Conference Grant Report: Ashley Wang

Ashley Wang was selected to receive a Conference Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. With this grant, she traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Society for Neuroscience Conference. You can read Ashley’s reflection below, read past grantee reflections here, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about all of our grant programs.


After hearing my fellow research lab-mates rave about their experiences at neuroscience conferences, I knew I had to make it a priority to attend one of these conferences before graduating. This past November, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 2017 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Conference in Washington, D.C. At SfN, over 30,000 people – neuroscientists, post-docs, fledgling and excited undergraduates like myself – come together to share some of their research done in a specific topic in neuroscience like motivation, optogenetics, and even cannabinoids! In addition to these poster sessions, there was a legion of interesting workshops and talks that we are able to attend throughout the course of the conference. The backdrop of D.C. only added to the already energizing atmosphere of the conference.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend the conference alongside my awesome lab-mates and wonderful PI, Professor Robinson. The Robinson lab here at Wesleyan researches the neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying motivation and reward, and addictive behaviors such as gambling and food addiction – some really cool stuff. At the conference, I had the opportunity to be able to share some of what we do in the lab at the poster session. More specifically, I presented my research on how a junk food diet may impact hedonic and aversive responses to sugary and salty solutions, and how these effects differed between two genetically different strains of rats – obesity-prone and obesity-resistant.

It was my first time attending a conference like this, and it was also my first time presenting research in front of others. Going into this with not much prior experience, I felt a good mix of nervous and excited, but initially more so the former. In the end, presenting ended up being so much fun, to my surprise. Presenting became less about the act of presenting and more about having a conversation about my research with someone. And, it turns out a bunch of people are truly interested in the research me and my lab do. To witness this genuine curiosity held by many of the people there was both fulfilling and galvanizing. After presenting, I had the chance to walk around in the poster session and look at other people’s research, and believe it or not, I found myself so awake and excited to learn some new stuff at 8 in the morning, despite my looming grogginess. Being surrounded by so many bright and bold people was inspiring, at the very least.

One of the talks I attended was about religion and neuroscience. We often think about these two things as two separate, mutually exclusive realms; however, the speaker was able to seamlessly bridge the two together and explained how these two things can coexist and even work off each other. I found it to be a nice, sweet, and candid talk about a topic that could easily be too heavy and complicated to discuss otherwise. I enjoy learning about science in the context of other disciplines and schools of thought, so this was right up my alley.

Overall, this conference was truly an invaluable experience – it not only equipped me with important research presenting-skills that I was hoping to gain but it also granted me a much-needed source of inspiration in the context of research. It’s easy to feel that doing research can be a bit tedious and even discouraging at times, especially when you don’t get quite the results you were looking for. However, my experience at SfN reminded me of the importance and merit of doing research in something you genuinely care about; it kindly reminded me of the bigger picture of my pursuits in research. Not to mention, going out with my lab-mates and voraciously eating pizza the size of our faces (combined) at 1am really brought us closer.

Of course, I would not have been able to attend this conference without the help of PCSE, so I would like to sincerely thank PCSE for funding a substantial portion of my trip. It was truly an unforgettable experience, and I would recommend SfN to anyone who’s interested in learning more about neuroscience research and stepping outside of their comfort zone.