My name is Rahma Osman, and I am a rising junior at Penn, majoring in neuroscience and minoring in computational neuroscience and consumer psychology. Through STEER, I was given the opportunity to learn about my environmental surroundings and how it shapes human health in addition to the vital role we play in shaping our environment.
What is your summer research project?
This Summer, I worked with Dr. Jianghong Liu at the School of Nursing to conduct a systematic review on the overlap between air pollution and cortical thickness outcomes. This project required conducting large scale literature searches and collation of data into tables and figures. By examining different journals and databases, I was able to come up with inclusion/ exclusion criteria for studies to conduct a review on. Through this process, I learned about individual study findings, but more importantly about the literature search process. For example, what can qualify a systematic review for a meta-analysis or how findings can differ across populations and geographical locations.
After spending a couple weeks of conducting literature searches to examine already existing data, I was able to find some gaps in research for which I proceeded to identify the pros and cons of what a systematic review can contribute. I decided to focus on changes in cortical thickness, examined through magnetic resonance imaging as a response to air pollution exposures. With an increase in newer brain imaging techniques and technologies, I saw this topic as something that required a review and analysis of data to determine if previous studies have had similar conclusions.
What are the Implications of your research?
The overall purpose of my research is to determine whether there are changes in cortical thickness with an increase in air pollutant exposures. Cortical thickness is an important measure for understanding the progression of disease, identifying abnormal brain regions, and consequently, assessing possible treatment options. It’s important to note that structural manifestations to changes in our environment can serve as solid evidence for policy makers and politicians to respond to. With increasing research regarding such topics, we can raise awareness and evidence for a much needed change towards a greener earth.
What new skills have you gained through your research?
This summer I’ve gained a skill set that I will continue to use in the coming years. Conducting literature searches can be a strenuous and stressful process that doesn’t always lead to the outcome one expects. Dealing with lots of bumps in the road, I’ve learned how to conduct literature searches and assess criteria, how to analyze and synthesize sources into a comprehensible paper, and how to communicate effectively with a team. Performing research requires reading and analytical skills, but also lots of organization and time management, which was definitely a challenge for me coming into the program. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with distinguished scientists and educators through STEER. I was able to learn and practice vital literature skills, be more aware of my environment, and learn how we can all participate in environmental change in our communities.