A Sleepy Summer on Campus: Conducting Sleep Research, that is!

– written by Lindsey Freeman, senior SURF Recipient

As a SURF recipient this summer, I got a head start on collecting data for my senior Honors Thesis. I’m interested in investigating how different wavelengths of light (manipulated through the use of colored glasses) impact circadian rhythm, daytime energy level, and mood. Blue light emitted from artificial light sources at night can suppress melatonin synthesis, and can make people feel less tired. Theoretically, filtering out this blue light with amber-tinted glasses could mimic the effects of darkness and allow for the natural production of melatonin, despite our continuing light-emitting device usage.

To investigate the effects of these glasses, I got the chance to work with human participants. This meant that I had to draft, submit, and revise my first IRB ethics application. There was a lot of prep-work involved before I could start the protocol after Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, though. This study uses Ecological Momentary Assessment in studying the constructs of sleep, energy, and mood, which simply means that I want to study how people are feeling in the moment, at random time points throughout the day. To achieve this, I worked with one of my faculty co-investigators to modify a programming script she had written to automatically send my survey links via text message to the participants. After some initial debugging and troubleshooting, I was able to get 14 participants completely through the 18-day protocol. For me, this meant that I had to meet with each of the participants at separate times to go over the consent form and hand out the first pair of colored glasses, meet with them again halfway through the study so that they could exchange their glasses for a second, different-colored pair, and again at the conclusion of the study for them to return their glasses and to get debriefed/compensated. Additionally, I was involved in writing more computer code to merge and clean my data files, and I was involved in conducting preliminary data analysis to lay the foundation for further analyses with a larger sample.

Lindsey Freeman

Participants were asked to send in “selfies” of themselves wearing the glasses each night to track their adherence to protocol—This is my example!

Through this experience, I gained skills working with the R programming environment (R: A language and environment for statistical computing.) for data cleaning and automating tasks. My organizational skills have also improved: I’ve had to keep track of different bursts of participants and have had to check in on their survey completion, often needing to troubleshoot if the survey technology fails to cooperate. I have also sharpened my analytical skills, brushing up on what I’ve learned in introductory statistics classes.

This project has affirmed my interest in a career dealing with psychological research. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching this topic and have learned a great deal from each step of the process. Although it can be frustrating sometimes, the rewards of psychological research encourage me to continue conducting research to some degree in the future. Depending on the results of this study (which is still ongoing), I would love to conduct future research to see how amber-lensed glasses perform in clinical populations (particularly in those with bipolar disorder or depression, including post-partum depression). Special thanks to Dr. Eric Youngstrom, Dr. Nisha Gottfredson, and Tate Halverson for their tremendous help with this project.

Adding Undergraduate Research to your UNC Bucket List

written by Kirsten Consing B.S. Psychology/ Chemistry minor 2016

Kirsten regular pic

Kirsten Consing

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

It was the summer of 2013. I was selected to be a part of the Illinois Summer Neuroscience Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). My weeklong visit at UIUC was a great introduction to neuroscience research as well as to exploring all that the field had to offer. The program included presentations by neuroscience faculty, laboratory exercises, interactions with graduate and medical students pursuing careers in neuroscience, and tours of the campus and research facilities.One of the students that I had the pleasure of speaking with was a Carolina alumnus currently pursuing his MD/PhD at UIUC. The graduate student shared with me how his undergraduate research experience at UNC led to his work in Illinois. The experiences that I had in Illinois really inspired me to get involved in research, so I had to add conducting research to my Carolina bucket list.

Kirsten uncAfter I left Illinois, I spent the rest of my summer trying to connect with as many researchers on campus as I could before returning to UNC. First, I looked at many department websites for faculty members doing research and their research interests. After making a list of faculty members whose work I was interested in, I emailed them my information and stated why I was interested in their work. It did take time for some faculty to respond, but luckily I found a lab that would take me on as a volunteer.

Under the direction of Audrey Verde, a MD/PhD candidate at UNC, I volunteered with the Cognition & Addiction Biopsychology Laboratory (CABLAB) run by Dr. Charlotte Boettiger. I also had an opportunity to volunteer in the Neuro Image Research Analysis Laboratories (NIRAL) run by Dr. Martin Styner. While working with Audrey, I was exposed to different neuroimaging techniques such as structural magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. As I learned new techniques, I was able to apply what I learned in my classes to the rationale behind each one. Volunteering in the CABLAB and NIRAL, I learned a great deal and truly grew as a student. Dr. Styner witnessed this growth and suggested that I apply for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) through the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR). With Dr. Styner’s help, I composed a research proposal that was soon selected, and I am now spending summer 2014 as a SURF participant!

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Currently, I am working on my very first independent research project at the NIRAL lab with Dr. Styner. My project is titled, “Analysis of Subcortical Structures in Infants with High Familial Risk for Autism.” I am focusing on the examination of subcortical structures in the brain across infants at 12 and 24 months with high familial risk for autism via 3D structural statistical shape analysis. I am proud of all the effort that I have put forth this summer and cannot wait to see the results of my project!

My advice, to any undergraduate student who is unsure of whether or not to do research at Carolina, is to really try it and stick with it for at least a semester. Ask other undergraduate students, especially upperclassmen, about their experiences and take advantage of the OUR website to really start off on the right foot. At the beginning, finding a research opportunity may seem daunting, but I find that pursuing research is something that one should definitely include on the Carolina bucket list, along with rushing Franklin Street, participating at Holi Moli, etc…divider

In With the New – OUR Welcomes New Ambassadors

UNC - Chapel Hill with Graham Memorial in the background

The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
with Graham Memorial in the background

written by Daijha J. Copeland

As nine ambassadors turned their tassels to officially become Carolina alumni in May, we welcome a new group of highly-qualified and enthusiastic undergraduate researchers. With experiences ranging in disciplines from Art History to Biology to Political Science, our new ambassadors offer a diversity of experiences to share with the Carolina community. These ambassadors have worked on timely projects such as: how specific RNA molecules distribute controls the division of zygotes, the role of suicide in the plays of William Shakespeare, further development in C. elegans, and the development of a thermoelectric vaccine cooler. Check out the ambassadors’ page to get to know all of our ambassadors and the other enriching projects that they have been a part of.

The ambassadors program was created for undergraduate researchers to be used as a resource to advocate for undergraduate research to university leaders and to serve as peer mentors. Ambassadors frequently host meet-and-greets with fellow students and give presentations on research opportunities offered through OUR and the greater university. And of course ambassadors are here to provide information, make faculty introductions, or answer any questions, so feel free to contact them for any assistance navigating Carolina’s research filled world.

If you have research experiences that you would like to share with other undergraduates and would like to apply to be an OUR ambassador, look for the call to apply in early spring. Below are the OUR ambassadors for 2014-2015.

Lauren Askew Biology /Spanish for the Medical Professions Minorlaskew@live.unc.edu

Jordan Bishop Chemistryjwbishop@live.unc.edu

Emily Cerciello Health Policy and Management & Economicscerciello@live.unc.edu

Sarah Cooley Geoscience-Geophysics/ Math and Religious Studies Minorsswcooley@live.unc.edu

Clark Cunningham Chemistry & Biologychcunnin@live.unc.edu

Sarah Faircloth History & Art Historyscfaircl@live.unc.edu

Blake Hauser Environmental Health Sciences & Biologybmhauser@live.unc.edu

David Joyner Political Science & Englishdbjoyner@live.unc.edu

Sloane Miller Environmental Health Science & Engineeringskm0709@live.unc.edu

Rizul Naithani Clinical Laborarory Science/ Chemistry Minor

Layla Quran Global Studies/ Journalism Minorlaylaquran@gmail.com

Sam Resnick Biology/ Chemistry Minor sresnick@live.unc.edu

Jay Zhang Biostatistics & Quantitative Biology/ Chemistry Minorjczhang@email.unc.edu

Zijian (Larry) Zhou Chemistry/ Computer Science Minorzzhou1@live.unc.edu


Undergrads as an Asset in Neurobiology

written by Chris Smith

BS Neuroscience  Furman University From Greenwood, SC

Chris Smith
BS Neuroscience Furman University
From Greenwood, SC

I am a 6th year Neurobiology PhD student in the lab of Charlotte Boettiger in the Department of Psychology at UNC. During my time as a graduate student at UNC – CH, I have had the pleasure of working with 8 UNC undergraduate students whose interests ranged from psychology to biology. My role was to show them the various aspects (and challenges) of human subject research and how it can be used to understand the cognitive processes related to addictive behaviors we study in the lab. Specifically, I focus on understanding the neurobiology of decision making processes which may be altered in populations at risk for developing addictive disorders or populations already diagnosed with addictive disorders.

This academic year I have three undergraduates – Melisa Menceloglu, Michael Parrish, and Scott Oppler – working with me. Their projects demonstrate the range of approaches we use to understand human behavior. Melisa and Michael are assisting me on a neuroimaging project to understand neural circuit differences across individuals which may modulate the behavior we study. Scott, on the other hand, has been helping me investigate how genetic polymorphisms affecting dopamine levels in humans impact their behavior.

Michael Parrish  BS Psychology/ BS Biology

Michael Parrish
BS Psychology/ BS Biology

Scott Oppler  BS Psychology & Biology Melissa Menceloglu BA Psychology

Scott Oppler
BS Psychology & Biology
Melisa Menceloglu
BA Psychology

How UNC Undergraduate Students Are An Asset to My Work:

While working with UNC-CH undergraduate students, I have learned that they are all extremely bright, self-motivated, and eager to learn new things. They have assisted me greatly in the work I have been doing over the years. For example we have been looking at the role of age and genetic polymorphisms on human behavior. Specifically, a person’s age (emerging adult versus adult) appears to determine which particular genetic variations may be associated with a tendency to value the future less: a process we believe is implicated in promoting and sustaining alcohol use disorders. A total of 4 UNC-CH undergrads were      acknowledged in the paper (in Psychopharmacology) focused on this project.

The Importance of Undergraduate Research Experiences:

 Getting experience with scientific research is the best way to know whether or not pursuing a career in science is right for you. I was able to take advantage of undergraduate research at Furman University while I pursued my Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience. My early work, looking at the impact of alcohol and the neuropeptide beta-endorphin on stress and anxiety behavior in mice, was critical in inspiring me to apply to PhD programs focused on the neurobiology of drug abuse and behaviors associated with problem drug use. Conducting original science is a difficult enterprise and nothing prepares someone more for understanding the process better than doing it firsthand, which is the value of pursuing research opportunities early.

I encourage anyone remotely interested in the scientific process to think about volunteering in one of the hundreds of labs at UNC-CH. This is a great place to explore a vast array of research topics and areas. In labs affiliated with the Neurobiology Curriculum, for instance, one can experience the various approaches researchers take to understanding the brain and behavior from animal models to humans, from intracellular signaling in individual neurons to widespread neural activity as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Links to publications of my work (containing acknowledgements to many UNC undergraduate students that have helped out over the years):

Smith CT, Boettiger CA (2012) Age modulates the effect of COMT genotype on delay discounting behavior. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 222: 609-617.


Smith CT, Swift-Scanlan T, Boettiger CA (2013). Genetic polymorphisms regulating dopamine signaling in the frontal cortex interact to affect target detection under high working memory load. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, in press.


Other papers of Interest from our lab:






Symposium Poster Winner Sherifat Ademola on Conducting Research in the Hodge Lab

-Written by
Sheri Ademola

Sherifat Ademola.4

Ademola is one of three poster winners from the 14th Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium

Carolina’s emphasis on research served as the primary motivating factor behind my decision to enroll in such an outstanding institution. Along with taking courses, I spent my first year
exploring the research opportunities offered at Carolina. Tailoring my research to fields pertaining to psychological behavior, I came across a research project studying alcoholism, a complex neuropsychiatric disorder. My interest in this academic arena was derived from my high school AP Psychology class; I thoroughly enjoyed the material. Since I’ve taken this class, I’ve attained a particular excitement for examining the structure of the brain and its association with psychological processes and behavior. In addition, learning about some of the environmental, social, and genetic factors that affects the development and maintenance of the brain settled with my intellectual curiosity.


Finding a research opportunity and a lab

I stumbled upon the Hodge Lab in the OUR Database on my hunt for a meaningful research opportunity. The Hodge Lab, located in the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, offered a research project on alcoholism that engendered a number of goals geared towards understanding alcohol and its effect on the brain.

Sherifat Ademola.2

Ademola responding to questions during poster session

More specifically, some of the goals included identifying the long term effects of alcohol exposure during adolescence, clarifying molecular mechanisms of alcohol induced changes in mood, and examining pharmacological compounds that could potentially treat problems resulting from alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Once I read through the research project description, I contacted the members of the research team. After completing the interview process, I received great news via email stating that I had received a position to work with the Hodge Lab.


Lab Year One: Proficiency

My first year at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies comprised of performing several lab techniques including but not limited to western blotting, brain slicing, and immunohistochemistry. Learning the protocols behind the experiments and becoming proficient in the lab techniques came with countless challenges.


Lab Year Two: Accountability

Sheifat Ademola pix 3

Sherifat Ademola, Class of 2014
Psychology major, Chemistry minor

After my first year with the lab, I decided to do research for credit. This would allow me to be more accountable and more equipped with research expectations. Under the guidance of Dr. Sara Faccidomo from the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, I focused my research on creating a valid preclinical model for alcohol studies. In addition to creating a valid model, I was interested in examining the effectiveness of the methods utilized to increase alcohol consumption and anxiety-like behavior in mice. During the spring of 2013, I had the amazing opportunity to present my research findings at the Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium. Working in the research lab allowed me to gain the essential skills and values necessary to continue my trajectory towards pursuing a career in academic research.  Determination, patience, and consistency of fulfilling one’s curiosity represents just a few of the many values acquired within my research experience at UNC Chapel Hill.


The highlight of the symposium

One of the highlights of my research experience was speaking with my peers about their respective research projects at the 2013 Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium. From this opportunity I gained some perspective of what undergraduate research entails in other fields. Research projects represented an array of subject areas including psychology, journalism, biology, political science, history, etc.


What I cherish

From spending an immense amount of time in the lab with my lab mates to compiling my research findings to present at the symposium; I am extremely grateful for my research experience and will forever cherish it. I hope to continue my research and present new findings in next spring’s symposium.