Zoe Kaegi ’23

University of California, San Diego, Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience, La Jolla, CA

This summer, I had the opportunity to work as a research affiliate at the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience (SCCN) at UCSD. SCCN specializes in studying brain patterns and neural circuits by analyzing electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings from human participants. The projects I was involved with were efforts to analyze previously collected data to try to map and characterize how the brain responds to and processes music, particularly via the motor cortex. For example, one study I worked on asked participants to tap along to music. The music, however, would alternate tempos and rhythms from 4/4 to 3/2, making the effort of tapping along more challenging. My job was to then help the researchers group together brain components and electrical patterns with similar properties emitted from specific brain regions, and identify how the motor cortex anticipates and processes rhythm changes.

Zoe Kaegi participating in an EEG trial.This internship required me to learn a program called MATLAB, which I had no prior experience using. I spent the first few weeks in the lab familiarizing myself with MATLAB and a specific plugin developed by SCCN scientists known as EEGLAB, which was different from any of the skills or coursework I have taken thus far. As a student majoring in biology and psychology with a concentration in neuroscience, most of my courses I have taken have focused on papers using research techniques at the neuron and neurotransmitter level. Therefore, it has been interesting to explore neuroscience on a larger, circuit level using EEG recordings and coding-based analysis. I even got to participate in a trial study, during which I was connected to 64 electrodes and afterward analyzed my own brain data.

The most unexpected, yet exciting, aspect of my summer experience was how many connections I made with neuroscientists and researchers of all different backgrounds. Within my lab, I met with two current Ph.D. candidates and was able to ask them about their academic and research journeys. I also met a Williams alumna doing a Ph.D. at nearby Scripps Research. It was so inspiring to meet with these three women, as they gave me invaluable advice as a young student hoping to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience one day. I also had a meeting with a Scripps researcher who studies the same small brain region that my thesis advisor, Professor Matt Carter, recently published a paper about. My goal as a neuroscientist is to study substance use disorders, so it was eye-opening to meet with someone in the field who inspired me to start my own thesis project for this upcoming year.

Of course, I must extend a huge thank you to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Public Service Internship Program for this experience. I would also like to thank my mentor, John Iversen, for welcoming me into the lab and teaching me so much. I cannot wait to continue my last year at Williams with the knowledge I have gained this summer.