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This is Nothing to Snore Over!


Mount Student Researchers Win First Place for Research in Insomnia at Sigma Xi IFoRE Conference

The Mount’s Division of Natural Sciences is proud to share that two undergraduate student researchers, Shamsa Roshan ’24 and Brianna Toyloy ’24 won first place for their project, titled “Gating and Timing of Peripheral Autonomic Sympathetic Arousals and Cortical EEG Arousals in Humans,” at this year’s Sigma Xi International Forum on Research Excellence (IFoRE).

The conference, which was held from November 10-12 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California, is an annual three-day conference that welcomes scientists from across the country, including professionals, graduate students, undergraduate students, and administrators—just to name a few. Attendees gain the opportunity to participate in discussions and demonstrations all based in the field of science research. Conference-goers present, connect, and collaborate with peers through various symposia, panel discussions, workshops, presentations, tutorials, and networking events.

Shamsa and Brianna participated in the Student Research Poster session as part of the Physiology and Immunology group.

Both young ladies are seniors at the Mount, and are extremely grateful for the opportunity to not only present at this year’s Sigma Xi IFoRE conference, but to win first place! Shamsa is a biology major with a minor in computation and coding hailing from the Bronx, NY. Brianna is also a biology major and is originally from Yonkers, NY.

When asked about what made them each interested in science research, they shared:

“Since high school, science has been my favorite subject,” reflected Shamsa. “My interest in research increased as I began to take upper-level science classes like Developmental Biology, Systemic Physiology, and Immunology. Then, towards the end of my sophomore year, I spoke with one of the Mount’s science faculty members about my interests and asked if I could participate in her current research project. After hearing from more faculty members about their experiences, and by participating in multiple research projects on campus, it became clearer for me that being in the lab is something that I enjoy the most and I want to pursue it in graduate school.”

Brianna had a similar experience:

“In high school, I wasn’t really exposed to a real lab environment—only simple experiments that my teachers would perform and I was left to watch from a distance,” Brianna noted. “So, when I got to college and started taking biology classes where we had to do real lab experiments on our own, I absolutely loved it. As I advanced in my studies, I got the opportunity to work on a research project that was substituted for a lab class, and that was my first real feel of what research was like. That experience inspired me to want to work on other research projects.”

Shamsa and Brianna are both NSF S-STEM scholars. This particular scholarship is sponsored through a grant from the National Science Foundation, and provides low-income students with high potential the opportunity to pursue successful careers in promising STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The Mount has been awarded two rounds of the grant since 2012.

“The NSF S-STEM grant has been an opportunity for our students to gain scientific literacy, professional development and research experience,” noted Professor of Chemistry and Director for the Division of Natural Sciences Pamela Kerrigan, PhD. Dr. Kerrigan also serves as the NSF S-STEM project leader at the Mount. “The grant has allowed Mount Saint Vincent students to attend professional conferences and present their research projects at a national level. Brianna and Shamsa’s success at the Sigma Xi IFoRE conference afforded them immediate induction into Sigma Xi, the National Research Honor Society. At this meeting, they were able to observe many professional presentations, including Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Frances Arnold.”

Participating in the NSF S-STEM grant has afforded both Shamsa and Brianna the opportunity to focus on their research aspirations.

“Being an NSF S-STEM scholar motivates me to further improve my academic performance,” explained Shamsa. “The NSF scholarship has played a significant role in who I am as a student because it acknowledges my performance as a STEM student and provides me with opportunities that can help me enhance my undergraduate experience. In addition, the NSF scholarship aided in lowering my financial burden and supported me financially over Winter Break as I was conducting research.”

Together with Professor of Biology Ana Ribeiro, PhD, Shamsa and Brianna have been conducting research to determine if there is an evident pattern that can be seen in the sympathetic nervous system of insomniacs that could give professionals a proper way to diagnose the disease and, possibly, find a way to treat it. The research team observed peripheral and cortical arousals throughout the night in insomniacs and compared them to normal sleepers. On a total of 17 subjects, cortical and peripheral arousals were recorded using a Watch-PAT and a polysomnography, and Shamsa and Brianna were responsible for grouping and sorting through the data for it to be statistically analyzed.

The research team had weekly meetings to evaluate data, looking to see if an increase in the insomnia severity index for each subject is correlated to increases in sympathetic tone during the night. In sum, it was found that the number of cortical arousals and peripheral arousals in insomniacs was significantly higher in comparison to good sleepers. In addition, the occurrence pattern of the arousals was dysregulated, suggesting that, since insomniacs are continuously being disturbed by peripheral activation throughout the night, it interferes with signaling between the central and peripheral nervous system.

Now, that’s nothing to snore over!

When it came time to prepare to present their research at the Sigma Xi conference, Shamsa and Brianna knew they had a lot of work to do.

“In the weeks leading up to the conference, I reviewed a script of what I would say when presenting,” Brianna recalled. “The day before we left, Shamsa and I had a rehearsal with our mentor, Dr. Ribeiro, and she gave us tips on what we should say, how to respond to questions if we didn’t know the answer, different analogies we could use to further drive our points, and even words of encouragement. The night before our presentation, Shamsa and I rehearsed with each other and discussed which parts we would each share. We then did one last rehearsal with Dr. Kerrigan on the morning of the presentation.”

Two judges came to hear Shamsa and Brianna present. Their presentation was last in the group, so they had to wait patiently, which allowed them to review the other presenters’ posters and practice some more. In total, they had less than ten minutes to present their research to each judge and guest.

When they found out that they were awarded first place, Shamsa and Brianna were in disbelief.

“It was very overwhelming when we heard that our presentation won first place in our discipline because there were several other outstanding posters,” shared Shamsa. “I was surprised, as well as excited, to inform my parents, my sister, and my mentor—who have been very supportive and encouraging throughout my academics.”

“I was proud of myself for the presentation—and then actually coming first for it, as well as getting inducted into Sigma Xi in front of established scientists, was mind blowing,” noted Brianna. “To this day, I still can’t believe it happened!”

Dr. Ribeiro shared a few words on how proud she was and continues to be of Shamsa and Brianna’s efforts:

“It is an absolute pleasure to see Shamsa and Brianna being recognized for their important research into the neurobiological underpinnings of insomnia,” said Dr. Ribeiro. “I have been their professor since they were freshmen, and it is remarkable to see growth in knowledge and maturity of these two students. It is an honor to be involved in their intellectual journey, in their professional development, and also helping to ease the financial burden of an exceptional Mount education to two very deserving students.”

We couldn’t have put it better if we tried, Dr. Ribeiro. Shamsa and Brianna, the entire Mount community congratulates you on your first prize win!

About the University of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the University of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary for lives of achievement, professional accomplishment and leadership in the 21st century.