Archived entries for The Latest


So, it has been approximately five weeks since I’ve left sunny San Diego. The transition from the West Coast pace was hard, and only made harder by the almost immediate plunge into my senior year. I am taking a lovely range of classes this semester, one of which is Senior Thesis. I feel like I’ve been talking about my thesis since before I matriculated as a freshman here; I feel like this because it is true. Now, I have finally settled into a thesis topic (something about the psychology/neuroscience of dance – how cool?!) under the advising of the professor who turned me on to psychology as a field (Marilyn Boltz).

Two days ago, I found out (from Marilyn) that my funding application to return to San Diego over winter break got approved! I can finally begin to administer music to the patients and collect data! Yesss!! Right now, I am finishing up my poster about my research. It is essentially a literature review and research proposal. I present it on Saturday afternoon, and it will be my first ever academic poster presentation. Despite the presence of nerves (already), I am very excited to share the knowledge I gained this summer in a formal way with the campus community. I might even ask my parents to come, you know, so they can see what their daughter was doing all summer in the land of palm trees and Mexican food. Besides staring at palm trees and eating Mexican food.

I’ll leave you with “the only song right now,”* a throwback to my favorite summer concert experience, and a source of much guilty pleasure:

*source: Andrew Smith ’11

bye for now

Okay, so, I didn’t get to get any actual data collected, but I left NSI and Children’s with quite the arsenal of knowledge. Luckily, I also left with the promise of return! If all goes well, I will come back for three weeks in the winter to do some hardcore data collection, and perhaps the opportunity to train someone to continue collecting data when I leave.

My departure was pretty bad. First of all, who wants to leave San Diego? I may have experienced some earthquakes and awful traffic, but between the beaches and the commitment to organic food and the weather and the nice people, it was difficult to get on that airplane. My flight was delayed by fifty minutes, which afforded me more time to stare fondly out the airport window onto the marina and San Diego Bay. It also gave me more time to reminisce about all of those days in the middle of July when San Diego’s temperature was 30 to 40 degrees cooler than New Jersey.

Funnily enough, the flight delay was due to thunderstorms on the East Coast. Thunderstorms? Um, what? The closest thing I got to rain all summer was a drizzle-y mist a few mornings and that one two second downpour I missed because I ran into CVS for a quick errand. As the plane was descending into Newark, I saw lightning through the clouds! Warning from the pilot decreased my alarm, but I’m pretty sure that lightning was the first to ever grace the eyes of the San Diegan sitting next to me. Poor guy — I talked his ear off about the horrors of humidity for 60% of the flight, most likely ruining his East Coast visit before he even stepped off the aircraft.

More significantly, I am going to miss the people who defined my San Diego life. My people. I met some great folks at concerts, restaurants, farmer’s markets, and the like, but my host family and my bosses are such special people who I will miss seeing every day.

The Smiths were so welcoming and caring. Jay (’73) and I had quite a few interesting conversations about Haverford, art, music, and architecture. He could talk about pretty much anything, like a true Haverford alum. Penny took me in with such grace and open arms, making sure that I was comfortable and happy for the duration of my stay. She was primarily a friend, always a good listener, and, when necessary, a mom. I could never, ever express how much I appreciate their hospitality, and I am still amazed how well we all got to know one another over the course of just eleven weeks. Penny left me with an assortment of kitchen tools as a farewell gift, all based on our conversations about my preferences and her observations of my habits. I can’t wait to see the two of them again.

Ani and John completely surpassed my expectations in every way. I knew they were smart, and they proved that over and over again, but I didn’t know they would be so humble about it. When I got to NSI on my last day and started to say good-bye to John, his kind words and the thought of leaving made me tear up a bit. After tying up all of my loose ends and said my see-you-laters, Ani drove me to the airport. This ride reminded me of the first time I met Ani and we drove to the hospital to meet Dr. Knight for the first time. My stay was bookended by car rides with Ani – not too shabby.

Dr. Knight and Carol at the hospital were so adept at sharing their knowledge with me. I learned so much from them this summer that I feel like I could hold my own in a group of neonatology residents. Maybe; maybe not. Regardless of my neonatal prowess, I am excited to stay abreast of the literature on all of the topics related to the study so when I return, I will be completely on my game.

For so many reasons, I am excited to return to San Diego, and I imagine that the time will fly with all of the stuff on my plate this semester. So, this blog will stay active, hopefully with occasional posts about any developments in the literature or NSI news. See you back at Haverford.

protein society

Last night, I met up Rob Fairman, Bash Kokona, and four Haverfordians for dinner at Bandar Restaurant (a delicious Persian place) in the Gaslamp Quarter. It was so fun and I was so grateful for Rob for the treat! I got to speak about my experience to fresh ears, a much-appreciated opportunity that made me realize how much I am really going to miss working on this project and being in this city. It also helped me realize how much information I have actually learned this summer, both about the music therapy study and work of the many other scientists and doctors I have met during my stay.

After dinner, I went up to the top of the Hyatt with my school mates to see San Diego from the fortieth floor. I then took them to see the Neurosciences Institute. The building is obviously gorgeous during the day but the nighttime lighting is magical. Finally, we swung by La Jolla Shores and walking up and down the beach. The tide was so low and the water was not frigid (surprisingly), so I had a great time watching new people enjoy my summer stomping grounds.

Whenever change is approaching, I get this funny little feeling in the space between my heart, lungs, and stomach. With my San Diego departure two weeks from yesterday, that feeling is definitely in crescendo. I’ll just listen to David Bowie to cope.

things overlap

So, one of my first blog entries here was about how Senyo Agawu ’13 is the son of Princeton-affiliated Kofi Agawu, a music scholar who Ani has previously cited (and, I found out today, is currently reading). Here is another, much larger coincidence.

I have been amassing loads of articles on about twenty different topics. Usually I exaggerate when estimating, but there are actually three binders, among which twenty topics are covered. They include fetal and neonatal responses to music, heart beat variability in neonates, circadian rhythms in neonatal cortisol, and long-term consequences of NICU stays and neonatal surgery. One of the articles is called “Long-term effects of neonatal surgery on adulthood pain behavior.” Published in Pain in 2005, the first author on this paper is Haverford’s very own Wendy Sternberg. (When typing “Wendy,” I almost typed “Wednesday.” I should go to sleep.) I found this out last month when I first came across the article. It was one of the first I found in my search because it addresses one of the more pressing issues relevant to the study: how does the process of getting surgery affect subsequent development, sensations, and life outcomes of these patients?

When reading the authors, I stopped at Sternberg. I e-mailed her about my little discovery, and when I returned to read the paper, I started with the abstract and skipped past the other four authors, all of whom were in the same thesis group several years ago. Two days ago, I zoned out for a few seconds when looking at the paper (not for lack of interest but for, quelle surprise, lack of sleep) and when I came to, I see “Lauren D. Smith.”

I am living with Smiths: Penny and Jay ’73. I found them because their daughter Lauren graduated from Haverford relatively recently in ’04. Penny’s mother went by Doe, and I remembered vaguely that Lauren’s middle name was Dorothy or Dorothea or something. Could it be? Could I be living with the parents of one of the co-authors on one of the most relevant papers for this study?

To find out, I called Penny. I feel like whenever I call Penny, she automatically thinks something is wrong because I call her so infrequently. As usual with phone conversations, I started it as awkwardly as possible.

Me: “What is Lauren’s middle name?
Penny: “…Dorothy” [I don't know how they spell it.]
Me: “Yadda yadda yadda wow she wrote this blah blah blah.”

The world can be pretty absurd sometimes.


Last night, I saw Robyn at the Belly Up. There, I took the best picture I have ever taken at a concert (see below).

Unfortunately, I was standing next to the worst fifteen people I’ve ever encountered at a concert, but singing every Robyn lyric helped to distract me from them. My night of embarrassing idolization, one that I’ve been anticipating for quite some time, finally came and went, and thank the Swedes I got a good picture out of it. And a setlist. :)

tape that is red

We are just about ready to purchase salivary cortisol collection swabs from the company Salimetrics (yea…), and the total, including rush shipping, is probably going to be approximately $150 or so. If I needed to buy these swabs for my own personal use, I could probably just call the company and buy them. But since we are going to use them for the study I needed to call Dr. Knight’s assistant who e-mailed the study coordinator who asked the budget coordinator how to get money out of the account.

Dr. Knight has been able to expedite this process a little bit, but this is just one of many obstacles that has greatly slowed our progress. My experience with this project has been rewarding, indeed, but in ways other than what I expected. I thought all of the data was going to be collected by the time I left and that there was going to be a paper in the works. The world is not that fast, in fact it looks like this, especially when so many people have their hands on the wheel, and each of these individuals is trying to control a dozen or so wheels. I have learned so much from my literature accumulation/review that will help me in the future, but I also realized the great amount of work actually goes into developing a research study.

When I was discussing this was Dr. Knight today and she sensed the frustration in my voice, she looked at me with this look…this look that wanted to knock out my naiveté. Pretty sure it worked, as far as I know.


Today I went snorkeling off of La Jolla Cove with my cousin and I saw tons of fish whose names I will look up later, some kelp, and some reefy areas. We went into a cave that was absolutely gorgeous, and the limited light made the water this really excellent turquoise. But the highlight was swimming amidst sea lions, even though I balled my hands up into tight fists because I was afraid my fingers might be mistaken for a delicious lunch treat. It was kind of like this but instead viewed from above:

Even in water that was three feet deep, tons of fish were swimming around. These dinner-plateesque white and gray striped fish were in schools of about ten, winding in and out of waders’ legs. I was in this part of the Pacific two weeks ago, and had no idea of the animal diversity.

All of this is well and good, but I digress from my reason for posting. Our snorkel tour guide was this kid named Kevin, an ex-Navy diver who now leads snorkeling and scuba tours for San Diego Excellent Adventures. Quite the upgrade if you ask me. I told him what I’m doing in San Diego and after apologizing for changing the topic, he told me one of the coolest things ever that ended up not being a change in topic at all but instead an expansion of the topic.

He was leading a tour with this woman who would swim in the ocean all the time with those underwater headphones Olympians use during their hours of practice. (My cousin told me about this Olympian thing and all I can say is thank goodgollygosh that someone invented these things because can you imagine hours and hours and hours of only hearing own thoughts and the water splashing? I’d go crazy). Anyway, she had pretty eclectic tastes and would listen to a host of genres in the water. When she listened to rock or country or hip-hop or whatever, nothing weird would happen, but when she played jazz with high-pitched trumpets, dolphins would swim with her. DOLPHINS!

Although his phenomenon is not directly related to my research project here in San Diego, Ani and John do work with animals and their relationship to the music they hear and create. I cannot wait to tell them this tomorrow.

i made a poster

The NICU employs eight doctors, two fellows, a fluid (but moderately high) number of nurse practitioners (NNP), and over 150 nurses. The doctors, fellows, and NNPs all know why I’m always in the unit, but it is difficult to keep all of the nurses informed because there are so many. So, Dr. Knight had me make a poster with all of the information. I decided to make it super colorful and I had a lot of fun with it. Felt like art class.

administration of music

A large part of my time at NSI/Children’s thus far has involved creating the 30-minute stimuli material. Basically, I’ve listened to a lot of lullabies, chosen the ones that match qualifications set by prior research, performed some sound editing to equalize any abrupt volume changes (which are jarring for anyone, but especially babies), and sound tested them to ensure appropriate volume level.

Above is the brilliant Donald Hutson. He works on creating Brain-Based Devices for the Neurosciences Institute, but on the side, he is a master destroyer at BattleBots. Check his website here. He has a bot called Diesector – eek. On a lighter note, Donald engineered the lovely speaker system we are using to play music for the babies. The black thing coming out of the back of the speaker is actually a camera stand. A wire runs directly from the speaker to the iPod, so it doesn’t need any outside power. As long as the iPod is charged, the babies’ll hear music. This picture shows the iPod securely connected to the pole, but it took some finagling and brainstorming to get it to that point.

Donald attached one of those plastic snap-clasps (I just made up that name) to the iPod with adhesive foam tape. He then secured it with a zip tie, and we put it on the pole. It was a little loose, and I wanted to make sure that I would be able to see the screen at all times, so he added one thin layer of black duct tape. This added the perfect amount of traction and extra circumference for a snug fit around the pole.

The process of sound testing involved latching the speaker onto a chair in the conference room at NSI so the sound would project about one foot from the end of the sound level meter. This emulated the conditions of the speaker over a baby’s head. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the appropriate maximum sound level for prolonged exposure for an infant is 70-75 dB, so I had to first test each song for its existing dB level and then adjust accordingly.

This entire process is done, with the finalized lullaby playlist on both iPods we have designated for the study. This week at the hospital, the nurses are getting officially informed about the study and hopefully early next week, I will finally start the music administration we’ve all been waiting for!

I’ll leave you all with just a few robot-themed songs I enjoy.

Remnants of my however-modest presence in the NJSKA scene:

I wish I could find the Japanese version on YouTube but I failed:

I’ve told the world this approx. a billion times, but I’m seeing Robyn on the 22nd:

Fave remix (of this song) of the week. I feel like everyone tries to rmx this, and luckily most of them do a great job with it:

knowing a city

I saw the magician the other day, which felt like seeing a crush after a night of gushing at a sleep over. This feeling was exasperated by the condition that led me to see him: a 5.9 earthquake that was powerful enough to shake some books off of shelves and paintings off of walls. Second earthquake down, hopefully none more to go.

Anyway, I saw CocoRosie play at the Belly Up on July 1st. I realized approximately six hours before the show that I didn’t have their newest album, so I promptly got it and listened through a few times to ready myself for what I expected to be the majority of their show. It was, and I’m glad I familiarized myself with the material, however vague the familiarity was. The first song I heard from the album was “Lemonade;” I downloaded it back in April or May I think but failed to follow up with the rest of the CD. The song starts pretty slow but it has a nice balance between the voices of the sisters and was great live.

Regardless of my knowledge of the music, attending this show did wonders for my comfort level in San Diego. The entertainment was a good conversation starter (beat boxer, Joaquin Phoenix look-alike drummer, inspired by opera, raspy voice coming from chick wearing Iron Maiden basketball shorts), and start conversations I did. It was great to mingle with the 20-somethings in SD who had a similar interest in weird music, music that is barely listenable at times. I love how going to a concert ensures that you have at least one thing in common with everyone in the room. Of course, sometimes there is that group of high schoolers or that creepy loner in the back with whom you’d prefer not to share traits and preferences, but it is an overall comforting experience.

Ughhh, I just found out that on July 2nd, they played in LA with Busdriver! Busdriver is actually one of the most talented hip-hop artists I have ever encountered. I had the pleasure of seeing him live twice, both times in Philly, and I definitely loved Philly a little more each time for the amount of audience enthusiasm. A couple entries back I talked about the ability of DJs to gauge their audience and manipulate them. Well, Busdriver doesn’t even need to gauge the audience first – he just ambushes them, and the ambush is welcome. See below:

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