Noah Steinberg

Gaze-Hand Coordination and Learning in an Unpredictable Competitive Marksmanship Task
Noah Steinberg Neuroscience, 2017
Thesis Advisor: Professor Luis Schettino

Q: How and when did you select your advisor and the thesis committee members?
A: My thesis was officially under Professor Schettino, but my thesis was in part an interdisciplinary project between Neuroscience and Mechanical Engineering. Professor Brown helped to create the simulation I was using and so he was the obvious choice for my 2nd committee member. Knowing that this project involved a high level of computer programming, I felt it was most appropriate to ask a professor I had during the first semester of my senior year who taught a class in computer programming, Professor Ho. He also fit the requirement for Neuroscience majors as a Biology professor. I think it’s important to choose advisors who not only help check boxes off, but who seem interested, invested, and willing to help sort out problems that will inevitably arise.

Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis? How did you select your topic?
A: I was abroad during my spring junior semester, but was in correspondence with Professor Schettino all that semester about starting a thesis project. I had worked in his lab as an EXCEL scholar for multiple semesters prior and knew I wanted to pursue a thesis. The reason for this was because I wanted to publish my thesis in a scientific journal in order to show my ability to publish work to be a better applicant for MD/PhD programs. Thus, I made sure to show interest in my thesis early in my junior spring. Then early in the summer, Professor Schettino told me about a conversation with Professor Brown about the simulation he had just built, and they discussed the possibilities of looking at how humans interact and learn with this shooting simulation. I visited campus in the middle of the summer and discussed the idea with both of them, and spent the summer and early fall reading literature to understand where gaps of knowledge were.

Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: At the end of your thesis, you should be an expert in a niche that nobody else should be. That said, the only way to get there is to read up on the literature. You’ll never know where the gaps are until you become familiar with the lexicon and can make a strong prediction where that specific field is going. I used this approach to identify what interested me in the field and to guide the many iterations of my hypotheses.

Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: Not really. I knew before senior year that it was a year long commitment that required me to ‘defend’ it in the fall semester if I were to have continued. I also did the computer programming for a friend’s senior thesis during my junior year, so I had some knowledge of basic structure. I thought I was well aware of how much of a time commitment it was, but you really have to experience how much of a time commitment a thesis actually is first hand!

Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A:I had not done a literature review before my thesis; this was one of the most stressful parts of my thesis. How was I supposed to know that a certain question hadn’t been asked and answered? How could I be sure that I know all the techniques people have used to analyze a specific question or set of data? This is where I found the library staff and resources to be the most helpful.

Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: I contacted Lijuan the very first week of the fall semester after several emails she sent over the summer. I do remember receiving emails from the library even in the spring of my junior year, and I would have probably started the process earlier if I was not abroad.

Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A:Theses are a 2 semester-long journey that can seem very unstructured compared to other classes in college. In science, it’s not like an experiment you run in lab and analyze the results the following week. In the humanities, there are no instructions outlined in the beginning of the semester for a term paper. The aspect I found most challenging was fully comprehending the amount of work that had to be done, and disciplining myself to work on it – as there aren’t predefined hours to work on your thesis like you would go to class.

Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: Before my defense in the fall, I asked Professor Schettino how to prepare for questions, especially those that were specific to my reasoning behind approaching a question a specific way. His response was “well, you’re the expert on this, not me – if you don’t know the answer I’m not sure anyone else will”.

Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: At the beginning of each semester, I sat down with Professor Schettino and scheduled a weekly meeting to answer questions and give me direction for what to accomplish that following week. My department was very gracious in purchasing the supplies I needed to conduct my research. Professor Brown, another advisor, met with me whenever I had technical questions regarding his hardware. Him coming on a Sunday morning to help me fix a computer I managed to misconfigure highlights how helpful my advisors were.

Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
A: I met with Lijuan the first week of the fall semester to review all of the resources Lafayette has to conduct background research. I ended up going back in the middle of the spring semester for the SAME thing. I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything that would jeopardize my claim that I was the first to study certain components of my thesis.

Q: What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?
A: I am a pretty self-motivated student, and I didn’t feel like I needed support from parents or friends. However, my thesis was in a field that none of my advisors had any experience in. While I was searching for research jobs after college, I interviewed with Dr. Richard Krauzlis at the NIH, knowing that he had no position for me. Late into the spring semester when my data analysis was not going as expected, I began reading the literature and saw Dr. Krauzlis’ name pop up in every paper. I decided to reach out to him and ask for his advice. To my surprise, he not only responded to me, but we talked for an entire hour the following day over the phone. I was honored and amazed that he went out of his way to help an undergraduate student that he most likely would never interact with again.

Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: The library’s resources and ability to purchase articles that were not already available was an incredible asset. This tool allowed me to have access to all the research materials I needed to set up my project, while my department helped me purchase the hardware to conduct my experiments.