talk about their research. But obviously we change up who’s talking every two years or so.

B: So how about some events you’re in the process of planning now?

J: Okay so, the event we’re planning for this fall is an event to kind of tie in both mental and physical health.  So we’re actually, we’re part of the MIND collaborative, which is a bunch of organizations kinda centered around psychology but that’s very… very broad.

K: Incredibly broad.

J: We’re also part of the undergraduate biology advisory board, so we’re going to try to organize something between the two groups, an event that really showcases mental and physical health.  The other aspect we’re trying to incorporate into that is veterans, so we’re working with VSO,  the Veteran Student Organization, and we’re going to try to have them bring in some speakers and also do a sort of ceremony to destigmatize like, PTSD and mental illness within veterans.

K: And it kind of put light on some of the resources on campus that there are, specifically for PTSD but also other mental illnesses.  

J: The other event that we’re planning for the spring is a women in neuroscience event. March is Women’s History Month so we contacted a nurse practitioner who runs a camp for children with MS in Rhode Island.  She’s from Stony Brook, works as a nurse practitioner at Stony Brook, and runs the study abroad in Tanzania program, which is how I met her last summer.  Her story is incredible.  She was originally a medical anthropology undergrad student and now she’s actually working with a team of medical anthropologists to learn how to discuss MS with children, so we’re trying to get her to come speak at that event.  We really want to showcase obviously some of the researchers who are women and their research and we want to showcase clinicians who are women and following neuroscience.  

B: Why do you feel your organization is important to the undergraduate experience?

K: That’s a great question!

J:  Stony Brook is a big school, and psychology and biology are within the top five majors. Your classes can feel very cold because of the large amount of people.  So when I speak to freshmen and sophomores, I always tell them to try to join an organization, no matter what it is, because until you do, you’re just going to feel like a number at this school. We are the only undergraduate neuroscience organization on campus so but I think the other interesting thing about our club is that it covers a lot of departments. We’re part of the psychology department, the neurobiology department, the biology department.  We’ve done things with psychiatry and the Neuroscience Institute, so we branch out to a lot of different departments on campus. Neuroscience is such a broad field.  So I think that’s what kind of separates us from, from other organizations.  How far we are able to reach.

K: And I’m sure other clubs do this too, but we definitely give the members an opportunity to speak with professors and meet them, and gain some knowledge from them and connections. It makes them seem a little less intimidating.  

J:  We also have ways to become an archive or active member depending on your attendance. So to be an active member you need to go to ten events, six general body and four outreach. If you go to ten outreach events or you don’t come to any general body meetings, you can still become an active member.  And the reason for that is because, obviously scheduling is crazy and especially with labs, which can run very late we still want people to have an opportunity to seek neuroscience and to be exposed to it.  It’s really important that they go and explore and fall in love with neuroscience rather than come to just our GBMs.  So that’s why we have the dual way to become a member.

B:  What is the best way for undergraduates to get involved in your organization?

K: Apart from becoming an active member, the newsletter is a great opportunity to get a scientific literature piece published on the internet and for people to read.

J: Really the best way is to explore neuroscience more in depth. For me, the best thing to hear is when students come back and say, “Oh I spoke to so and so after the meeting and I’m going to take a tour of their lab,” which happens. I got my research position through this organization.

K: I did research freshman year and got research through this organization.

J: Our previous president, Ariella, did the same thing.  We had a few students who were just, not even e-board members, but who were general body members and they came back, and we’re actually, I’m using one of their stories as an example tonight. They’re in Dr. Robinson’s lab after he came and spoke to us.  So I think that alone is one of the biggest ways that they can get involved with neuroscience in general and really encompasses our mission statement.  It’s very rewarding and very exciting.

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