Neuroscience Professor Hosting ‘Skype a Scientist’ Livestream
By: Nick Santangelo
Given enough time and resources, is there anything science can’t accomplish?
With everyone’s schedules being wildly altered and the resources shifting from in-person to online, one group is looking to answer that (and many other) questions in our shared new reality known as 2020. Skype a Scientist is a nonprofit group connecting young students with scientists who are here to answer their questions about, well, science!
This week is Skype a Scientist’s Neuroscience Week, and College of Liberal Arts Neuroscience Assistant Professor Vishnu Murty will be answering student questions on a livestream tomorrow, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. Dr. Murty says the COVID-19 pandemic has created a major student need for virtual opportunities to connect with scientists. What’s more, the professor has found that virtual learning can, in some ways, even be more effective than in-person classes.
“There’s something about Zoom for small discussion classes that's making the students so much more comfortable in their interactions,” explains Dr. Murty. “I don't know if it just reduces the anxiety to have some distance from them or if it’s that they're able to use the chat to ask clarifying questions rather than having to deal with raising their hands and asking a question in the middle of class. But, surprisingly, online learning is going much better than anticipated. It's nice to come up with something good out of all this.”
As a professor who moonlights as an improve comedian telling science-based jokes, Dr. Murty welcomes the extra attention from and interactions with students. As such, he was a natural fit for a Skype a Scientist livestream. He also believes that as an academic researcher, he was a responsibility to be a community resource for students and other learners outside of his CLA courses.
“I think it's selfish, often, of researchers to not do public outreach because the government is funding so much of our research,” says Dr. Murty, “it's the least we can do is to convey that research more broadly. But in particular with Skype a Scientist and targeting students when they're a little bit younger to broaden what their perspectives are and what science means is so important. You just don't know until you know.”
In the professor’s telling, simply opening young minds up to the idea that they can turn a passion for science into their life’s work is a worthwhile endeavor. Dr. Murty hopes to expand minds tomorrow by speaking about how people form memories based on things they deem important.
“Imagine you're taking a hike, right? At the beginning of the hike you know there's a waterfall at the end,” he says. “You're trucking through the hike, super excited to see this waterfall. When you walk away from that experience you might have wonderful memories of all the gorgeous vistas and views you saw and who are you with and how much fun it was and how gorgeous the waterfall was.
“But imagine right at the very beginning of the hike, you saw a snake. You're probably going to end up with more memories of a bunch of trees that honestly look like snakes rather than these gorgeous, big, broad memories of everything.”
These types of memory distortions are at the core of many different psychologies, and you can learn more about it by connecting with Dr. Murty during tomorrow’s livestream at 1 p.m.