GREENVILLE, Pa.—Thiel College Assistant Professor of Psychology Laura Pickens, Ph.D. ’06, and Associate Professor of Neuroscience Greg Butcher, Ph.D., in a collaborative research endeavor, are investigating the long-term effects of nicotine as a part of the College’s Greenville Neuromodulation Center Faculty/Student Research Institute.
This summer’s research is a continuation of the project that began in the fall of 2015 at Thiel College, a leading liberal arts college in northwestern Pennsylvania. The aim for this summer is a significantly expanded behavioral investigation of the consequences of adolescent nicotine exposure on male and female rats from previous years, including experimentation on spatial learning and memory, explicit memory, and several measures of anxiety at two later ages in adulthood.
“Dr. Pickens’ and my role in the project is really to serve as research facilitators rather than teachers or directors. Following an initial training period, the students were given the freedom to develop their own research questions and methods to test those questions,” Butcher said. “Each day begins with a lab meeting where we ask the students what they have planned for the day. We ask questions about that plan, identify potential problems, and suggest directions to consider in addressing those problems. Additionally, we develop their critical thinking abilities through experimental design, a weekly journal club in which we evaluate primary research papers, and in the preparation of final written and oral reports.”
The project is being led by Gage Gladysz ’20, Jessica Orczeck ’19, Stacy Reecks ’21 and Benjamin Walters ’21. Each has selected a behavioral testing procedure to coordinate for the eight week period. This collaborative research approach will put the students, under the advisement of the faculty mentors, fully in charge of identifying the test, evaluating the methodology, reviewing relevant literature and conducting their own experimentation.
“As faculty mentors for this project, we believe it is important for participating students to take ownership of the project, rather than simply serving as student lab technicians who complete a set of predetermined tasks,” Pickens said. “While this research approach will provide our students with plenty of training opportunities in a wide range of laboratory techniques, it will also build a sense of autonomy and foster critical thinking skills as students develop the behavioral assessment they are charged with overseeing within the larger scope of the project.”
About the GNC Faculty/Student Research Institute
In 2015, Thiel College alumni Fred Haer ’65 and his wife, Jill (Shackett) ’66, founded the Institute by pledging $400,000. It is open to all Thiel College faculty members and focuses on connecting science and the liberal arts. More than 15 original research projects have been conducted as part of the GNC and have ranged from traditional research to a one-man stage production.
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