Posts in: Venture Grant

Buzzword: Fun, Nina: Out.

We have come to the end of my journey at EyeWire. I plan to venture into the office every so often in the coming months, but I will no longer have an official schedule.

So let us reflect



on the experience. First off, I am so glad I had the opportunity to involve myself in such a project. Shout out to the Keller Family Venture grant, as well as the universe for helping me make this possible. I learned about neuroscience, but I also learned about the ways I interact with the working world. I think this experience makes me fear my future less- leaving school and beginning outside life seems more achievable now that I have a better taste for it. In my future career path I am going to assign myself more deadlines. I am going to request more feedback from my coworkers, and I’m going to request it specifically. I am going to put my ideas out on the table more often, and I am going to take full advantage of “grace-periods” at the beginning of my jobs where I know nothing and am allowed to ask everyone questions about everything.


I’m also going to add as much enthusiasm and fun to every job I encounter. Enthusiasm makes everything more fantastic and I think it’s productive too. Everyone wants to be a part of your project when the project is fun, and everyone who can’t be a part of it will want to here about it. Speaking of fun, I will leave you with some fun:

Yesterday we decorated the new office we are renting. Here are printed out versions of badges you can win in game. They now grace the walls of WeWork!

Yesterday we decorated the new office we are renting. Here are printed out versions of badges you can win in game. They now grace the walls of WeWork!

We plank daily at 3:30 with our office neighbors! I thought it would be fun to try a group push up for extra athleticism :)

We plank daily at 3:30 with our office neighbors! I thought it would be fun to try a group push up for extra athleticism :)


A Potpourri of Posts

Hello people of BlockFeatures! I come to you from the land of 50 degrees, at last we have Spring in Boston! Today’s post will be heavily illustrated with photos!

EyeWire neurons are pictured on the title page of every chapter in this new neuroscience textbook! So cool- this is the book that both CC and MIT use

EyeWire neurons are pictured on the title page of every chapter in this new neuroscience textbook! So cool- this is the book that both CC and MIT use for their introductory neuro courses.


This is another set of EyeWire neurons used in the textbook. Shown is a synapse, and though synapses often connect the part of the cell called the "axon" to a different cell's "dendrite", here we see one cell's dendrite connected to another cells dendrite. If you look closely you'll see that the labels are incorrect... so they must have arbitrarily decided which projection they thought was the axon. Interesting methods Mr.Mark F. Bear... (Animation by Alex Norton)

This is another animation of EyeWire neurons used in the textbook. Shown is a synapse, and though synapses often connect one cell’s “axon” branch to a different cell’s “dendrite” branch, here we see synapse where both of the connecting branches are dendrites. If you look closely you’ll see that the labels are incorrect… so they must have arbitrarily decided which projection they thought was the axon. Interesting methods Mr. Mark F. Bear… (Animation by Alex Norton)

Will brought his 3D doodler to work so I tried to make a bistratified neuron. I like to think of myself as 3D-Cajal, but you can call me Al for short.

Will brought his 3D doodler to work so I tried to make a bistratified neuron (3D printed neuron for reference). I like to think of myself as 3D-Cajal, but you can call me Al for short.


After my 3D doodle of a neuron, I 3D doodled a strawberry... or did I?

After my 3D doodle of a neuron, I 3D doodled a strawberry… or did I?



Moving on from 3D doodling, I’m going to present you with two photos from the common space at WeWork, the coworking office space that EyeWire HQ calls home.

WeWork is super young and hip. They, like google, hope you will combine your workspace with your playspace. Readily available complementary cornhole and beer are two ways WeWork carries out their mission.

WeWork is super young and hip. They, like Google, hope you will combine your workspace with your playspace. Readily available complementary cornhole and beer are two ways WeWork carries out their mission.


And you know, WeWork carries out their mission well. Here is Michael Murney enjoying some WeWork amenities.

And you know, WeWork carries out their mission well. Here is Michael Murney enjoying some WeWork amenities after hours.




















I think I would enjoy falling for one of these coworking space schemes after college. If I can combine my workspace with my playspace then everyone wins. You can get more hours out of me if you treat me well, sure, why not? How is my internship going, you ask? Good. I’m working on some science blog posts for the website, I’ll link to them when they’re up. My time at EyeWire is winding down. It’s sad but I think I’ve done most of what I can there. I’m excited that I have been able to experience a different culture while so close to home. The culture of biotech and the culture of EyeWire that is. We will end this blog post with a section I like to call

Professional Lessons from the Office:

The best way to both make an impression and learn at work is when a project outside of your assigned area is lacking manpower. Volunteer to help out with these projects and you’re a shoo in for those jobs in the future. -Will and Chris

Concerning grants: Ask for money and you’ll get advice, ask for advice and you’ll get money. -Various venture capitalists

Farm to Function: Pre-Research Rambles

“What is it you research here?” The German guy in the backseat asked in broken English as we drove out of Frans Josef and towards Fox Glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand. His name was David (pronounced Dah-veed) and the first of many hitchhikers to ask me about my research.

Initial conversation with hitchhikers usually goes something like this:

-       A brief discussion of whether or not I’m heading somewhere helpful to them

-       A lot of shuffling around and asking “think you’ll fit?” as we move bags from the backseat to the trunk

-       An exchange of where we are each from

-       An exchange of our names

-       A gift of chocolate from the glove compartment

-       An exchange of how long we’re in New Zealand

-       An exchange of what brought us each to New Zealand

-       And natural conversation tends to flow from there

It’s in the exchange of what brought us to New Zealand that I get asked about my research. I told David, like I told the rest of the hitchhikers, that I was in New Zealand to research wool and fabric production. Everyone has been interested and wants me to tell them more, so I dive into the story:

“Well,” I say, “it all came from this realization that people (myself included) are very disconnected from the processes behind the objects we are so attached to. My goal is to illuminate one of these processes- the process behind wool fabric and clothing.”

I go on…

There are so many components (human, animal, and machine) that play a role in the making of fabric that are hidden in the final product. When we see a wool blanket, we see a wool blanket- we don’t see sheep and farmers, shearers and mills, dyeing and spinning, weaving and knitting, artisans and machines- just a wool blanket. This concept of mistaking a part for a whole is termed the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. He’s a big guy in the pre-research part of my research.

I want to illuminate the forgotten process in a way that people are interested in learning about it. While might be thrilled to curl up with a whole novel about fabric production, I know I’m among the few. People have no reason to want to sit down and read a research paper about where fabric comes from. As a photographer, I think a much better and more accessible way to bring this process to light is to really show it through a series of photos. People need to see the process from farm to function.

I often compare the idea with the “Farm to Table” movement sweeping over the U.S.- people are getting more and more concerned with knowing where their food comes from and how it was raised, so why not get more concerned with where our clothing comes from and how it was made?

This whole idea sparked my interest several months ago during my second block class, Reenchanting the World. Side note: if you are a student and ever have a chance to take that class- please just do it. Before I could illuminate this process for others, I felt as though I needed to go through the whole process myself. I had the opportunity to do that for my final project for that class and made this short film:

After I went through the process myself, I wanted to figure out a way beyond the little film to show the process to others… so here I am. Sitting at some strange, but really rad café/found item art gallery called The Lost Gypsy in the Caitlins.

Why did I come all the way to New Zealand to photograph wool and fabric production? Well, New Zealand is home to 4 million people and 31 million sheep- a pretty good ratio for what I’m looking at. Before I started my research, I toured around a little visiting people and places and thinking I was going to stop at every sheep farm I passed… that was a bold thought. You can’t drive 10km anywhere in this country without hitting another sheep farm. Here’s some proof and sheepy eye-candy for those interested:

IMG_6322 IMG_6323 IMG_6327 IMG_7011 IMG_7015 IMG_7021 IMG_7036 IMG_7045 IMG_7046

IMG_7342 IMG_7343

Next up on the blog: a mill visit in on the South East coast of the South Island… Stay Tuned!

Very limited wifi during my travels, but I’ll do my best to keep everyone posted!

FYErtility, Creationism, and Readbaiting Titles

In my FYE a man named Dennis McEnnerney played professor. He did outstandingly. During some of our discussions he would claim that the small liberal arts college scene was a matchmaking business in disguise. He would claim that going to one of these colleges was a way for young, fertile, intelligent, upper-class lads and lassies to meet each other and fall in love and create more fertile, intelligent, upper-class lads and lassies.

It’s an interesting theory. It seems somewhat true, though maybe applicable to all relationships, not just romantic ones. Other applicable relationships include friendships and professionalships (cross those fingers for that last one being true).

I think that Boston is the city version of Dennis’s theory. Greater Boston has over 20 colleges, including Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Tufts, BU, BC, Northeastern… the list goes on. Then people graduate and stay to take on biotech jobs and launch start-ups. Boston is brimming with young, intelligent, upper-class lads and lassies. As for fertility, Here is how fertile Massachusetts is (in a lot of words). Public Announcement: no one told me to censor myself in this “blogging about your time at EyeWire” thing, and so I’m interpreting it loosely.

Here’s another photo of me at a desk.

Back row: super cool eyewire neuron poster F]Front row from left to right: the edge on a monitor, a stuffed neuron, a mini glass neuron sculpture thingy majig, me.

Back row: super cool eyewire neuron poster
Front row from left to right: the edge on a monitor, a stuffed neuron, a mini glass neuron sculpture thingy majig, me.

I made a lesson plan for secondary school teachers who want to use EyeWire to teach neuroscience in the classroom. It’s estimated to take 3 hours. An average class at CC is 3 hours. Coincidence? Yeah… but like even so maybe CC should teach my lesson…

I doubt the audience for the block features blog is thick with secondary school biology, psychology, and technology teachers but here’s my lesson plan and definitely holla at me  in the “comment” section if you do fit that description.

Other things I’ve been up to at EyeWire: Emailing, odds-and-ends, using words such as “collaboration” and “gamification”.

I had a thought way back in the day when I found out that I would be working on education outreach with EyeWire. Here is the thought: I am taking a field of research (connectomics) that is controversial and still in its exploratory stage, and I am promoting it to be taught to children and teens in school. What separates me from someone who promotes creationism in schools? I know, I know, I know… it’s a huge stretch to compare these two things but I think it was valid to question my job, if only for a moment. I found that the biggest thing that makes my curriculum different is that I end my lesson asking teachers to promote critical thinking, and to hope for students to have questions that cannot yet be answered. I’d like to help motivate students to have their own thirst for knowledge. Enough thirst that they pursue knowledge independently. I wonder if anyone will use my lesson plan. Probably, I guess. I’m glad I’ll be miles away from whoever does, because just the idea of it makes me nervous. And feeling this way makes me feel young.


I went to the Jewish Community Day School in Watertown to speak about EyeWire during the middle school STEM day. Presenting is always difficult for me but this day was fun nonetheless. The kids were super psyched on science and this has provided me with an opportunity to directly chat with some teachers who know more about curriculum development than I do. They’re also my consumer. The teachers are receiving the curriculum I create, and they know what they need.

Ways the wonderful institution of Colorado College prepared me for this day of teaching: I taught classes to some of the students of Colorado Springs as an outreach assignment for my Neuroscience and Organic Chemistry courses. Also the CC Psych department requires students to lead lectures and discussions during 400-level courses. Shout out to Colo Coll.

Marissa (a gamemaster) and I. I swear that right outside the frame are inspired preteens.

Marissa (a gamemaster) and I. I swear that right outside the frame are inspired preteens.

Below you will find tidbits of knowledge I have due to my internship. The Laws of the Internet state that if I number these then this post will be more popular:

1. It doesn’t matter if you speak the same language, you will not understand each other if there is a big difference in dialect. All of my coworkers speak English. Some of them speak computer-programmer-developer dialect. All of them speak tech dialect. I will probably have a metaphorical nightmare soon where I am at a long dining room table with all of my coworkers, but instead of food on the table there will be handwritten APIs, raid cards, and tablets filled with databases. And one of my coworkers will say “Hey Nina! Can you pass the OS Platform for MySQL?” My gaze will dart between the unfamiliar objects on the table. And then in my confusion I wake up.

2. Someday will always need to be the first day that I speak up. I good at talking with one or two people, and I can talk in larger groups when I’m called upon by another person. I do struggle to speak out unprompted. This applies to EyeWire, CC class discussions, and life. At EyeWire group meetings I’ve spoken here and there, and I don’t necessarily need to talk in every group meeting. But if I have something to say, shyness should not be the reason I hold back.

3. A Squid must be at least 20 inches to be classified as a Giant Squid. My new big task is to create a list of science trivia questions for a bot to spit out during the next EyeWire competition. If you play in the upcoming Cryptozoology themed competition, you now may have the tools to answer one of the questions (see the beginning of this paragraph for further clues).

4. Fame does not always mean fortune. EyeWire is hot- it was featured heavily in the media for a couple of years now, most recently as the cover story of New York Times Magazine, and even in the Chinese media. Before coming to EyeWire, if I had seen a project on the cover of anything important I’d think: “Cool, this project has made it. They are doing well, they have succeeded.” But no- publicity is sometimes only a nudge towards huge cash flow. And with EyeWire, each time it hits the media is clearly is only a nudge; only a tiny bragging point when the team tries to score grants.

5. Faking it til you make it is real. I don’t know much yet, and I’m not really supposed to. You have to stumble while you pretend to have a clear plan the first time you do anything. But what’s even more real than faking it is asking questions. Then you won’t have to fake it because you’ll learn things, and know them for the future.

6. All of the cool adults use at least three monitors at a time. I don’t really understand how to use more than one monitor yet. I have three desktops on my mac, but they’re all on the screen directly in front of me. It’s hard to type and have your words pop up way off to your right. This takes a lot of coordination- who knew geeks had so much coordination?

More snow photos- we are now at 7feet with no sight of it slowing down. These are relevant because the photographer(credit to Will Silversmith) and the other photograph-ie(Chris) are EyeWire HQ employees:
DSC01759 DSC01761

Making snowcones from real snow.

Making snowcones from real snow.




Just kidding I have work tomorrow. Let’s see where I left off… Well there has been another snowstorm so that’s another 1.5 feet on Boston. I didn’t work Tuesday because the MBTA stopped service. Every transportation method, even walking, was non-functional.

And what do you have to say about this, Shel Silverstein?

And what do you have to say about this, Shel Silverstein?

When I have been in the office, I have experienced Google Hangouts(video calls) non-stop. A Hangout over here, a Hangout over there, Hangouts left and right. I wonder what people did just 5 years ago when this wasn’t a thing? We Hangout with Sebastian, with the part of EyeWire that’s with him at Princeton, with office members when they work from home and when they travel. We Hangout with the crew that’s in the office 15 feet down the hall. And almost half of the time it goes smoothly! The other half of the time there are internet failures, audio failures, video failures ect. There are almost enough failures to make me question why we Hangout so much. Cumulatively, we may spend hours a week trying to fix the malfunctions of Hanging out. Or at least it feels that way. But all that said, there’s something really magnificent about being able to see a person as they speak, especially when everyone is scattered beyond two locations. It’s easier to coordinate who’s speaking, who’s listening, and how everyone feels about what’s going on. It’s easier to pay attention and verify that you are communicating clearly. I guess easy access to video chat is a pretty cool opportunity. I just wish that setting up wasn’t such an ordeal. I also thought about how little Google Hangout is probably used on the CC campus in comparison. Are we behind times CC or are we all just concentrated in a smaller space?

Ok! Time for a super fun topic. “Business Flirting”. No, I’m not talking about scoring yourself a date, though I did join Tindr to try to meet people/friends/climbers in area.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.35.22 AM

What’s this “modesty” you speak of?

It’s Thursday evening, I’m wrapping up my week at work, and the sound of hustling and bustling is growing in the building’s large common/social space, which is down the hall. Jazz music begins. It’s another company’s launch party, and it’s getting busy. Our office decides to close up shop for the evening and join the party in an effort to connect with other people who work in our building. Also for the free entertainment/food/booze/fun. A few of us begin to chat with a couple of guys from another start-up. They’re nice, fun, a couple drinks in. We’re all chatting; I lean in when I have something to say because the music is loud. I’m explaining what EyeWire does, trying to advertise it and show it off. I’m laughing, and making jokes myself.

I think to myself, hm, this is just like flirting but I’m showcasing my company and myself as a worker while trying to avoid showcasing myself as a mate. But then again… what’s the difference between these two demonstrations? Some of my coworkers leave and some get separated. Now it’s just me and one guy from the other company. I guess we’re talking about slightly different stuff than if we were at a bar… but maybe we aren’t. If we were at a bar, we would talk about work too. We begin to discuss his past Colorado ski trip, as I had brought up that I had recently moved from the state. Now this is becoming a challenge. Can I maintain that we are in this conversation together to Business Flirt and only to Business Flirt? Can I clearly advertise myself as a worker and not a mate? He brought up Colorado marijuana legalization and asked for my number. Damn. I had failed. Well, I’ll put this on my To Do list. “Master the difference between Flirting and Business Flirting: Keeping it Fun, Compelling, and Professional”.
I guess next time I have to Business Flirt, there probably will be brighter lighting, less noise, and less alcohol. I think in a different context maybe I’ll be able to add this particular checkmark to my to-do list.


And to wrap up the post, more of my commentary on snow:

Boston is hosting an interpretive reenactment of “That Child Who Pretends He Ate Spaghetti But Really He Just Pushed the Spaghetti To the Sides of the Plate”

Boston: The Plate
Snow: The Spaghetti
Plow: The Fork
I think Charlie Baker is the boy… sorry, but you auditioned I guess.

The Effect of Snow on Nina

ABSTRACT In the following experiment 26 inches of snow were dumped on Boston and we measured the amount of time it took for Nina to get to work with low functioning public transport. The following week we dumped 14 inches on Boston to check for a significant difference in travel time. In the second trial the participant caught a ride with a Lebanese Oral Surgeon/Harvard Professor she found on Comm Ave and this extraneous variable invalidated results. No pepper spray was needed in the conduction of this experiment but the IRB guys are still mad.

Hi guys. Boston snow is outta control. It looks like this:


I only worked one day last week because the state was shut down. I didn’t even know a state could shut down.

So what I did when I was working: After educational YouTube video binging for 3 days I created a few playlists on the EyeWire YouTube channel. I forgot to log off and watched some Kanye before realizing I was still on EyeWire’s account. This altered EyeWire’s suggested videos to include some hip-hop among the midst of PBS videos. Ob la dee. The weekend came, and Saturday some of EyeWire Korea tripped all the way to Boston. Jung-Man Park, who runs EyeWire Korea, a couple of reporters, and five Korean EyeWire contest winners all came to the headquarters. We met Jung-Man and the winning players at HQ, showed them around, and thanked them.

Front row in descending order of who's laughing the hardest: Nina, Marissa, Jung-Man, Amy, Chris, jay_ Back row from left to right: superrogin, kngskwon, tunerk7, and Mina

Back row from left to right: superrogin, kngskwon,tunerk7, and Mina.                                                                                        Front row in descending order of who’s laughing the hardest: Nina, Marissa, Jung-Man, Amy, Chris, jay_


Amy did a bit of business and some promotion, talking with the reporters. Those who were available went out to dinner with Jung Man. This ended up being me, Amy, and Chris. To backtrack- Chris is one of the developers in my office, Marissa in the photo holds the title of GameMaster**, and Mina is the Korean translator in our office. Dinner was super fun! Jung-Man was a cool guy, probably as cool as his name. Here’s us on the way to dinner(featuring the snow before it was a hassle)
Coming soon to a block features website near you: “Google Hangouts: A Critique”, “Curriculum, and Other Vague Words”, “Business Flirting: A Definition”
**GameMasters mostly act as administrators on the game, connecting with players, organizing in-game events and putting the finishing touches on a traced neuron.

Monday Thru Friday Nina-Five

Recount of my first day in the office:
I’m sitting in South Station, the Grand Central of Boston, rightly lacking “grand” in its title. This is the train station nearest to my internship. Knowing myself as a chronic late arriver, I woke up 2.5 hours before I had to arrive, and I was able to leave 1.25 hours before I had to arrive. This meant that with 15 stops on the T(train), I still had about a half hour to walk to my destination. Nothing calms my nerves like simple math. I check my inbox on my phone and find a message from my soon-to-be boss. She asks if we can meet at Starbucks at 10:30 instead of in the office at 10. I say a silent prayer to the little person on my shoulder who suggested I buy my first smart phone this week. These things are clutch. My just-purchased Au Bon Pain latte and I walk to Starbucks. I have supported Starbucks enough to feel only mildly bad about my rude behavior. I sit down, and thought out my next plan of action. I have 15 minutes. I am currently reading Sebastian Seung’s book. Will it look staged if I am perched with it when my boss arrives? Will I merely look psyched to begin? Will she scoff at the fact that I haven’t already read it? Whatever, that is what I’m currently reading, I will read it. She arrives and does not notice the cover, but is friendly as ever.

We walk to the office where she explains the project I will be working on during my time at EyeWire. I will be designing a “curriculum” for high school and middle school teachers to use when they want to bring neuroscience into their classroom. Teachers around the world had used EyeWire as a prop while teaching a neuroscience unit, but they didn’t always contact EyeWire about their use. It was unclear how many teachers had used EyeWire in the classroom, and how successful their experience had been. The biggest indicator of classroom use was the cascade of underage hooligans that flooded the EyeWire chatroom with profanity during the weeks following their lessons. A useful way to track when EyeWire was in the classroom this was, but maybe there was a better way to track this. Instead there could be an official webpage where teachers could record their experience. So my “curriculum” would be this webpage- this is the place where I would post links to helpful neuroscience content on the web for use in classrooms, and teachers would post further resources and lesson plans they had designed. This sounded like an awesome project, but I had never designed a webpage before. Guess I gotta learn how to do that.

My boss, Amy, and I spent time watching youtube videos from educational channels. We watched on one of the ~8 computer monitors in the office that I would be sharing with Amy and two others. This particular monitor was a massive TV screen. Amy encouraged me to use the youtube video’s content in my webpage. Some of the channels with cool content are:……. …….………

As noon approached, my other office mates arrived. They are the company’s developers(coders): Will and Chris. Around noon two EyeWire women from the office down the hall join us. Everyone formed a casual circle and one at a time explained what they were working on. I had a flashback to spring break, outdoor ed trips and leader 1 training. Check-ins. I know this! They are playing professional rose-bud-thorn. My hippie heart got a little fuzzy. I would learn that this “scrum” happens many times a week, and seemed to keep the tiny team unified. When the meeting finished Will excitedly mentioned that Claire was hosting a google hangout with an amazing neuroscientist, Christof Koch- we caught the tail end on the mega monitor!

Me sporting my "idk what's going on but it's awesome" face

Me sporting my “idk what’s going on but it’s awesome” face

Here’s a link to the hangout- watch if you have 1:44 hours to become inspired. (He used a rock climbing term at  1:11:30 what!!) You can also watch shorter videos of Christof’s talks if you do a google search.

I momentarily did some research and brainstorming for my curriculum project. Then Amy suggested we all go for Chinese. Amy, Will, Chris and I ventured to nearby Chinatown where we had a two hour long lunch break. We laughed, we talked about some computer science, we left to search for a bamboo plant to put in the office. We returned to the office around 4pm. I did a bit more brainstorming and then my first day had ended.

Wait WHAT?! I hope you are thinking something along the lines of:

“You’re telling me that the game that was recently featured on the cover of New York Times Magazine, the game that has 174,000 players, the game that gathered the data for this paper in Nature(CC gives you access thru the Tutt pg) is ‘run’ by a buncha folks that roll into the office round noon just to watch videos and then go out to eat.”

I mean that thought crossed MY mind. But as in the following days I found out that these guys start slow but worked late into the night. They are always some of the last ones to leave the building that hosts ~100 companies. They work as a team, with constant communication within the office and between the Princeton and Boston offices. They know how they work best. They all care so much about the well-being of the company so strict 9-5 schedules and productivity “inspiring” rules are unnecessary. Psych is always high. People bring work home with them, but they do so because they want to. To backtrack- this was not a typical lunch length at EyeWire but yes, everyone comes into the office around noon and the environment is casual. And I guess their hard work and style is paying off, because they’re getting recognized.

Since my first day at EyeWire I have ‘met’(over video chat) the Berkeley student that will be helping me with my project and I’ve excessively youtube binged. I’ve organized information and google searched. I’ve asked questions and listened in on many a google hangout. And I am preparing to do something with the information I’ve gathered.

My next post will be on what I’ve been working on, an opinion piece on the world of google hangouts, and some babbling about meeting Korean EyeWires.

**I looked further into Christoff Koch’s affiliation with rock climbing. He climbs a lot. And he neurosciences. *hand-fans face* This may be what love feels like.

The Search to Avoid Research

Where to start? What do I like to do? I like neuroscience, it would be cool to leave the country. Neuroscience job abroad, now that’s a lofty goal. Ok what else? The prison system fascinates me, though I have no background in that. I like to rock climb- what if I worked in rope access? I guess that would get cold in the winter. I could always just stall and do retail somewhere.


It was August at this point, the summer was winding down and I was on my way to my hometown in Massachusetts. I hadn’t been home in a while and I asked my mother if she knew of anyone who might know of a place I could work- she had recently begun a job in management of online courseware at MIT. She must have met a few important STEM-ers along the way. She knew a recent grad named Claire who was working on an online neuroscience course. I googled her, and found a her speaking at  TEDx.


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Woah! She’s about my age and she’s spoken at TEDx? How cool. As I watched the video I became more and more impressed with her accomplishments and stage presence. At the center of the video I became excited- she began talking about a project that had turned neuroscience lab work into an interactive computer game. This is what I’m interested in. In all honesty, the prospect of working in a science lab scared me- doing tedious, slow work and never being sure whether you’ll end up with a product. In  making this computer game, they’re taking research beyond the lab. Regardless of whether they find significant results in each individual project, they had a successful way to get to the results. This is cool. This is innovation. I wanted to be a part of this. If you didn’t have time to watch the video, EyeWire is a “Game to Map the Brain” where anyone, anywhere can create an account and trace their way through a branch of a neuron(brain cell) as it weaves and wanders throughout the retina- the part of the eye that translates light into electrical signals, which is the language of the brain. It’s kind of like a virtual, 3D, paint-by-numbers where a player receives points and powers by painting. If you are interested in playing, it requires no scientific background:

The Game Itself

jcell eyewire teaser

I emailed Claire about having brunch and discussing opportunities for me in the neuroscience field. It seemed weird to me, to email someone I’d never met and ask for a favor or connection. She would not know my credentials, my history, anything. I had done nothing for her. But I guess that’s how all this works- you ask anyone you can. And you expect nothing, you just hope. She sent me a message riddled with excitement and smiley faces. We met for brunch and she spoke about labs at MIT, I explained my interest in doing work outside conventional lab settings. I didn’t mention EyeWire, because it felt uncomfortable to mention that I listened to her speak for twenty minutes before meeting her. In hindsight that was silly. I should have brought it up, but luckily, she did.

Claire arranged a second brunch where I would meet two of the most important people at EyeWire, after which I would get to peek at their lab. I found a fantastic parking spot right outside of the cafe where we would be meeting, so moral was high. My car looked beat up and dusty after its recent cross country drive and encounter with a metal pole. But I thought I looked put together. Brunch went well- I tried my best not to be shy. On our way from brunch to the lab we passed my car and I suppressed my urge to break the current silence with the useless filler sentence “That’s my car”. I needed to removed association from my block-break road-trip lifestyle, for I was playing the role of Future Science Office Woman today. The “lab” was an office with lots of posters and a colorful couch and decorations. Everyone was under 30 years old. This was the hippest science lab ever. I received a brief tour and then everyone had to get back to work.

I returned home with excitement and confusion. This was the closest thing I would have to an interview with EyeWire and it was so unofficial. They said they were interested in having me intern, but on what principals? All I had shown them were my abilities to eat a sandwich and show some enthusiasm. I spent the next few months sending emails, and follow-up did-you-receive-my-last-email emails. I sent them my resumé and a writing sample but I think the realest thing I showed them was that my interest was big enough that I would not take silence as a “no”. Mere persistence doesn’t seem like a credential but I guess when it really comes working in the real world, skills can only get you so far while passion allows you to learn on the job, work diligently and put in an extra effort. That’s how I’m going to justify it all, but in a sense I fell into my internship. I showed up and it just happened. From this experience I hope to be able to keep my moral up when I apply to jobs in the future, because sometimes not getting a job will be random, just as receiving a position at EyeWire has been a bit random. In the future I might not know the right person or due to luck, the person I interview with will have already fallen in love with another applicant. And maybe another time, due to chance, I’ll just fall into a position.

Last week I began my internship with EyeWire, and my next post will be what I have done, seen, and thought so far.

Hi guys! This is my first blog post ever. I am Nina, a Colorado College undergraduate studying Neuroscience for those of you who do not know me. I will be maintaining this blog as I see fit for the next many months.  I will make my first post about how I came to be where I am today, because I am an artist like Quentin Tarantino.

Me sporting my "wtf am I going to do with my semester off?" face

Me sporting my “wtf am I going to do with my semester off?” face

As a Junior in college, I am at the age of the “study abroad”. Last year when I was imagining where I could study abroad, I came up with a short list of random locations. Locations that my school had advertised, that people I was acquainted with had mentioned, and that I thought sounded kinda cool. Japan, Copenhagen, Brazil, South Africa, Nepal, I don’t know. All sounded foreign…worldly…abstract. None of them were particularly known for hosting Neuroscience majors. None of them particularly drew me, I just wanted to travel in general. All of them had a price tag equal to a semester at my college. I remembered a thought I had had in the past: If someone gave me the option of a four-year private college  experience and degree or a bank account with four years worth of tuition in it, I think I could grow successful with either. Choosing would be difficult. A college experience is unique, said to be the best years of one’s life. But I could educate myself for much longer than four years with tuition sized stipend. What if I applied this question to a semester? What if I didn’t participate in formal education for the semester, but I still found a way to learn. I had extra credits, and didn’t see myself gaining enough from taking four more classes- on campus or off – to justify choosing formal education this semester. This wouldn’t mean access to a $27,000 bank account -if only-, but it could give me access to other opportunities. I could get a taste of the real world, I could take a break from school while many of my friends were off campus for their study abroad, and I could meet people who I could reconnect with later in life. Breaking out of the college bubble would allow me to return to my senior year fresh and recharged for academics and college culture. And so my quest began for an opportunity, a job, a volunteer position, an internship, a training… anything. Anything uncharted.