Summer Research Experiences: Neuroscience in Italy

On August 9, 2013 by Grad Forum

rich_italy_thumbnailAs the summer winds down, the Graduate Forum has invited students who did research out of town this summer to reflect on their experiences. Below Rich Lopez, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, shares about his experience attending a neuroscience summer school program in Italy.

This summer I had the great privilege to attend the first-ever Social Cognitive Neuroscience (SCoNe) summer school, held at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy. Those admitted to the SCoNe program consisted of PhD students and post-doctoral researchers from all around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Israel, China, and Singapore. International workshops and summer schools are designed to help junior scientists meet others in the field and hone their methodological skills.

The program lasted two weeks and was full of lectures and workshops given by top scholars in the field, accompanied by stimulating discussions. Equipped with tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, social neuroscientists can observe the live workings of the brain and establish links between brain activity and many aspects of personality and behavior, ranging from how we control our thoughts and emotions, to how we form impressions of others. At the end of the program, each attendee wrote and presented a research proposal.

The tenor of the SCoNe program was very supportive and encouraging, and I came away from it feeling intellectually refreshed and reinvigorated. I am grateful that I can incorporate a lot of what I learned into my research here at Dartmouth. One particularly helpful takeaway was the knowledge I gained about multiple techniques to analyze brain data. For example, I learned about a new method called source-based morphometry, which allows researchers to probe patterns of the density of grey matter (brain tissue containing neuronal cell bodies). They can compare these patterns between groups of people (e.g., young and old adults), and then test if any observed differences correlate with a psychological process or behavior of interest.

Of course, the fact that SCoNe took place in Trieste—a gem of a city with a diverse past and beautiful, Austro-Hungarian architecture—only enriched the experience! Unlike some other Italian cities, Trieste is relatively tourist free, and on my morning walks through Trieste’s main plaza, la Piazza Unità, the only people I encountered were local residents (known as Triestini in Italian). Between conversing in Italian with a barista at a local cafe, or riding the bus to the summer school each morning, I felt that my stay in Trieste was a truly authentic Italian experience.

by Rich Lopez

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