OUR Featured Researcher: Victoria Fisher '21
Victoria (Tori) Fisher (she/her) is a Neuroscience & Biology major conducting mentored research under Professor Leslie Kwakye. Her project is titled “Changes in Sensory Noise Explain Attentional Disruptions to Multisensory Perception".
Please describe your project:
My lab studies the effects of attention on the combining of information across different senses (multisensory integration). Multisensory integration can be exemplified through speech processing during which we take information from the lip-movements and the voice to determine what the person is saying. The level of integration, though, decreases as attention is deviated away. This effect of attention has been well established in the literature; however, the neural mechanisms underlying this relationship are not well understood. One possible mechanism is that attentional deficits increase the level of random firing in the brain that is unrelated to the stimulus itself (noise), which leads to variability in stimulus identification and integration. My lab is investigating the relationship between attention and noise within speech processing.
Why is your research important?
Sensory perception is fundamental to everyday life, so investigating the mechanisms of sensory processing helps us better understand existence on a whole. Further, several neurological disorders are marked by attentional deficits leading to difficulties with processing stimuli. If we understand which exact processes in the brain contribute to these difficulties, we will be better equipped to develop therapeutics to help overcome them.
In what ways have you showcased your research?
I have presented posters of my research at two conferences outside of Oberlin: Midwest/Great Lakes Undergraduate Research Symposium (mGluRs) and Society for Neuroscience (SFN). I have also had two posters and a presentation accepted at Oberlin’s Office of Undergraduate Research Symposium for the last three years.
What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?
I was naturally fascinated by sensory neuroscience – I mean who wouldn’t be? It literally defines every interaction we have with the world. After talking with Professor Kwakye, I knew I wanted to be part of community that was actively discovering information about sensory processing.
What is your favorite part about engaging in this work?
I think my favorite part is how we are literally uncovering mechanisms in the brain when we process or look at data. Even though at this stage it is mostly SPSS outputs from a model, packed into those data tables is information from years of research, and we are actively contributing to the years of research and knowledge to come.
How has working with your mentor impacted you as a researcher?
Working with Professor Kwakye has been so impactful to my development as a researcher. As a mentor, she has given me the guidance and tools to investigate scientific literature, while also instilling the confidence to work independently. Professor Kwakye has always pushed me maximize my potential and has helped me grow into the researcher I am today.
How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?
Researching in Professor Kwakye’s lab has given me the knowledge of sensory neuroscience to investigate directly how sensory processing is altered in clinical populations. I think this research has prepared me for the next step in my career, which will be doing research in a lab specifically focusing on hallucinations in schizophrenia.
What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?
Be curious and persistent. From what I’ve learned, a successful researcher is not one who knows the most information, but one who is willing to seek out the answers we don’t know.