Quinnipiac co-sponsors 34th annual NEURON conference for neuroscience students

Melina Khan and Krystal Miller

Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut (UCONN) hosted the 34th annual Northeast Undergraduate and Graduate Research Organization for Neuroscience (NEURON) conference on Sunday, Feb. 28. 

The conference serves as an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students studying neuroscience and faculty members with expertise in the field to present their work to each other.

Connor Lawless

Dr. Renee Rotolo, a postdoctoral research associate at UCONN and Quinnipiac alumna, co-chaired the organizing committee. 

“I think (NEURON is) one of the most welcoming environments and encouraging spaces for new students who are trying to get into research and to practice presentation skills,” Rotolo said.

Traditionally, the conference is hosted in person at Quinnipiac and was originally brought to the university by Dr. Adrienne Betz, director of the behavioral neuroscience program.

“This conference has been a long-standing conference at the undergraduate level for over 20 years, it used to be (National Science Foundation) funded and hosted by many different universities,” Betz said. “I sort of acquired it in 2011, and the feedback was (Quinnipiac’s) location was extremely convenient … so everyone was sort of really happy that it stayed in a consistent location over the past 10 years … I used to chair it, just Quinnipiac alone, and it grew so big that it needed more help.”

Three years ago, UCONN was added as a co-sponsor and Dr. Geoffrey Tanner, assistant professor of physiology and neurobiology at UCONN, joined the organizing committee.

“One of the major ways that dual (university) sponsorship manifests is that both universities contribute funds,” Tanner said. “That enables us to do some things out of the box that maybe we wouldn’t do … for example, this year, it enabled us to select our platform, which is a platform called virtual poster sessions. It enabled us to also purchase Zoom pro memberships because we knew we had that money thanks to the sponsorship of both universities.”

The one-day event began at 9 a.m. with an introduction and presentation from keynote speaker William Lynch, followed by presentations from undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty. The event concluded with an award ceremony at 2:45 p.m.

Lynch is a professor in the department of integrative medical sciences at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He explained the neurological and neurocognitive aspects of COVID-19. 

“As many as 85% of people in various studies have been identified to have some kind of neurological or neurocognitive component,” Lynch said. “As many as 42% onset, 63% hospitalization, 82% overall disease course.” 

There are more common symptoms such as myalgia, headache or loss of taste or smell. The less common symptoms include strokes, movement disorders or motor and sensory deficits. 

Workshop sessions covering topics such as careers in science and dynamic teaching in the virtual age followed the keynote presentation. 

The careers in science panel detailed what motivated professionals to enter the science field.

“Going into medicine, I knew I wanted to pursue something with the brain. I really like talking, I really like helping people.” said Shanicka Reynolds, a third-year medical student at Quinnipiac. 

For attendees interested in pursuing a career in neuroscience, Reynolds advised talking to people who have experience in the field. Reynolds is currently doing research with Yale Hospital and the Epilepsy Research Center as well as helping out the epilepsy.com research website project and will be applying for residency in neurology this year. 

Another presenter, Steven Threlkeld, associate professor of neuroscience at Regis College, said that his career was shaped by his curiosity in the field.

“The thread that linked various sorts of pathways or tributaries in my career was this intrinsic motivation,” Threlkeld said. “One, a love for teaching that I found in graduate school, and two, this curiosity about understanding why certain neuromental disorders manifest rather than how we prevent it.”

In addition to workshop sessions, poster presentations were given all day by undergraduate and graduate students.

Kaitlin Castell is a senior behavioral neuroscience major at Quinnipiac who presented an observational study of abnormal rodent behavior. 

In summer 2019, one of her colleagues attended QUIP-RS, a program at Quinnipiac, which inspired the poster to be a continuation of that research. Last semester, the two started this observational study and completed the poster. 

To study maternal separation and anxiety behaviors, they acquired two control rats. Castell observed that one rat did not take good care of her babies, which is abnormal behavior. 

“The poster we put together was some data that was taken last semester about how often each of those mom rats nursed or licked or took care of her pups and showed how the bad mom really did not interact with her babies at all,” Castell said. 

As someone who has always loved to ask questions, being able to put herself out there and talk to people was very beneficial for Castell. 

“(NEURON is) a really cool networking event, you get to meet a lot of other students of different universities and see their research, and there are a lot of professors from different schools that you can meet and talk to,” Castell said. “They had a career panel that I thought was really interesting, and it is just worthwhile especially if you are doing research actively or thinking about it.”

She encourages other students to attend the conference as well to be able to observe new projects and learn from others experiences.

“NEURON happens every year and even if you’re not presenting or even in the (psychology) department, you’re welcome to attend, you can register for free and everyone should come, it’s really interesting,” Castell said.