In this Meet the Undergraduate blog, we spoke to final year Neuroscience student Alvis Kalarikkan, who joined Queen Mary University of London in 2017. He talks about his passion for neuroscience, his internship at the University of Trento in collaboration with the Comparative Cognition lab of Dr Elisabetta Versace at Queen Mary and his plans for the future.
Alvis (second from left) attending the CogEvo 2019 conference. Credit: Elisabetta Versace
Why did you decide to study Neuroscience at Queen Mary?
I was always interested in cognition and I wanted to stay in London. With the subjects I chose at A Level, Neuroscience at Queen Mary was a really good fit for me. I knew I wanted to go into Neuroscience, getting into the more molecular levels and mechanics.
How did you learn about the internship opportunity at University of Trento?
It was one of the options on my research project list. I emailed Lecturer in Psychology Dr Versace about the project and she mentioned the option to conduct a project in Italy, collaborating with the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC) in the laboratory of Professor Vallortigara. The research project was about numerical ability in bees and Dr Versace helped set up the internship for me. There, I work with Maria Bortot, who helped me to prepare the experimental setting and showed me how to train the bees.
How was the internship experience?
It was a really fun experience, and a lot of hard work that helped me to learn new skills. For the majority of the time we were not in the lab but outside, experimenting with bees, in a field station called Sperimentarea, where the local Museum hosts also tortoises and other animals. So I was able to see also the experiments conducted on different species by other researchers.
We set up the apparatus in the morning and then trained the foragers to come to our apparatus to find sucrose rewards under the correct stimuli. It was quite a change from London, and a welcome change as CIMeC is located in Rovereto, a historic and small Italian town with lots of green spaces, great weather and cultural events. I got to meet so many people from all over the world who specialise in cognitive neuroscience and animal studies. I also got to attend the CogEvo 2019 Workshop while I was there. I learnt about the latest research in animal cognition and I had the chance to mingle with lots of different Masters and PhD students.
In terms of the research on the numerical ability of bees, we were trying to see how well bees distinguish different quantities of objects. I’m doing the data analysis now but previous studies suggest bees can differentiate between and up to four objects. It’s early stages, and I will know more when my colleagues at CIMeC have finalised data collection for all experimental conditions.
What are your plans for the future?
I am planning to do a Masters degree but I haven’t decided where yet. I would like to go to Europe but I’ve also seen a Computational Neuroscience and Cognitive Robotics programme in the UK. It would be a great way for me to use research to help people, perhaps people who have lost limbs and they want to regain functionality. This kind of Masters degree will help me learn the computer science necessary to study further into that field.