By Sarah Senese ’23
Professor of Psychology Bob Jacobs and two of his students, Vivian Nguyen ’20 and Lili Uchida ’20, published the most recent in a series of 14 ongoing studies that compare the neuronal morphology (shape and types of nerve cells) in the cerebral cortex of a variety of larger mammals that are seldom, if ever, examined. The project focused on the presence of large neurons in the motor cortex of big cats—such as the African lion, African leopard, and cheetah.
The involvement of Nguyen and Uchida is not understated; the work they did was analogous to work graduate students complete. It is incredibly rare for undergraduates to complete projects that end up in peer-reviewed scientific publications. With projects like this, students are collecting the data through hours in front of the microscope (in this case, tracing the animal neurons). For this paper specifically, there were over 34,000 lines of data for students to sift through. Nguyen and Uchida did the background research, learned the relevant literature on this topic, analyzed the data, and finally wrote it up in the form of a senior thesis. Though Jacobs’ lab has been doing this type of research for nearly three decades, they’ve only ever had only four students complete work like Nguyen and Uchida’s.
Additionally, Nguyen and Uchida were also first authors on the paper, so they had to write the manuscript for publishing, a whole other realm of professional work experience for undergraduate students to gain. Undergraduate students being first authors on such publications is, in fact, even rarer than their being involved in peer-reviewed publications.
“It has only happened a few times in my time here at CC, and it reflects a dedicated effort (and ability) on behalf of the rare student who does this,” Jacobs says.
Professor Jacobs expressed just how impressed he was with his students: “I am proud of them for the hard work and huge amount of time they devote to such projects.” Jacobs noted the time and energy that he personally knows goes into completing a paper such as this and was filled with pride regarding his students’ accomplishments.