Published in: Berkeley Neuroscience News | May 20th, 2016
From left to right: Tyler Lee, Levi Gadye, Claire Oldfield, Matar Haller, Natalia Bilenko, Ben Kallman, and Courtney Gallen. Not pictured, Alina Liberman.
From left to right: Tyler Lee, Levi Gadye, Claire Oldfield, Matar Haller, Natalia Bilenko, Ben Kallman, and Courtney Gallen. Not pictured, Alina Liberman.

Congratulations to our graduates! Eight of our Berkeley Neuroscience PhD Program students are graduating this year. They were kind enough to take a moment during this busy time of transition to answer several questions about their PhD studies and future plans. Below are their reflections and words of advice.

 

Natalia Bilenko

Gallant Lab
Thesis Title: “Unsupervised functional mapping of fMRI responses to natural stimuli across individuals and modalities”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
A better understanding of how to distinguish between known unknowns and unknown unknowns. That the most important part of research is the people doing it.

What are you doing next?
I will be helping develop software for medical ultrasound imaging.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
Don’t forget to explore what UC Berkeley has to offer beyond your lab and HWNI!

 

Levi Gadye

Ngai Lab
Thesis Title: “Deciphering fate decisions in olfactory stem cells using single-cell clonal analysis and RNA sequencing”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
You really can’t trust the polls. You need to knock on doors and talk to individual cells if you want to know exactly what they’re expressing.

What are you doing next?
With some luck and grit, becoming a science writer.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
Never give up, never surrender — unless a more satisfying challenge presents itself, in which case abandon ship.

 

Courtney Gallen

D’Esposito Lab
Thesis Title: “Functional brain network organization supporting executive control processing”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
My research has focused on examining how brain network properties are important for aspects of cognitive control, like attention and working memory. We’ve found that brain networks reconfigure depending on cognitive demands and that this pattern reconfiguration changes with aging. More recently, we’ve found that certain properties of brain networks can predict how much an individual will improve with cognitive training.

What are you doing next?
I’ll be starting a postdoc position in Adam Gazzaley’s lab at UCSF in the fall.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. Don’t forget to have fun!

 

Matar (Davis) Haller

Knight Lab
Thesis Title: “Sustained neuronal activity in human prefrontal cortex links perception and action”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
To never underestimate the role of luck in science.

What are you doing next?
An Insight Fellow for the summer and then a cross-country RV trip with my husband and daughter.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
The end of the PhD kind of sneaks up on you. The middle is rough, but then you’re suddenly done and not sure how it happened.

 

Ben Kallman

Scott Lab
Thesis Title: “Neural Circuits Underlying Mating Behavior in Drosophila”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
Normally male flies will only attempt to mate with females, but I found that silencing just a handful of neurons in the male fly’s brain causes him to pursue females and males indiscriminately.

What are you doing next?
Good question! I’m really not sure…Probably not a postdoc, hopefully something science-related.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
Maintain a work-life balance and don’t worry too much about making mistakes.

 

Tyler Lee

Theunissen Lab/Olshausen Lab
Thesis Title: “Hearing in noise: Biologically inspired noise reduction”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
I think the most interesting thing I learned about my research was that, since human speech has so much temporal structure, you can predict a lot about what’s coming in the next 10s to 100s of milliseconds from the recent past. This lets you do things like predictively separate speech from background noise (my work) but could also be critical to how the brain allocates attention to individual sound sources in a noisy environment

What are you doing next?
I’m heading to industry to work on neural networks and machine learning.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
It is really important to surround yourself with people that are experts on the topics that you’re trying to research. If those people aren’t readily available in your lab, look to start collaborations with others. Trying to bootstrap your own expertise can be frustrating and isolating. Not to mention, collaborations can be a lot of fun.

 

Alina Liberman

Whitney Lab
Thesis Title: “The Role of Serial Dependence in Visual Perception”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
Through my research, I discovered that how we see faces can actually be wrong – it can be biased by faces we’ve just recently seen. What this means is that we don’t always see what we believe we’re seeing, like in the case of a stunt double. From scene to scene, we think we are seeing Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s actually his stunt double. Although this seems like a mistake that the brain should avoid making, it actually helps us see the world as more stable and continuous. If we didn’t have this bias to misperceive faces as more similar to faces we’ve seen before, the world would look very chaotic. Our brain seems to take advantage of the fact that we don’t expect people to change from one moment to the next through the continuity field, which is a brain mechanism that makes things look stable, constant, and continuous.

What are you doing next?
This fall I will be starting as a consultant for McKinsey in their New Jersey office.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
Graduate school has a lot of ups and downs, but choosing a thesis lab where you’re excited about the research questions and enjoy the daily work can make it easier to get through the difficult times. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to other graduate students when things get tough because they’re probably going through the same thing you are.

 

Claire Oldfield

Isacoff Lab
Thesis Title: “Learning to hunt: The role of experience in shaping prey capture-related neural activity in larval zebrafish”

What is the most interesting thing you discovered in your research here?
On a scientific level I developed a new behavioral paradigm to study the effect of experience on brain activity when zebrafish learn how to capture their prey and discovered that experience changes brain connectivity from visual sensory areas to motor ouput areas to improve hunting behavior.

On a personal level I’m a lot less afraid of trying something new that I seemingly don’t know much about: I have more confidence that I can figure it out.

What are you doing next?
I’m going to work for a management consulting company (Bain and co) in the San Francisco office. I’ll be advising big companies (probably mostly biotech) on strategy.

Do you have any advice for your fellow students?
Don’t re-invent the wheel: if something isn’t working, figure out who does know how to make that technique or analysis work and get their help! In a similar vein, cast a wide net, inside and outside of lab to find people who can teach you and help you move on with your project. It will go faster, and be more fun!

 

At the commencement ceremony. Left to right, top to bottom: Tyler Lee, Bob Knight, Ben Kallman, Alina Liberman, Courtney Gallen, Matar Haller, and Claire Oldfield.
At the commencement ceremony. Left to right, top to bottom: Tyler Lee, Bob Knight, Ben Kallman, Alina Liberman, Courtney Gallen, Matar Haller, and Claire Oldfield.