Studying Neuroscience Down Under Megan Engeland '19 spent her summer in a research laboratory in the psychology department at the University of Sydney in Australia.
“The relationships I have formed with both faculty and students at W&L gave me the skills necessary to build relationships with my fellow researchers in Australia.”
Hometown: Yardley, Pennsylvania
Tell us about your summer project.
From March until July, I worked in a research laboratory in the psychology department at the University of Sydney in Australia. In this laboratory, I assisted a post-doctoral fellow on her experiment investigating conditioned nausea in humans through the use of virtual reality and galvanic vestibular stimulation. The goal was to see whether participants would come to associate feelings of nausea with one of two virtual reality environments after being conditioned during two consecutive experimental periods.
What made you want to be part of this work?
For the past year and a half, I’ve worked in Dr. Bob Stewart’s lab at Washington and Lee, which has allowed me to gain extensive experience working with animals and learning new lab techniques. However, as I am preparing for graduate school next year, I wanted to broaden my research experience. Working in this lab in Australia gave me a chance to gain lab experience in a new setting. I was able to work with human participants rather than animals, I was able to learn new techniques that will be helpful in the future, and I was able to work alongside researchers from various places such as Australia, London and Germany.
What did an average day for you look like on this project?
Because this internship was taken in the place of a course, I usually worked only two to three days a week. Depending on how many participants we had signed up, and what time slots they signed up for, the day started anytime between 7 and 9 a.m. On an average day, we ran four or five participants for an hour and a half each. Participants came in, were informed of what they’d be doing that day, signed consent forms, and then we ran them through the experiment. The experiment consisted of a few stability tasks along with some basic movements that participants completed while wearing a virtual reality headset and galvanic vestibular stimulation electrodes.
What is the most interesting knowledge you’ve picked up while doing this work?
This experiment gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about the vestibular system, as well as galvanic vestibular stimulation, which were both interesting and will be valuable skills moving forward! However, I think the most important knowledge and experience I gained was that which relates to working with human participants. I hadn’t previously worked in a lab that dealt with human participants, so gaining experience interacting with people in a research setting was both exciting and valuable for me as I pursue a career in research.
Was it challenging in any way? If so, how?
Starting work in a new lab setting was intimidating at first. All of the researchers in the lab were either working on their Ph.D. or have completed it already, so I was the youngest member of the lab. They also all have been working together for some time. Being the newest and youngest member, as well as the least educated on the topic of study, was slightly daunting at first. However, after a little adjustment period, I found that working with researchers who already had experience in the field was helpful for me, as I was able to learn a lot from them about what working in research will be like.
How did the project relate to your broader experiences at W&L regarding student-faculty relationships?
This experience gave me the opportunity to build relationships with fellow researchers from a variety of different backgrounds. The student-faculty relationships I have made at W&L over the past three years gave me the skills necessary to build these relationships. For example, my work in Dr. Stewart’s lab at W&L has taught me how to work alongside fellow researchers, and has given me the confidence to both ask questions and to share my thoughts in a lab setting; these were all valuable skills that I used to build a close relationship with my supervisor during our time in the lab.
Did your summer work impact your future plans in any way?
The work I was able to do in the lab in Australia gave me valuable experience that I will use as I move forward with my career in research. My plans for the future haven’t changed at all; if anything, this experience further supported my desire to pursue a career in research. I was also able to learn about graduate school from the other researchers in the lab and to gain knowledge that will give me confidence as I go to graduate school.
How did W&L prepare you for this experience?
The relationships I have formed with both faculty and students at W&L gave me the skills necessary to build relationships with my fellow researchers in Australia. Additionally, the background knowledge I have gained in my neuroscience classes over the past three years was invaluable as I conducted background research and learned about our specific topic of interest.
Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?
Working in labs with faculty at W&L is an invaluable experience for students, but it provides just one type of lab experience. Being able to work in a lab abroad gives students a chance to broaden their experience and is extremely helpful for any student pursuing a career in research. This type of experience allows students to gain a different perspective and to learn from other researchers about what life looks like post-undergrad.
More about Megan
What extracurricular activities do you do?
I play soccer for the women’s team at Washington and Lee, and I am a member of Relay for Life and Women in Technology and Science. I also volunteer for the Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity.
Favorite place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Bistro. I love their grilled salmon!
I’m hoping to go to graduate school next fall to get my Ph.D. in neuroscience. I’m not sure where I will be going yet!
Favorite W&L memory:
Winning ODACs sophomore year! A goal our team is hoping to accomplish again this fall.
Psychoactive Drugs and Behavior with Professor Stewart
Favorite W&L event:
Why did you choose W&L?
I chose W&L for a variety of reasons. Being able to play soccer at a competitive yet not entirely consuming level, the rigorous academic environment, all of the amazing people I met during my visits on campus, and the great alumni network were just a few of the things that led me to decide to spend my four years of college here!