Tuesday, March 31, 2015

URSP Student Jane Garfinkel Researches Jewish Masculinity

While in my Sociology Research Methods class I was assigned the task of creating a research proposal on any topic of my choosing. I’ve always been interested in gender, and growing up Jewish I’ve observed how religion affects gender identity. I was particularly fascinated in how Jewish men perform masculinity, so I thought pursuing further research in a classroom setting would make sense. When I realized I would like to complete my own research, it made sense to continue with the proposal that I had just spent an entire semester working on. As well, this project is directly related to my long-term goals. I hope to continue with gender research, on masculinity as well as the broader effects of structural inequality. I am considering graduate work and perhaps a PHD in sociology, where I would continue to focus on gender.

My week to week work varied greatly depending on what step in the research I was. At the beginning I spent the majority of my time recruiting participants for my focus groups. This was much more challenging than expecting. I put up posters all around campus but this yielded no results. I had to talk to people individually and face-to-face to gain their participation. As volunteers signed up, I started holding focus groups. Having never led a focus group before I was nervous, but they ended up being a lot of fun. I really enjoyed hearing from participants and I was pleasantly surprised how open they were with me. Once the data was collected, a very large chunk of time was devoted to transcribing the audio recordings into a written script. This was tedious, but actually a great chance to think critically about the data. At this point, I am analyzing the script for patterns which will end up being the results of my research. One pattern that has stuck out to me this week is that for many participants other identities play a bigger role than Judaism, highlighting the importance of intersectionalism. This is probably the most fun aspect of my project as I’m seeing the outcomes of all this work.

Monday, March 30, 2015

URSP Student Samantha Brown Researches International Students, Their Living Situations, and Their Levels of Perceived Social Support and Stress

My research project has to do with the concepts of social support and mental stress among international students at George Mason University. Specifically, I am interested in the association (if any) between international students’ living situation and their levels of perceived social support and perceived stress. Students who befriend nationals of the country in which they are studying often adjust easier and undergo less acculturative stress. Because of this, my hypothesis is that international students at GMU who live with at least one American will experience more social support and less stress.

My involvement in the global community at Mason sparked my interest in this project. As I have participated in many international organizations and lived with exchange students, I have repeatedly watched my new shy, nervous friends become confident, outgoing people in a matter of months. I am interested in researching this process of change and why its seems so much easier for some than it does for others. This research project also relates to my long term goals as a Community Heath major and potential future health researcher. I am fascinated by research in this field as it constantly redefines our ideas of what is “good for us”.
So far, my week to week work with this project has been more logistical than I had originally imagined. Because I am surveying human subjects for my research, a large portion of my time has been dedicated to receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board- an organization whose existence I was not even aware of a few months ago. This includes a lengthy application and (in my case…) many revisions. But good news- my project was finally approved last week! This means I can begin to administer my survey and collect results in the months to come. This week I have learned just how to do that using the SurveyMonkey database. Though this was something I had originally planned on doing months ago, I am happy to be learning more about the unique process of research and am excited to hopefully begin seeing some results!

Friday, March 27, 2015

URSP Student Soyeon An Researches How Infected Cells Activate Apoptosis

Hello, I am Soyeon An.  I am a senior majoring in biology and have been working at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases since May, 2013. I have been studying how to treat the spread of emerging viruses including the Rift Valley Fever Virus and the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus.  Our lab is researching how infected cells activate the cell-death mechanism known as apoptosis.
Our lab has regular meetings in which we share our latest research progress and to discuss journal articles that are relevant to our projects.  After hearing on my lab mates discuss their research, I developed my interested in how small non-coding RNA regulates gene expression.  I followed up with an experiment that used small noncoding RNA to inhibit a target gene and observed the effects on viral replication.  I wanted to understand how the host miRNA expression changes as a result of viral infection.  By better understanding miRNA regulation, we may be able to develop therapeutic methods to combat viruses.
I work in the lab two days of week.  The first thing I do is cell maintenance.  Since every experiment starts with growing of cells, I want to make sure that they are in good condition and ready for use.  I also support my lab mates with their research while my experiments are processing.
I have conducted q-RT PCR on four different miRNAs to verify DNA sequence data that was obtained from VEEV infected host cells.  Now I am going to research journal articles to learn more about the role of target miRNAs.  I will either use their methodology or apply similar concepts to my research to identify the function of miRNA in viral replication.
Ultimately I am planning to pursue a PhD after graduation.  I was recently accepted into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a two-year post baccalaureate research fellowship.  I will be working on germline specific small non coding RNA (piRNA) pathway and PIWI protein.  My current OSCAR project helped me prepare for the NIH program. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

URSP Student Nadia Ahmadi Researches George Mason's Reaction to Storm Events

Living on campus for three years, I’ve seen really shocking instances of flooding where areas of the sidewalk are completely avoided, and stairs look like waterfalls and I always question why George Mason’s campus is so prone to flooding.  This project interests me as it deals with water resources. I find water resources interesting because it’s easy to see how the smallest change in a watershed can so quickly affect peak flow. Monitoring a watershed appeals to me because there are so many ways to find simple solutions to issues, such as high peak flows, and apply it to all watersheds across the board to tackle global issues, such as water shortages.

This project relates to my long-term goals in that it introduced me to managing my own student led research where I have to ask new questions and implement different methodologies to try and find answers. The OSCAR program is well designed in that it transitions undergraduate students into thinking and conducting research like graduate students.

On a weekly basis, I work with ArcGIS, a geographic information system that allows me to work with high resolution data to input accurate data to model George Mason’s reaction to flooding. When it does rain, I walk around campus using pedestrian routes and note areas that have flooded due to lack of a drainage system, poor ground leveling, surface overflow, etc. After collecting those observations, as well as data from our water data information system (mwdis.org), I enter it into ArcGIS and by the end I hope to see which areas are more prone to flooding when it rains.

One thing I discovered this week is how to operate certain features of ArcGIS, such as “sink” which identifies areas of internal drainage, that will assist me in identifying new potential areas of flooding when it’s time to conduct field observations during rainfall events.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

URSP Student Colby Fleming Researches Masculinity and Virgin-Shaming in College-Aged Males

Interest in my project and its subject matter began with my sociological research methods course, in which one of my major assignments for the semester was to create a viable research design for a sociological question of my choice. Racking my brain for a workable and interesting research question, I overheard several classmates discussing slut-shaming in women as potential topics. Myself being male, I began to wonder what that might look like for men, and thought that, if anything, I might be more likely to be looked down on as a man for lacking sexual experience rather than possessing too much; I decided to investigate the extent and causes of this phenomenon, if it even occurred at all. Thus my project idea, later titled “Masculinity and Virgin-shaming in College-aged Males,” was born.

On a weekly basis, I am almost certainly transcribing audio interviews into written form, as well as re-reading these transcripts to pick out relationships across the data. My method of choice in investigation is field research in the form of one-on-one interviews to answer questions as to the prevalence of virgin-shaming, its causes, its potential use in manipulating other guys’ behavior, and in what sorts of social settings it would or would not occur. Besides transcribing, I am often otherwise making connections in data obtained from multiple respondents; this week, for instance, I discovered that, though calling someone a “virgin” derogatorily might well be used as a form of bullying, many of my respondents reported that it could just as readily be used to try and provoke a friend into engaging in some masculine activity, say, going out to a bar or flirting with a girl across the room.

The opportunity to actually engage in research is invaluable to my long-term goals; not only am I gaining hands-on experience with procedures like consulting relevant literature, conducting proper data analysis, and writing a professional article for publication, but I am also investigating and learning about a field that is highly relevant in sociology and interests me, as well as learning about the social contexts and surroundings in which I myself am embedded as a man in modern society. This project, then, will help me both practically, with future applications to grad school and jobs, as well as personally, in understanding myself and my social environment more thoroughly. In the future, I am considering work in teaching or in sociological research—or maybe teaching sociology!

Monday, March 23, 2015

URSP Student Stephen Fabian Conducts a A Stratigraphic and Geophysical Analysis of the Former Green Run Inlet along Assateauge Island

 I have always been fascinated by the interaction between the ocean and coastal environment. It has been a blessing to have grown up in Virginia Beach, VA, and witness this on a daily basis. Surfing definitely drove my passion to study coastal environments for my undergraduate and graduate career. I was always amazed by the power of ocean and how it can change the geology of the land in a matter of hours. Being someone who enjoys the beach there was no way I could turn down an opportunity to do research on a barrier island. Also, to be doing my own research as an undergraduate really drove my passion to jump on this project. Being able to see data that I collected and then interpreting them with my own methods was something that really excited me.

This research has opened the door to a number of graduate school opportunities. I have gained the necessary skills to conduct my own research at the graduate school level and potentially beyond. It has always been my goal to attend a graduate school program and with the help of this project it will definitely solidify my passion to continue to study coastal geology. Also, with the skills and knowledge gained from this research I hope to one day pass on my methods to future scholars in my field. 

On a weekly basis I am doing a number of things. Whether it is doing grain size analysis in the lab, creating graphs and figures in Adobe Illustrator, or constantly interpreting my data. There is no break during my research. There is always new questions to answered, data to be analyzed, or writing to be done. This week, I have been putting the finishing touches on making a 2-demensional model on the North-South Transect of the former Green Run Inlet. I have been analyzing and determining different facies among five sediment cores. I have discovered the stratigraphic correlations between the five sediment cores and have successfully placed the former position of the Green Run Inlet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

URSP Student Paul Beatty Conducts An Assessment of Uncertainty and Decision Making using Electrophysiological Methods

My name is Paul Beatty and I am a student researcher within the Psychology/Neuroscience field. In addition to joining OSCAR, I have been participating in the Psychology Honors Program, which is a three-semester program dedicated to constructing an undergraduate thesis (working with a faculty member, conducting original research, and defending my findings in front of a three-member faculty committee). In general, my research investigates the neural basis of uncertainty and attention by using a neuroimaging technique known as electroencephalography (EEG).  

Simply stated, EEG allows researchers to observe and record highly sophisticated and complex patterns of electrical activity that occurs in the brain during cognitive tasks.  More specifically however, my current research investigates the relationship between numerous event-related potential (ERP) components known as the Correct Response Negativity (CRN) and the Error Related Negativity (ERN). Besides my normal class schedule, on a weekly basis, I write programming scripts using MATLAB, recruit participants for experimentation (using Sona Systems), run them through the experiment itself (which takes an average of 3 to 4 hours per person), conduct behavioral, electrophysiological, and statistical analyses, and work on a manuscript for publication.  In addition, I also attend regular lab meetings and participate in numerous other ongoing experiments and analyses in a lab that I volunteer. Since I am also an officer of the student-run organization “Students in Neuroscience”, I attend weekly journal club meetings, dive into the literature, and learn a variety of new research skills and techniques.  In fact, just this week, I have learned about numerous methodical aspects of Independent Component Analysis (ICA). All in all, each of these tasks has contributed to my long-term goal to continue to conduct EEG/ERP research in graduate school and academia.  In fact, I have been accepted as a PhD student in GMU’s Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience program under Dr. Craig McDonald.