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Evan Masseau Class of ’11

Graduation Year: 2011

Job Title: Research Fellow at NIMH (moving to an internship in web development in August)

Current City: Washington, DC (about to move to NYC in August)

Current Job Description: I assist with behavioral neuroscience research in a laboratory studying memory and cognition in non-human primates (rhesus macaques).

PCI Programs: I had a studio in the Old Stone Mill Annex for a year and a summer, where I worked on science-inspired art projects. I also participated in the MiddSTART funding program, and received a Stonehenge grant, both sources of funding went toward a project that I worked on in the Old Stone Mill and completed the summer after graduation. I made a large-scale illustration of the human brain in 3-D. It consisted of cross sections of the brain etched on to plexiglass, which, when lit from the edges by LED lights, glowed. The purpose was to make a gallery installation that gave the viewer an immersive experience—like walking through the brain. The effect is difficult to convey without photographs, so to see more, please visit www.evancmasseau.com.

What do you do on a daily basis at your job/project?

My primary responsibilities are data collection and analysis. We test rhesus macaques’ abilities to learn and perform a variety of behavioral tasks that test their memory, visual acuity, or cognitive skills. For example, we’ve tested their ability to learn to distinguish photographs of cats from dogs, in order to test how well they can understand abstract categories. Furthermore, we are testing which areas of the brain underlie the skill of categorization. My responsibilities include handling the monkeys, testing them on the tasks we develop for them, and subsequently analyzing the data with statistical software such as MATLAB.

Describe your work environment (independent research, working in groups or teams, etc.)

I work in a small team of 3-5 researchers. I work most closely with two post-docs, and also frequently share and discuss data with the head of our lab.

Are you pursuing any other projects? (taking a class, volunteering, teaching yourself a new skill, training your puppy, etc.)

Outside of work I’m currently focused on learning several programming languages (HTML, PHP, CSS, Javascript and Ruby) in order to write software for the web. This was an interest that started from my work at NIH, because most of the monkeys’ behavioral tasks are computer based, and so I’ve had to learn to write code to make new tasks for the monkeys. I enjoyed learning to code, so I decided to extend that and learn some other languages that have more practical applications. So far I’ve mainly learned by reading, experimenting, and watching tutorials. In August I will be working as an intern at a small web software startup where I expect to learn more by doing.

I am also focused on improving my artwork and drawing skills, and I spend a good deal of time drawing from still lifes or during open figure drawing sessions in DC. I am interested in pursuing a degree in Medical Illustration, and so I’m working on my application portfolio for those schools.

How did you get involved in PCI as a student?

My involvement began through the Old Stone Mill. I came up with my idea for the Brain in Lights (described above) after an art class one day. Since class was almost over, I needed a place to work on the project and develop the idea. Incidentally, an all-campus email went out around the same time describing the Old Stone Mill and calling for new submissions, so I decided to apply. I was given a space in the Annex for the summer of 2010 (I was on campus to do research in Bi Hall), and I spend the summer experimenting with methods for etching glass or plexiglass and generally developing the idea. I also got to know other OSM students, and Liz Robinson, who encouraged me to get funding through MiddStart and later the Stonehenge grants once I needed funding for materials.

What did you learn from your PCI involvement?

Being involved with PCI, particularly the Brain in Lights project, gave me the space and freedom to fully explore a creative idea and make it a reality. Aside from helping the make that vision a reality, my PCI experience taught me to always pursue a good idea, even if it doesn’t seem feasible right away.

Which of those things do you think about the context of your current job/class/life?

I’m not sure I understand this question.

In terms of how my PCI experience affects my life now, I think that since working in the OSM I’ve had a much stronger tendency to experiment with new projects and random creative ideas. Quite often when I’m struck with the inspiration to create something or try a new project, I will actually follow through. I think that persistence and willingness to try something new was fostered by my experiences with PCI.

How did your experience with PCI fit in with your larger Middlebury experience and education?

Working in my OSM studio gave me an outlet to experiment independently with ideas I would have in classes but had no formal academic outlet to explore through assignments. True, I probably could have had many of the same experiences without an institution like OSM, but I think that having a specific entity, and having a separate space to work, gave me some external encouragement and helped to push me to follow through.

What are some unexpected challenges you’ve had in your post-graduation pursuits? (or your current job) What are some pleasant surprises?

I think the biggest surprise/challenge has been discovering that science and research, the career path I was most interested in since early high school, was not as interesting to me once I was fully immersed in it. However, while it was slightly discouraging to feel that I may not want to pursue a career directly related to my college major, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I can still teach myself new skills and work on new projects to expand my skill set and hopefully explore some other career options.

Where do you see yourself going in the future (back to school, to another location, staying at your current company, etc)

At the end of July I’m moving to August to intern with a web development company, I hope to learn about web design and software development there. I also intend to continue with my artistic and creative projects either through work or on my own time. I hope to go back to school to get a master’s degree in Medical or Scientific illustration within another year or two. After school I hope to find work that will allow me to continue to exercise my creativity and scientific mind.

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