SPOTLIGHT ON: Sri Sritharan

For a change of pace, our most recent feature is about a non-science hobby of one of our fantastic students. Srihari Sritharan (Sri) has been involved in South Asia dancing and DJing for a number of years.  At Penn, he continues to DJ, making mashups of Western and South Asian music; as well as dancing with Penn Dhamaka, a dance troupe that combines Western and South Asian dance styles, such as hip-hop, step, Garba, Raas, Filmi and Bhangra.  

What got you interested in dance and music (especially Bollywood)? When did this love start?
Sri Sritharan, 2nd year

Sri Sritharan, 2nd year

Ever since I was a very small kid, my parents used to play Indian music in the car all the time, and I continued to listen to a variety of music throughout my childhood. I began experimenting with very novice audio software when I was in high school, but I made my first actual remix for my freshman year cultural show dance, which was coincidentally also one of the first times I had ever performed a dance on stage.

Did you get any formal training?
I didn’t have any previous training in dance or in music, actually. The remixing was self-taught over the last few years, and improved heavily with the help of other peer DJs. As for dance, I entered freshman year as a lifelong baseball player, with very little dancing ability. On a whim, I decided to tryout for a South Asian fusion team on campus; they fortunately saw potential in me and trained me through my four years to get to me to where I am now. After spending some time in the music and dance scene, I have very high respect for those who are formally trained, and wish I had the opportunity to learn in that setting when I was younger.

What do you like better: performing on stage or dancing off with your peers at a party?
I feel like they’re entirely different vibes; performing on stage is choreographed and constructed, and even with the attitude and body language in a performance, it’s still a rehearsed art piece. A dance-off I think is much harder mentally, takes a lot more experience to be effortless and impress. More specifically, I can perform in far more styles than I can freestyle in a dance-off. I’ll choose a performance, but it’s a tough call.

How did you get involved in the Penn dance community? Is it easy? What has your experience in dance at Penn been like?
While I was on my team at Brown, there was an annual fall exhibition show at Harvard (called Raunak) where many teams from the east coast would perform. Of those, Penn had two teams performing, Naach and Dhamaka, the all-girls and all-boys team, respectively. I had watched Penn Dhamaka for years, and considered joining since they were an established team. Getting involved is certainly as easy as any other extra-curricular, just a simple tryout process. I know other Penn grad, law, and dental students on dance teams currently, it’s very feasible. The one note I would point out is that Penn dance teams have this internal fire to be the best, which is fantastic from a performance perspective, but would make some hesitate to join due to time commitment. Regardless, I’ve found it to be a very rewarding experience.

What has been your most memorable performance?
My senior year, my old team Brown Badmaash performed in Philly itself at the Merriam Theater on Broad St. It was a competition called Phillyfest, with a full audience of about 1,800 people. Each competing team was required to have a theme to their piece; ours was the Olympics, since it was 2012. The dance was full of sport-related gimmicks, which the audience loved. We got 3rd place that year against other college teams in the nation, but we had so much fun performing for that huge crowd, the placing didn’t matter to us. All we wanted was to perform a piece people would talk about for years.

How do you balance your time commitments?
Like most people, I allocate a daily number of hours to sleep and going to the gym. Any time needed for dance practice would simply replace the gym time, and if it must, would cut into sleep a little as well. That only really happened near show time; after it’s over, I’d have no more practice so I could sleep all I wanted. As for music, I intentionally walk around campus rather than bike, using my phone to listen to new songs as I travel from place to place, using my time as best as possible to stay up to date.

How does dancing and DJ’ing help you in your day job as a neuroscientist?
I’ve always tried to strike a balance between science and art in my life to stay happy, and I feel that dancing and choreography fill my need for some creativity in my life. The neuroscience program itself keeps me more than happy with my interest in the sciences. As for the DJ-ing, I don’t fully know yet how I want to utilize this idea, but neural recordings and music are both waveforms when plotted on a computer. I feel that with some more development, I could figure out ways to apply my knowledge of computer music production to systems neuroscience. Both realms deal with noise, filtering, etc.

Do you see more dance in your future?
I do, but I also foresee a considerable dropoff in the coming years. While I’m sure I could physically continue after this year, I’ve now been on a dance team for six consecutive years and want to see what other skills I can develop. I’m sure that if/when I decide to return, the dance community will be just as strong and welcoming.

I do however plan to continue with music, I can’t live without that in my life.

That being said, the Penn Dhamaka show is this February 21st and 22nd, all of you should come watch if you’re not too busy in lab! It’ll be worth your time, I promise.

Interview by Shachee Doshi.
Check out Dr. Srimix at: https://soundcloud.com/dj-srimix

For more information on Penn Dhamaka, visit: http://www.penndhamaka.com/

SPOTLIGHT ON: Laurel Ecke

The Franklin Institute Science Museum opened in 1934 with the mission of sharing hands-on science and technology with the public. Today, with the help of an army of volunteers, the Franklin Institute welcomes almost 900,000 annual visitors. Laurel Ecke began there as a science cart presenter, providing guests with an interactive museum experience.  She’s since taught the neuroscience component of STEM scholars, a summer program that immerses underserved high school students in STEM curricula, and is currently working on a grant with the Franklin aimed to incorporate neuroscience into K-12 education.

How did you get started at the Franklin Institute?

Laurel Ecke: recent alum

Laurel Ecke: recent alum

I was interested in thinking outside my graduate school experience and learning more about the science museum world so I went on the Franklin Institute’s website and applied to volunteer.  I found science presenting to be a good first step; it was easy to fit into my schedule and it gave me a good introduction to working in a science museum.  After getting my foot in the door, I’ve since discovered other ways to get involved that are more tailored to my interest in neuroscience.

What’s the most interesting, exciting, or unexpected thing that has come out of/happened to you while at the Franklin Institute?
Teaching the STEM Scholars program was really wonderful.  I was so impressed by how motivated and interested the group of students was and how excited they were to learn about the brain.  I have also been pleasantly surprised by the other opportunities that have arisen based on the connections I made at the Franklin.  Overall, this experience has given me exposure to additional career options and has helped guide my decision making about my career in a more informed way.

What do you hope to with the Franklin Institute (or other museums) in the future?
I am still working with the Franklin on the neuroscience education grant, the curricula of which we hope to eventually make into an online resource for high schools that are interested in offering a neuroscience elective course.  I am still deciding whether I could see myself working at a science museum one day.  One thing I have come to realize is what a small field it is, and as a result, higher-level positions are rare and quite competitive.

Did your time at the Franklin Institute help prepare you for your current work? What was most valuable?
Absolutely.  As a biology lab instructor at Swarthmore College now, my job is to teach students about a wide range of biological topics.  Working at the Franklin was a good first step toward beginning to think outside my thesis work and revisit other areas of science in a more in-depth way.  My long-term career objectives involve a focus on science education, and working at the Franklin to communicate science to diverse audiences and develop curricula has given me a breadth of experiences and skills that will help me in whatever education-focused career I go into.

SPOTLIGHT ON: Dave Kahn

The Penn Social Skills Seminar is a 10-week program for young adults offered by the Social Learning Disorders Program in the Penn Psychiatry Department. Led by a clinical psychologist, the program emphasizes nonverbal communication and practical skills for social interaction. In addition to a set curriculum, the seminar pairs students with a social ‘coach’ to practice new behaviors and receive practical feedback from a peer.

How did you originally get started doing Social Coaching?

Dave Kahn: rising 5th year

Several of my colleagues at the Center for Autism Research had served as social coaches in the program, and it seemed like a great complement to my graduate work. Ideally, my research (which focuses on visual perception and autism spectrum disorders) will be beneficial to individuals with ASD – but as with any research, any benefits are rarely immediate. Coaching seemed like a positive use of my extra time, with appreciably direct benefits to others.

What’s the most interesting, exciting, or unexpected thing that has come out of/happened to you while doing Social Coaching?
One of the seminar’s events is a party, to which the coaches bring along some friends, giving the students a chance to practice what they have learned with people they haven’t met before. I invited a handful of friends from NGG, hoping one or two could make it, and nearly everyone I had invited was excited to attend. I think a few of them would even make better social coaches than I do.

What do you hope to do with Social Coaching in the future?
For the moment, I’m staying involved and getting ready for the fall semester’s seminar. In the longer term, I hope the experience of coaching will help me stay mindful of the practical needs of individuals with ASD and other social learning deficits.

For more information on the Penn Social Skills Seminar, visit: http://www.med.upenn.edu/add/sldp_group.html

NGG Student Spotlights

NGG students work hard at their science – that’s a given!  But many NGG folk are also phenomenally accomplished in their achievements outside of the lab, and in such diverse realms as community service, the fine arts, athletics, and more.   The new NGG Student Spotlights series highlights the stand-out extracurricular involvements of both NGG students and alumni.

Use this page to learn more about your fellow students and NGG alums – maybe you’ll discover a few shared interests!

Want to nominate someone for a spotlight?  Send us a message with your name, the name of the nominee, and a brief description of why you think this person should be in the Spotlight.