Top Journal Publishes Student Brain Researchers
Issue Features Different Studies From School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences
June 10, 2008
Even the most renowned scholars and scientists can attest to how difficult it can be to get a study published in a top journal. The top journals in a particular field might reject up to 90 percent of submissions. The remaining papers must then go through a rigorous process of reviews and revisions.
As difficult as the process might be for faculty members, it’s even more so for students. A student study published in a prestigious journal is a rare achievement, but lightning struck twice in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
Two cognition and neuroscience Ph.D. students, Shveta Malhotra and Crystal Engineer, have studies published in the same issue of Nature Neuroscience, the top research journal in the field of neuroscience. Both students’ studies provide a greater understanding of auditory processing in the brain.
As an undergraduate, Malhotra studied speech language pathology and audiology, which provided a strong foundation for her graduate work. She worked with Dr. Stephen Lomber to address the question, “How does the brain localize a particular sound?” They proved that when the brain hears a sound, it uses dual processing streams to determine ‘what’ the sound is and ‘where’ it’s coming from.
Lomber and Malhotra’s research laid the groundwork for future studies. “If we can understand the fundamental ways the brain identifies sounds, then we can see if there are things we can do to help a deaf brain process like a hearing brain,” said Lomber. Lomber has since moved from UT Dallas to the Centre for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario.
Just down the hall from Lomber and Malhotra, Engineer was working with Dr. Michael Kilgard. Together they conducted a study to provide the first-ever description of how speech sounds are processed by neurons in the brain. They were able to show exactly which neurons are firing and when they are firing – down to the millisecond. This insight may offer a new approach to treating children with speech processing disorders.
Both Malhotra and Engineer started at UT Dallas as undergraduates and chose to stay for their graduate studies. Malhotra earned her Ph.D. in the fall of 2007. Engineer plans to complete hers in the fall of 2008. Although students are sometimes advised to change universities in order to gain new perspectives, Engineer believes sticking with UT Dallas was a big advantage. “Staying here has allowed me to master techniques and do a lot of experiments on the topic I’m interested in,” she said.
Malhotra also points out that her time at UT Dallas enabled her to form valuable relationships throughout the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, all the way from the dean, Bert Moore, to her peers. “I'm proud to have been a part of UT Dallas. I was able to develop many long-lasting relationships and interact with some of the best scientific minds this university has to offer. It's a terrific place to develop not only as a student, but as a person", she said.
These young researchers understand the magnitude of their early success and intend to use it as a launching pad for their futures. “Publishing in Nature Neuroscience is usually a goal of a researcher before he or she retires, but to do it when we’re so young, I feel like we can only go up from here. It’s a great honor and we have our advisors to thank for pushing us,” Malhotra said.
“I’m excited, but I won’t rest on this success. This is good motivation to continue to aim high,” said Engineer.
The full texts of Malhotra and Engineer’s studies are available on the Nature Neuroscience Web site.
The studies were published in the May 2008 edition of Nature Neuroscience:
• “Double dissociation of 'what' and 'where' processing in auditory cortex” — by Stephen G. Lomber & Shveta Malhotra
• “Cortical activity patterns predict speech discrimination ability” — by Crystal T. Engineer, Claudia A. Perez, YeTing H. Chen, Ryan S. Carraway, Amanda C. Reed, Jai A. Shetake, Vikram Jakkamsetti, Kevin Q. Chang & Michael P. Kilgard