EnVisioning a Future in Neuroscience

Callista Dyer, COL ’23, Watsontown, PA

During my junior year, I decided to take a major detour in my studies. Transitioning from clinical psychology to visual neuroscience is a pretty intense shift, especially so late in my college career. To develop some of the skills I would need to enter this new field, I wanted to take the summer to work in the Burge Lab at Penn, which studies computational vision in human subjects. Thanks to Career Services, I was able to make this happen.

The Burge Lab seeks to understand how the visual system makes sense of diverse natural environments. This understanding helps us model those systems in such a way that we can predict human performance on basic tasks. One interesting implication of modeling the human visual system is that we can improve technology that often attempts to imitate our eyes (like cameras!) One ongoing project explores depth perception, or how we perceive 3D environments, using a famous illusion called the Pulfrich effect. This project has interesting implications in optometry, where a specific type of lens, called the monovision lens, is prescribed to millions of older adults and can induce a version of this illusion which causes people to misperceive depth in everyday life. If not corrected, people may get into or cause serious accidents (think – a biker might look farther away than they actually are…)

Over the 12 weeks I spent in the lab, I ran both myself and other participants through this experiment on a version of the Pulfrich effect. It was exciting to see the data grow and be able to draw more interesting conclusions about the prevalence of the effect in the wider population. This process also improved my programming skills and equipped me with the knowledge to begin a project of my own on a similar topic. With the guidance of my PI and other lab members, I was able to develop a new experimental paradigm that will likely turn into my senior thesis.

In addition to helping with ongoing experiments and developing my own, I was able to attend biweekly lab meetings where we discussed new papers relevant in computational vision. I learned about various methods used in the field, ranging from psychophysics to eye tracking and more. As I attended these meetings and read papers on my own, I was better able to understand the relevance of different findings in my own research and the interests of the lab. It was encouraging that as the weeks went by, it took less and less struggling to understand these scientific papers, which can often be dense and overwhelming.

I am looking forward to the rest of the summer and the year ahead, where I will continue to collect data on the new mini-experiment that I helped build over the past few weeks. With the help of Career Services, I was able to explore this new direction and develop the skills necessary to pursue this field in graduate school and beyond.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services