Seeing the Light: CUTF Introduction

Hi! My name is Lia, and I am a senior neuroscience major with minors in chemistry and statistics. I’m from the Philadelphia area and have five older siblings and eight nieces and nephews! My oldest niece is almost sixteen. Once I graduate this April (2024), I intend to enter a research PhD program in neuroscience, investigating the role of non-neuronal cells in neurodegenerative disease. I have been involved in research since I was a sophomore and have planned on having a career in research for a long time. However, through my work tutoring at the Pitt Study Lab, and my experience serving as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for Brain and Behavior (NROSCI 0080) last spring, I have discovered my love for teaching. I truly enjoy the process of guiding students through discovery of the subject that I love so much. Because of this, I have realized that I want to become a university faculty member. Ideally, I will split my time between the laboratory and the classroom, working to solve scientific puzzles while also contributing to the education of neuroscientists to come.

Last spring, the professor that I was TAing for at the time, Dr. Fraser, knew I was interested in education and recommended me to the CUTF. Because of my newfound passion for teaching, I immediately decided that I would apply. This fall, I am serving as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for Dr. Erika Fanselow’s Functional Neuroanatomy class, the class for which my project is designed. This is a required course for all neuroscience majors and minors and can be extremely challenging. One of the most difficult parts of this critical course is learning the complicated neuronal interactions at play in our retina that allow us to see. This circuit, despite being taught in multiple neuroscience core courses, is often misunderstood, or not fully understood by students due to its complexity. To address this, I, in partnership with Dr. Erika Fanselow, developed a teaching aid that can be used in the classroom to help students process this complicated information.

My project is an interactive 3D model of the circuitry in the human retina and allows students to examine the relationships between various kinds of retinal cells and neurons that allow us to see. I was fortunate enough to be a student in Dr. Fanselow’s Functional Neuroanatomy course when she used a similar tool to teach us about a different circuit, and it completely changed the way I understood and studied the material. I know that when I was learning this material, I would’ve found this model extremely useful, and it was designed with my own experiences as a student in mind. I am excited to present this model to the students of Dr. Fanselow’s Functional Neuroanatomy course this fall and look forward to its use in the future. I am really excited for this semester and am eager to learn about teaching complicated neuroscience material through this fellowship. I can’t wait!

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