Welcome, First Years!


by Melissa Troyer


20 October 2014

Rachel Bristol hails from Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon in a strange combination. She got her bachelor's at the University of Oregon, with an English major and Linguistics minor. Rachel traveled and taught ESL in Santiago, Chile for a while before heading to the University of Delaware for a masters in Linguistics & Cognitive Science. After graduating, she taught ESL again and also worked in a psychology fMRI lab that studied vision and value-based decision making. Rachel hopes to do more work on cognitive linguistics at UCSD. She is still exploring the scope of her interests. Outside of school, Rachel enjoys cooking, camping, Shakespeare and Harry Potter.

Thomas Donoghue grew up in Quebec, Canada and most recently lived in Montreal, where he did his bachelor’s degree in cognitive science at McGill University. His studies focused on neuroscience and psychology. Working as a research assistant in a magnetoencephalography (MEG) lab inspired him to try and work somewhere in the middle of the often distinct questions of ‘how does the brain work?’ and ‘how does cognition work?’. Broadly, Tom is interested in the neural basis of cognition and specifically, neural communication which he will try to investigate using a mixture of electrophysiological recordings and computational models. Outside of academics, Tom enjoys playing and listening to music and travel. 

Richard Gao relates some of his history in lyric form:

Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down.
And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there,
I'll tell you how I became a grad student at Cog Sci here!
In China I was born, in Toronto I was raised,
In the engineering buildings I slept on some of my days.
Mathematics, physics, electrodynamics was cool,
But I didn’t find my calling in undergraduate school.
Then I saw some research that made me look,
And started reading neuroscience books!
So I took a little red pill, spun in my chair,
And decided to come here to study what’s between my ears.
I wrote apps after apps, day after day,
Then I packed my suit case and got me on my way.
Beverley greeted me and she paid for my ticket…
I think I like it here, I might as well kick it.
Sunny La Jolla, yo this ain’t bad,
Surfing and swimming in a sombrero hat.
Is this what the people of SD living like?
Hmmmmm…this might be alright.

Richard went to the University of Toronto for his undergrad in Engineering Science (Biomedical). His research was mainly in neuroengineering, and for his thesis he worked on a brain implant that detects seizures and stimulates the brain to stop them. He also worked for a year as an EEG analyst at InteraXon Inc, creating a neurofeedback application for meditation training. Richard’s research interests here at Cog Sci are, roughly speaking, the neural correlates of cognition and consciousness, analyzing electrophysiological data to pinpoint mechanisms that disturb normal cognitive behaviors. Richard also plays a lot of basketball, and he tries to meditate whenever he can, but he humbly admits he’s not very good at either.

Skylar Kerzner grew up in the San Fernando Valley, in Los Angeles, California before attending UC Berkeley, where he double majored in Physics and Astrophysics. At Cal, Skylar worked on variety of projects in physics, including (1) theoretical modeling of a protostellar disk to see whether including the self-gravity and pressure could account for the velocity profiles that a colleague was observing via the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile; (2) a project investigating quantum dots (QD), which are used to tag proteins for confocal imaging, and crosslinking them with molecules that would alter the emission spectrum of the QD until the molecule detached in the reducing environment of cytosol; and (3) creating computational models to try to approximate the equation that best describes the motion of a particle in a gravitational field with (potentially existing but yet undiscovered) Lorentz-violating fields. Now Skylar is mostly interested in pursuing applications of artificial intelligence. At UCSD, he plans to work with Prof. Ginny de Sa to decode electroencephalography (EEG) and electrocorticography (ECoG) data to interpret different brain states. As far hobbies go, Skylar is a self-professed lover of fun and enjoys listening and dancing to electronic music, meditating, listening to or reading from Buddhists, watching TED talks on whatever, exercising, watching funny shows and hugs! Skylar also enjoys eating vegetarian food and good conversation, and invites other cog sci-ers to feel free to ask him anything!

Eric Leonardis hails from Long Island, New York, where he attended Hofstra University and received a BA in Psychology, History, and Chinese Studies. Eric specialized in the history of psychology and biology. His honors thesis in the History department focused on how early 20th century misunderstandings in heredity led psychologists to orchestrate public policy decisions which resulted in the sterilization and segregation of over a hundred thousand people. Eric also studied the historical relationship between psychiatry and sexuality. He studied of pre-Freudian scientific texts about sexuality in an attempt to understand 19th century scientific methodology and wrote an award-winning paper about early 20th century sexologist Magnus Hirschfield’s quest for homosexual emancipation in Weimar Germany. While doing all of this fun history stuff, Eric managed to build Arduino-based robots and created some simple brain-computer interfaces in Hofstra’s Human and Artificial Learning Lab. At UCSD, Eric is really interested in using the methods of machine learning to examine neural computations related to biological motion processing. Eventually, he would like to study how this information could apply to the problem of the “uncanny valley” in human-robot interaction. For fun, Eric enjoys arguing with people about many things, but he’s also committed to communicating science and philosophy to the public. He was a co-founder  of a public education group associated with the Ethical Humanist Society  of Long Island which sought to create community conversations about  philosophy and science. He recently started a website called InfectiousPerspectives.com which seeks to communicate new ideas in philosophy, science, politics and culture through a creative lens. Eric plays guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard and writes music when he gets the chance. Eric is also a ragtime and accordion swing enthusiast and says, “Old timey things are cool...  but robots are also cool. Old timey robots are the dream.”

Carson Miller Rigoli is a Californian from Lompoc, Santa Barbara County.  He completed his undergraduate work in linguistics at UC Berkeley before spending a short while working at the Berkeley Phonology lab and managing the Ofen Lab for Cognitive and Brain Development at the Institute of Gerontology in Detroit, MI.  His research interests have ranged from audiovisual speech and categorization systems in the lab to linguistic relativism and sociolinguistics in the field (and during his fieldwork he has even completed the ultimate three accomplishments of a fieldworker: getting accidentally stranded in an isolated community, contracting Dengue fever, and being declared a witch by an entire town's group of children).  His current main interests are in modeling speech, taking into account the human memory system and the rich multimodal information sources available to perceptual systems.

Larry Muhlstein comes to San Diego from Pennington, NJ via Cleveland, Ohio (the most underrated city in the U.S., and a great one at that, according to him!), where he graduated from Case Western Reserve University after having studied cognitive science, artificial intelligence and computer science, and philosophy (with a little neuro on the side). He spent a lot of time exploring his research interests there, including fMRI research on interpersonal attachment, spectral clustering of fMRI data, stochastic modeling of spike time reliability, modeling language change and language communities, and a thesis on some issues in philosophy of mind. He also studied abroad at the University of Oxford, which he claims was quite grand. At UCSD, Larry is interested in developing Bayesian models of language and communication. Larry also has a diverse list of hobbies, including building things (like hovercrafts and plasma speakers), flying remote control aircrafts, flying real aircrafts, mountain biking, skiing, hiking, and reading. He hopes to spend a lot of his free time in San Diego surfing and the rest sleeping. 

Joey Relaford-Doyle grew up in San Diego and moved to Berkeley for undergrad where she studied cognitive science and math. After graduation, Joey lived in San Francisco for a year before joining a program called Math for America. She moved down to Rancho Cucamonga (about 30 miles east of LA), got her masters in education from Claremont Graduate University,  and taught math and AVID at Montclair High School from 2008-2013. Now, Joey is interested in studying how people communicate about mathematical concepts and how this communication contributes to mathematical learning. Joey also loves working out, and favorite activities include spinning and yoga. Joey is a big fan of hiking, backpacking, and cabin-ing (especially in the Sierras), and she loves traveling in general. When not outdoors, you might find Joey watching some of her favorite TV shows that she never misses (The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, The Leftovers, Girls...). She also loves scary movies and is a total cat person. Joey’s favorite place in the entire world is Hanakapi'ai Falls in Kauai.

Arturs Semenuks comes to UCSD from Riga, Latvia, via Colchester, UK, where he got his BA in Linguistics from the University of Essex. There, he worked on functionalist psycholinguistics. His thesis was on how different grammatical factors influence the processing of sentences with multiple center embeddings in Russian. He also worked on linguistic relativity. Thinking in general is quite interesting, but particularly he wants to focus on the relation between language and thought - what parts of language can influence different cognitive processes, what cognitive processes can actually be influenced and are influenced usually in everyday situations, and what are the individual differences between people in that respect, for example. Arturs is also a bit of a TV series geek – he says it’s always fun to find an interesting, original and previously unseen show, and he knows that some shows, he’s re-watched too many times.

Amanda Song hails from China, where she did her undergrad in biology at Fudan University. The theme of her previous research was vision, both in human and in animals. When she was doing a one-year exchange program at Osaka University in Japan, she studied binocular vision in cats with single-cell recording. Later she analyzed EEG data of human scene categorization and finished my undergraduate thesis on this topic.  After graduation, Amanda went to Belgium to study monkey electrophysiology for half a year and then came to do research at UCLA as a visiting scholar. At UCLA, she studied human metacognition with psychophysics. Amanda is always curious about how the brain and mind represent and interpret the world and the self.  A deeper motivation of hers is to understand the nature and secrets of consciousness, or mind. Since this may be somewhat too vague, Amanda hopes to start from understanding visual representation in the mind. Her approach will be a combination of computer vision algorithms, human psychophysical experiments and perhaps crowd sourcing, among other methods which remain to be decided. In her free time, she is a fan of jazz dance and badminton. She would love to hear from other cog sci-ers who share the same interests! 

Will Wright comes to UCSD from the lone and level plains of Lawrence, KS. He was a double major in Biochemistry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Kansas, and after graduating he worked as an RA in a behavioral pharmacology lab for a year. Will began research in the cognitive neuroscience laboratory of Dr. Evangelia Chrysikou and became hooked on the study of cognition, especially processes that play a role in creativity. At UCSD, Will will be starting rotations with Dr. Deák and Dr. Pineda, continuing work on flexible cognition and exploring how motor perception systems may be involved in this and other phenomena such as empathy and theory of mind. Since mid 2009, Will’s main hobby has been rock climbing, which provides him with opportunities to travel and experience the diversity of the world, while challenging him both mentally and physically. At KU he was President of the Rock Climbing Club, and  he has now climbed in 4 countries and 18 US states.