Advice on a research opportunity

Discussion in 'Education and Employment' started by neurobadger, Aug 15, 2011.

  1. neurobadger

    neurobadger Vampyroteuthis Registered

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    It's that time again. I need advice.

    So, as I've stated before, I want to go into cephalopod neuroscience.

    Problem is nobody at the university I'm transferring to (which I'm going to for proximity and tuition reasons) works on cephalopods (the likelihood of finding a university where anyone does this anyway is slim; I know the size of the cephalopod research community is small).

    Since I'm an undergrad, this is not something I'm excessively worried about, but would it be advisable to outsource my research opportunities to, for example, summer opportunities at institutions that HAVE people working on cephalopods, or should I aim for a longer-term project at this institution on a topic that, while it seems pretty fun (I'll do my darnedest to push for a neuroscience project but the project there is probably gonna be on corals, and while they have a neuroscience department there are maybe two people doing anything I find REMOTELY interesting, it's on vertebrates, and their labs are apparently perpetually full)?
     
  2. Stavros

    Stavros GPO Registered

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    What questions in ceph neuroscience are you interested in most?

    It will be easier once you break down your goal to specific questions and then look for the best place to learn the fundamental (and later advanced) theory and techniques to be able to investigate them.

    Do not sign up for a project that doesn't keep you from sleeping at night (and doesn't push you to rise early in the morning). That'd be slow death.

    If you have to "compromise," make it worthwhile, for example: work on a project that is not ceph related, but you'll get the best training on technique(s) that will allow you to work on a ceph project in the future. Then you can spend a Summer, semester or year in another lab applying that skill towards a ceph neuroscience project.

    Good luck!
     
  3. neurobadger

    neurobadger Vampyroteuthis Registered

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    Well, I've broken it down to a variety of specific questions. Some examples:
    - Maddock and Young 1987 has a goodly number of tables describing relative brain lobe size as a percentage of the whole brain minus the optic lobes among species of cephalopods. I'd like to take the data on the lobes that have been implicated in sensory and possibly integrative functions - the frontal lobe, the vertical lobe, etc - and compare what we know about, say, Octopus vulgaris, to, say, Octopus bimaculatus, or possibly bimaculoides since (I think) it's closely related and a whole lot easier to work with. Bimacs appear to have larger supraesophageal masses by volume than vulgarises, 40% as opposed to 33%.
    - How do the brains of Antarctic benthic octopods adapt to the extreme cold and how does this compare to current knowledge regarding other Antarctic invertebrates and Antarctic fish?
    - I'd like to approach and build on some of JZ Young's studies with more modern methods (where it hasn't been done already, of course).
     
  4. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    I would recommend branching out slightly early on, either into some other system that will provide perspective or tools in neuroscience in general, or cephalopod behavior. This background will come in very handy as you form ever more complex questions, interpretations and conclusions for this very complex subject. Early on in your career (where you are now) you've been reading up, talking to people, and testing the waters, and you have great enthusiasm for a few cool questions. But perhaps more useful than making a bee-line to one of those questions now would be to find out about other views and techniques that people have used in neuroscience. You won't forget about your enthusiasm for ceph neuroscience- now is your time to learn about other approaches/research angles that you can then apply to that subject. Volunteer to learn about some basic experimental techniques and methods- the system will be different, but as you get going you will likely start to draw the parallels and see how this will be useful. Even though the exact components differ, you will better understand the electrical, neurological, hormonal, etc. roles that come into play, and this may come in very useful when troubleshooting your own big hurdles later on. Or - it sounds like you are interested in cold-water species. Maybe apply for an internship in a deep sea or cold-water biology or ecology lab to understand the conditions/limitations under which these systems evolved/are maintained.

    Or- it may be helpful to think about the implications of your work. What would it mean if you answered one of the questions above? Are you interested in the behavioral, physiological, ecological or evolutionary impacts/influences? Or- neuroscience is a huge field- what similar subjects within this interest you? Spending a few months exposing yourself to those subjects will be a good option as well.

    Either way, investments into your growth as a well-rounded scientist won't derail you from your main goal to go into ceph neuroscience-you're driven and you will do this. A little time spent branching out now will help you better design your experiments and interpret your results in grad school, even if what you're learning now seems only tangentially related. Scientists who only study hammers think every dataset is a nail, and they don't know what to do when they find a bolt. Take a little time checking out socket wrenches and screwdrivers. Believe me this will not stop you from learning about hammers. This isn't to say that you would be that type of scientist, but I've been there myself and I know the temptations to canalize your interests too soon, so just wanted to say how incredibly useful it is to take a step back.
     
  5. neurobadger

    neurobadger Vampyroteuthis Registered

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    If I can't get a nice cushy NSF REU internship it's probably gonna be something on corals, as the only person at my institution who does anything marine invertebrate works on corals and their diseases. I might see if I can look into what happens neurally when corals get certain diseases.

    Yeah, there does seem to be the techniques issue. Problem being I have no idea which ones to build on now and which ones are okay to start learning once grad school rolls around.

    I think I'm gonna poke around the local lab websites a bit.
     
  6. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Good plan- and don't stress too much about which techniques to learn- they'll all come in handy one way or another. Also- for the coral work- it may not be what you're hoping to go into, but it always helps to have an extra card in the hand, and coral work can be quite applied in nature, and helpful to have on your CV.
     
  7. perke

    perke O. bimaculoides Registered

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    I completely agree about transferable skills, I did a degree in zoology which didn't even touch on cephs but then went onto doing ceph behaviour in a PGDipSci then squid taxonomy in a Masters and now I'm doing cuttlefish vision and camouflage for a PHD so you can shift and change as long as the passion is there!

    Neurobadger I've also read your post on schools etc for postgrad, Duke is doing some research on Cephs at the mo and will be for the next few years, it is the johansan? lab that you need to look at there, they also do research cruises so if you have a taxonomy background it could put you in a good place. As for doing neuroscience in the UK (where I'm based) it is going to get a bit more difficult after 2013 as the new eu directive comes into play which means that a lot of the neuroscience procedures are going to be under home office licence approval.All I can say is good luck with your choice.
     

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