November 8, 2011

Cornell, Weill Collaborate in Neuroscience

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Cornell’s Ithaca Manhattan Initiative in Neuroscience program promotes interdisciplinary study between Cornell’s Ithaca campus and Weill Cornell Medical College for selected graduate student.   The IMAGINE program, which is funded by a National Institute of Health grant, offers its four to five students free bus rides between the two campuses as well as stipends to assist with housing expenses. The program was developed as grassroots initiative by Prof. Barbara Finlay, psychology, and Prof. Betty J. Casey, psychiatry, to develop upon a scope of study greater than that offered by each individual campus. Having befriended each other at conferences, Finlay and Casey realized the need for collaboration between the two campuses. At the time of the program’s conception, Cornell University had just started a bus to connect its two campuses.  At the same time several students and faculty had transferred between Ithaca and New York City as well. The initiative bridged the need for a psychology department at Weill Cornell and  clinical practices at the University’s campus in Ithaca.IMAGINE encourages collaborative learning and creates networking oppurtunities for students by bringing together molecular biologists, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists and statisticians from both campuses to share their different areas of expertise.Finlay serves as the formal director of the IMAGINE program and is situated at the Cornell University campus in Ithaca. She began working in interdisciplinary studies during her college years. “I’ve always been on the edge of everything,” Finlay said. “They keep renaming whatever degree I had after I got it.” Her undergraduate psychology degree at Oberlin College was renamed psychology and brain science after she graduated, then her MIT degree, which was started as psychology, was later changed to brain and cognitive sciences.Finlay went on to describe her current research projects. “The kind of work I do is very biological, but the reason I do it is completely cognitive and organizational,” she said.“What I can provide is imaging and behavioral expertise,” Casey said. She is the director of the Sackler Institute at Weill Medical College, as well as co-director of the IMAGINE program. She graduated with a degree in experimental psychology and a minor in behavioral neuroscience. Her post-doctoral work was in child psychiatry, where she learned about imaging methodologies. Regarding the extent of her role in the IMAGINE program, Casey said, “I’ve indirectly been involved with almost all the students who’ve come through.”According to Casey, each of the campuses have their own strengths. “Here [at Weill], there is more patient access and clinical experience and [a] biomedical imaging center … what’s lovely at Cornell is that there is a stronger component in terms of computational neuroscience and rodent behavior.”When asked who might profit most from such a program, Casey said that self-driven students who are trying to drive a new collaboration or a new area of research will benefit most from this program. “Another thing that’s great about Cornell,” Casey said, “is that both campuses have pretty flexible programs of study that they[the students] get to self-direct. This opens a new level of flexibility that they can have in terms of the facilities they can use in answering their scientific questions.”Kathleen Agres, a graduate student now in her final year, had transitioned between the two campuses in her fourth and fifth years when she participated in the IMAGINE program to conduct research about how the brain processed and learned music. Agres worked mainly on computer models at the Cornell University Campus, and used Electroencephalography and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging techniques for her research at Weill Cornell Medical Institute. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use this EEG method here [in Ithaca]. [IMAGINE] gave me the opportunity to pursue this line of research, in which complementary behavioral and computational work beautifully … It’s nice to have these complementary methods converge on what is really happening in the brain at the time,” she said.

Original Author: Rujuta Natu