Students gain valuable experience presenting at virtual conferences

Kiera Robe ’21 of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Brianna Bembenek ’22 of Campbellsport, Wisconsin, found new opportunities during virtual conference presentations this fall.

Robe is majoring in psychobiology and Bembenek is a double major in chemistry-biology and psychology.

Robe’s presentation was “The Neuroprotective Properties of Turmeric and Piperine Supplementation on the Cognitive and Emotional Effects of a High Fat Diet.” It looks at how herbal supplementation can act as a neuroprotective agent to decrease anxiety and enhance visual memory when under a common everyday stressor: the inflammatory high-fat diet often consumed in the Western world. Robe presented this at the Midbrains Undergraduate Research Conference Oct. 3.

Bembenek’s presentations focused on changes in estrogen receptor alpha immunoreactivity within sexually dimorphic brain regions, including the BNST and MeA. These are estrogen hormone receptors whose levels are downregulated through binding to estradiol. She studied these in both male and female rats and took note of their different behaviors and how they connected to these areas of the brain.

Bembenek presented at the Midbrains Research Conference Oct. 10 and the Neuroscience Virtual Symposium Oct. 25.

“It never ceases to amaze me how the scientific community is able to adapt and overcome challenges, especially with this virtual conference in the era of COVID-19,” Robe says. “For me, being part of the driving force behind such research really opened my eyes. This is my future and it’s filled with such brilliant minds. An added bonus was the effect it had on my imposter syndrome. We all feel it at some point as undergrads, but to be presenting, it made me feel like I actually belonged in the scientific community. All those years of studying are finally paying off.”

Bembenek agreed. “In the future, I want to pursue a career in pharmacology research, which greatly relates to the field of neuroscience,” she says. “I am hoping to be able to both design molecules for new medications and also study how these drugs interact will our body’s cells to cause certain side effects.

“This research has given me invaluable experience with laboratory procedures that I will be using in the future. These conferences have given me two great experiences and additional practice for the type of research presentations I will have to give in graduate school. Additionally, sharing our findings with the rest of the scientific community and getting to show the work Dr. Robin (Forbes-Lorman) and I have completed is an added bonus. It is always very interesting to learn about new findings from other researchers while also getting to share the new findings that we have made through our research work.”

Zoe Hazel ’22
Friendship, Wisconsin

(Photo: Brianna Bembenek 22, left, and Kiera Robe ’21)

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