Friday, December 3, 2010

Graduate Student of the Month: Francisco Parada

Francisco Parada
Neuroscience and Psychology
December 2010

If you were to visit Francisco Parada in the Imaging Research Facility lab, you wouldn’t see his desk at first. Instead, you’d see scattered papers, a computer, water bottles, balloons from his birthday a few weeks ago, and musical instruments propped underneath. Compared to the other students in the lab, it’s a little messy, and he’s the first to admit it. But sit down and speak with Parada about his research and it’s clear that he not only knows how to pull information buried in piles on his desk, but also pull information hidden within our brains.

Neuroscience Doctoral Student Francisco Parada
Parada is currently a graduate student in Neuroscience and Psychology in Dr. Aina Puce’s lab, but he didn’t start out wanting to become a scientist.

“For most of my life, I was a musician more than a scientist. I started studying music when I was fifteen in Chile, and I spent more than ten years there doing music,” he said. At his Dad’s request, Parada switched gears to study psychology at the university when he was eighteen but continued a 'double life' until he was twenty one. Psychology in Chile is similar to psychology here in the 1950's or 1970s, Parada said, where researchers are debating if it should be considered a science or not; because the focus is mainly clinical and based on psychoanalysis.

“It didn’t hold my attention, but it also wasn’t interfering with my career as a musician so I kept doing it. Eventually I got to my first neuroscience class -- and it was a milestone.”

His enthusiasm for neuroscience led him to a spot as a teaching assistant for a neuroscience class one hour a week. After two years, the department gave him his own section of the class to teach.

“I was really excited about neuroscience and science in general, but in Chile, it seemed like a dream, that it wasn’t possible for me. The science groups in Chile are really small and why would they pick me when there are kids who were working on this stuff from early on and I had a late interest in this. So I gave it a shot and decided to apply to a MA degree in Chile. Just to see how it goes. Since I was a musician already, I wasn’t worried about stability,” he said.

The scientific community in the MA program was good for Parada. He spent a lot of time in the lab and that’s where he discovered electroencephalography (EEG), a method of measuring brain waves by putting electrodes on the skin to measure brain activity.

Electroencephalography (EEG) equipment
“It’s an older technique,” he said, “but it was mind blowing. You can use it to measure the brain directly and associate brain activity with cognitive processes.”

Parada knew that if he wanted to continue to work in neuroscience he would eventually have to leave Chile and start a Ph.D. program in the U.S. or Europe. Because of his experience with the EEG, he eventually connected with Dr. Tom Busey at IU, who offered him a position in his lab as a manager working with undergraduates completing honors theses. Parada also worked with Dr. Busey and his collaborators to develop an open source eye tracking system, another method to measure gaze activity in the brain. With Dr. Busey's support, Parada became a doctoral student at IU.

Developing an open source eye tracker is a huge break through, Parada said. “Usually the cheapest one is maybe $60,000, which is a lot. The principle itself is not that complicated, in the sense that it uses math to calculate where you’re looking with good accuracy.” Parada and Busey's version requires two cameras and the eye tracking program, which can be downloaded from the internet (, all of which Parada estimates might cost around $300 shopping online.

Currently Parada is collaborating with a graduate student in the Art Department who doesn’t have the money to buy an eye tracker, but who would like to collect data from subjects to figure out what parts of his artwork are most attractive in the hope this will help improve his artwork. Open source also means eye trackers could be used in schools, sports, and other educational settings in ways that have been cost-prohibitive before.

What really blows the mind, however, is what Parada is working on now.

With the help of Dr. Busey, he wrote routines that allow two opposing methods to work together to create eye-tracker-guided-EEG. This allows a researcher to measure brain waves while a person is engaged in self-paced, everyday activities, which is not how it's always been.

“These techniques do not play well together,” said Dr. Puce,. his adviser, “they are like putting a cat and a dog in a bag together. It’s groundbreaking work.”

The EEG connects a hat made from linked together electrodes - it looks like high tech chain mail - with a machine to boost the tiny electric signals coming from the brain, and feeds them into a computer.

“When you measure brain waves from the outside (like with an EEG), because the waves are so small, the skin, skull, and liquid around the brain filters out the waves. Eyes are like batteries. Move your eyes and you send electric waves all over skull and they wash out your data. In EEG, the first thing you tell a subject is to hold still and don’t move your eyes. This leads to really boring tasks,” Parada said.

“What I did was combine the EEG with the eye tracker, which introduces a lot of noise to the brainwaves measured by the EEG. Then we figured out a way to remove the electric signal of the eye movement from the EEG data in order to recover the brainwave data. It’s a method that allows you to do more naturalistic stuff,” he said.

For example, Parada is collaborating with a graduate student at the Stone Age Institute studying stone tool making in hominids and early humans. Making stone tools requires fast decision making (and lots of eye movement) because the subject must hit one stone with another stone in precise movements.

Parada performing with his band
“Using an MRI to scan the brain has been used for this kind of research, but is too slow for the kind of question that the Stone Age Institute group is asking; but the EEG is fast, it can do the job. You can look at data with resolution of milliseconds,” Parada said. “Using the new analytical method, we should be able to connect the subject to an EEG and an eye tracker, have the subject make a tool and see brain waves in real time, while doing real tasks. Theoretically this should work; it currently works in the computer. The next step is getting it to work in the real world.”

Parada may have had a non-traditional route to neuroscience, and he still writes music for a 5-piece Nüjazz/Zeuhl combo (, but he thinks he might have found his place in science.

“I wasn't the nerd in the class or the guy with the best grades, but science is perhaps the best place for someone like me. I can be unorganized, or work odd hours, but if I get things done and I innovate, I'm might do a good job as a scientist after all. It’s a perfect fit for me.”

Media Contact: Erika Lee, Director of Communications, The University Graduate School,

The Graduate and Professional Student Organization and the University Graduate School would like to congratulate Francisco Parada on receiving the GPSO/UGS Recognition Award. Students selected for this award were nominated by a faculty member from within their department, and selected by the GPSO and UGS for excellence in their graduate studies at Indiana University.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dean Wimbush Interviewed for the Chronicle of Higher Education

The University Graduate School Dean James C. Wimbush was interviewed for an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday while attending the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C. Read his thoughts on learning outcomes in graduate education below.

Measurement of ‘Learning Outcomes’ Comes to Graduate School

December 1, 2010, 3:34 pm
By David Glenn

Graduate-level programs were once relatively immune from pressure to define and measure “learning outcomes” for their students. But for good or ill, the student-learning-assessment movement has begun to migrate from the undergraduate world into master’s and doctoral programs. (At some institutions, there is even talk of defining a set of “foundational outcomes” for all graduate students—that is, a set of learning goals that would be analogous to general-education goals for undergraduates.)

On Wednesday morning, as the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools got under way in Washington, three graduate deans led a workshop on assessing graduate students’ learning and using such assessments to improve programs.

Formal assessment for improvement, they said, is more useful and less painful than many faculty members believe. (And in any case, accreditors are insisting on it.)

The three deans sat down for an interview after the workshop.

Q. In doctoral programs with intense mentor-apprentice relationships, the idea of establishing rubrics and other lists of learning outcomes might seem off-key. If I’m a senior professor of comparative literature and I’ve supervised 30 dissertations during my career, I probably know in my bones what successful learning in my program looks like. Why should I be asked to write out point-by-point lists of the skills and learning outcomes that my students should possess?

Charles Caramello, associate provost for academic affairs and dean of the graduate school at the University of Maryland: If you write out lists of learning outcomes, you’re making the invisible visible. That’s really my answer. We’ve all internalized these standards. They’re largely invisible to us. Assessment brings them out into visibility, and therefore gives them a history.

William R. Wiener, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school at Marquette University, who is currently dean in residence at the Council of Graduate Schools: There’s no way to aggregate and to learn unless you’ve got some common instruments. By having common instruments, we can see patterns that we couldn’t see before.

James C. Wimbush, dean of the University Graduate School at Indiana University: Part of the story has to do with the external enviroment. Because of the decrease in funding for state institutions, because of political pressures from state legislators, we are forced to be much more accountable. Our boards of trustees now are looking for more accountability. They don’t necessarily say, “We want to make sure that you’re doing assessments of graduate programs.” But they’re questioning, Do we have too many graduate programs? We have to do a better job of being accountable for how we use our resources from the state and elsewhere. Assessment is one of the ways of doing that.

To read more:

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Getting You Into IU" Brings Potential Graduate Students to IU

In October, IU hosted 21 underrepresented minority PhD prospects from around the country for a pre-application visit called Getting You Into IU (GU2IU). The students were selected from a pool of more than 200 applicants and came from either the natural sciences, technology and mathematics, or the social, behavioral and economic sciences disciplines.

Each GU2IU visitor receives a personalized itinerary created in partnership by the graduate program and the University Graduate School. Visitors met with IUB faculty and current graduate students, visited research centers and laboratory facilities, attended classes in their discipline, received information about application for PhD admission and funding opportunities, and visited the Bloomington community.

One applicant wrote “The faculty and staff were great. Everyone was prepared to talk with me, was eager to share their part of IU and truly loved what they were doing. Their enthusiasm was infectious! After visiting it is hard to imagine going anywhere else.”

Getting You Into IU was created in 2007 by Dr. Yolanda Treviño, Director of the IU AGEP program and Assistant Dean of the University Graduate School. The program is underwritten by the President’s Diversity Initiative and coordinated by the University Graduate School.

Winter Commencement Caps and Gowns Available for Order from IU Bookstore IMU

Winter Commencement 2010

Rental Charges
  • Bachelor’s and Associate’s apparel: $98.75
  • Master’s apparel: $108.85
  • Indiana's 7 percent sales tax will be added to these charges.
  • Associate and bachelor's degree candidates have the option of purchasing additional stoles of gratitude for $22.65 each plus Indiana sales tax of 7 percent.

Bookstore Orders: Nov. 23-Dec. 15

From Nov. 23 through Dec. 15, graduates must order caps and gowns at the IU Bookstore in the IMU. Go to the clothing service counter on the second floor.

Students may also call the bookstore at (812) 855-0547 but should realize that it is a very busy line and they are apt to encounter voice mail. Calls are generally returned within 24 to 36 hours.

Those who do not order by Dec. 15 must wait until Commencement Day when any remaining caps and gowns will be available for rental on a first-come, first-served basis. Availability is not guaranteed.

Picking Up Your Cap and Gown on Dec. 15, 16 and 17

Caps and gowns will be available for pickup from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Georgian Room on the second floor of Indiana Memorial Union.

For more information on caps and gowns, Winter Commencement and commencement in general: