Alyssa is a doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island. Follow them @yes_thattoo or check out their personal blog.

I’ve been attending the dynamics seminar in my university’s math department for a long time, and I kept attending after I joined the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program for doctoral study. The professor who organizes the seminar has been asking me to talk about dynamics in neuroscience ever since I started in the neuroscience program, too. Last semester, I finally did. On Halloween. (Yes, I presented in costume.)

The person in charge of our journal club expressed interest in that talk, so I sent him my slides. He asked me if I could give a talk using almost the same slides, just replacing the parts from a schizophrenia paper I’d previously presented on in journal club with a discussion of the pain paper I’d chosen to match the current semester’s topic. So, I thought about how to use the same slides to present to a different audience.

Since creating visual aids can be an important (and time consuming!) part of preparing for a presentation, being able to re-use what amounted to my visual outline was a major time-saver. It was also good practice at thinking about presenting interdisciplinary work to a potentially mixed audience. Since I’m in the interdisciplinary neuroscience program, I’m going to keep having to do that.

So, here’s what I did:

My background slides included a picture with four neuron configurations: multi-polar, bi-polar, psuedo-unipolar, and unipolar neurons. For the mathematicians, I explained how the geometry was highly variable and tended to be complicated. The neuroscientists already know this. However, the text of that slide relates to how many neurons different animals have. I told the neuroscientists how the increasing number of neurons and complexity of connections affects the practicality of modeling interactions.

Similarly, while the mathematicians got an explanation of how action potentials work, the neuroscientists got an explanation of why action potentials can be tricky to model. My explanation of what a dynamical system was didn’t change — I made it for any neuroscientists who came to the math talk.

Modeling Neurons and their Interactions
Neither the mathematicians nor the neuroscientists are expected to be electrical engineers. Some people could read circuit diagrams and some people couldn’t. A mathematician asked me, for example, if there was a circuits-based justification for replacing a neuron model that included many separate components with different capacitances and resistances with a single component to represent the whole neuron (I didn’t, and do not, know the answer to that question). A neuroscientist, on the other hand, asked how these systems of equations led to different firing patterns.

Each of these audiences came with different backgrounds and interests–the neuroscientists with a desire to know if a given model will work and the mathematicians with an interest in how the properties of the model change with the parameters.Working together, they might try to reproduce neuronal firing patterns the model predicts near the transition between different firing patterns. That’s what my pain paper was basically about, which I thought was very cool.

Final Thoughts
The content, explaining how dynamical systems apply in neuroscience, was similar in both talks. That’s why leaving the slides alone worked. However, the emphasis was different, and the two groups had different background knowledge, which is something to consider when deciding whether or not to use the same slides for different talks. I had to give the neuroscientists, for example, more background information about the math so they could understand it, and I had to give the mathematicians more background information about neurons.

Oh, and I presented to the neuroscience group using Proloquo4Text, an iOS speech generating program. It’s a skill I need to have since my ability to speak is highly variable, and it meant I had to make a script for a presentation for the first time ever.

[Photo of Alyssa taken during the Q&A of their second presentation.]

User Review
0 (0 votes)