News & Events

Museum talks give UChicago graduate students’ research a new audience

Unique experience allows them to share their unique work—ranging from Chinese textiles to the neuroscience of birdsong

By Benjamin Ransom/ UChicago News

When University of Chicago graduate student Mia Paletta recently delivered a gallery talk about her research at the Field Museum, she invited the audience to ponder: “What do birds dream about?”

A Ph.D. student studying computational neuroscience, Paletta is fascinated by the way that animal brains generate coordinated, complex movements like birdsong. Standing amid the Field’s eclectic collection of birds around the globe, Paletta explained that when songbirds are asleep, the neurons in their brains fire in the same patterns as those that are produced while the animal is awake and singing. She explained that songbirds may be mentally rehearsing and processing the complex motor actions required to sing their songs.  

Paletta’s presentation was part of the UChicagoGRAD’s new Research Speaks event series, which provides unique opportunities for graduate students to share their research with the University community and wider public. 

“As an early-career scientist that doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to talk about my research in front of a public audience, it was encouraging and fun to see that people were excited about what I was doing,” Paletta said. “I especially love talking to kids about science, and I want everyone to feel encouraged that they have a place in it if they want it.” 

For the program’s inaugural event, 12 doctoral students in the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences, and engineering were invited to guide visitors through exhibits and specimens at the Field Museum—from ancient Egyptian scrolls to skeletal models of early human ancestors.

“Research Speaks is not only an exciting opportunity for graduate students’ professional development,” said Brooke Carrell, assistant provost and executive director of UChicagoGRAD Experience, “it’s a forum for them to engage with dynamic cultural institutions and practice sharing their ideas—maximizing the impact of their research with the broader public.”

Read more