My Internship at NeuroEducate

Hello! My name is Ritu Gaikwad and I will be a rising high school senior next year. This post is about my internship at NeuroEducate.

I came upon the internship through my previous experience as a student at the Biotechnology and Biosciences camp at Stanford last summer. In the Neuroscience course that I took, my professor Amy Daitch presented a guest speaker, Elizabeth Ricker, the founder of Neuroeducate.

Ricker spoke about neurofeedback, a novel approach to controlling brain waves in a variety of disorders, as well as improving overall cognition. She spoke about neurofeedback as a series of steps to alter observable brain activity in EEGs. She also spoke about specific meditative and cognitive exercises designed to not only reduce brain abnormalities in patients with neurological diseases, but rather to also hyper-optimize the brain in order to better improve oneself, with the main goal in both cases being cognitive enhancement.

She also talked about self-experimentation, the idea of testing yourself as a “guinea pig” in order to examine the direct impacts of changing one part of a normal routine, and being able to record that data quickly and efficiently. The ideas of neurofeedback and self-experimentation were fascinating, and I wanted to learn about these novel approaches to learning cognitive and neuroscience.

After her talk, I went up to speak with Ricker and asked her questions regarding self-experimentation and how I could actively get involved with it when doing a research project of my own. I approached her about gathering resources for a light and cognition study, and we corresponded as Ricker provided me with great resources to get started!

Then, as this summer approached I corresponded with Amy Daitch, and asked about meeting Ricker to learn more about her research. I applied for an internship with Ricker, and I got selected! I was thrilled, and this was just the beginning of a long journey that Ricker and I would take together! As an intern, I worked on three main projects, all involving aspects of cognitive science: research, reading, and experimentation.

My first project directly allowed me to learn about relevant literature in the topic of neurofeedback. I was able to read and provide feedback to Elizabeth about her upcoming book, The 15-Minute Brain (working title), which delves into how self-experimentation can be done on anyone. It also covers interventions that can improve mental function, like neurofeedback. It was fascinating to read about the different types of neurofeedback and study why each type would be relevant to a specific type of disease as well as its benefits. I also provided Ricker feedback about the flow and structure of the chapter with regards to a normal reader just to make sure the book would be comprehensible for a larger population.

For my second project, I got to do my own research project under the guidance of Ricker. We submitted it to a conference, and it was chosen from research projects around the world (including those submitted by faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and industry) to be presented at the 2018 global conference for the International Mind Brain and Education Society, to be held on Sept 27–29 at the University of Southern California. The project was focused on the effect of blue light on measures of mental performance. In addition to using standard neuropsychological cognitive tests we used a novel test: in-game performance on the video game Fortnite. In addition, the study population was novel: we looked at pre-adolescents, especially people like my 12 year old brother. With regard to Fortnite performance, as the amount of blue light increased, Fortnite performance was adversely effected, allowing our team to conclude that lower amounts of blue light would be most beneficial for pre-adolescents. This was a fascinating conclusion, and I am still continuing to gather data for the experiment. I am also looking forward to attending the conference in September!

The third project drew on one of the major tenants that Ricker was an expert in, and that was the fun and exciting idea of self-experimentation. My project consisted of tracking my data on sleep, food, exercise, and mental check-ins every 20 minutes during my work day. I even recorded my allergies and focus levels. In the pre-intervention phase, I would just fill out the tracking Google form every day when I got up, and add in the data accordingly. After a couple of weeks, it was time to start my intervention phase. After looking at how my focus changed throughout the day and analyzing the graphical data across multiple cognitive tests taken on Cambridge Brain Sciences as well as Quantified Mind, Ricker and I decided to use meditation as my intervention. Currently, I am using Muse and Headspace as well as doing an occasional intervention of Laughter Yoga and tracking my data daily. I am excited to see how this intervention effects my baseline data, and whether or not I can become hyper-optimized!

Thanks for reading in, and I will definitely update you all in the future with regards to how all these projects go!! Thanks and see you soon!

Ritu Gaikwad

San Diego, CA