“I don't know of any computers where the connections pull themselves apart and rewire depending on what’s happening in the outside world.”
People often think of the brain as being like a computer. But that's not the way psychology professor Meg Upchurch sees it.
"With a brain, while you sit in class learning, your neurons are restructuring their connections. Imagine little tips of cells writhing around, touching, pulling apart, choosing different connections, literally physically creating new memories and altering old ones. I think it's incredible that by the time my students leave a class, their brains are literally different than when they walked in the door."
Upchurch, a behavioral pharmacologist with an interest in aging, cognition, and drug effects, "loves" it when her students get as excited as she gets about the brain and the "weird and wonderful" things it does. (Actually, everything the brain does is weird and wonderful, she maintains.)
She also loves being a teacher, especially at Transylvania, where a liberal education "helps our students think of making connections that others may not consider. They can more easily see the bigger picture and some of the social and ethical implications of their work," she says.
Upchurch enjoys working with students one on one, either because they want to do research or explore a special topic or because they are struggling and need individual attention. "Either way," she says, "it is rewarding to watch the students begin to understand material at a new, deeper level."
Upchurch has taught a variety of courses, including General Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Readings in Biopsychology. She is also highly involved in research and currently is in the early stages of examining learning abnormalities in inbred mice with brain development similar to that of autistic individuals.
When she's not teaching or conducting research, she's probably pursuing her other great interest: dressage riding. She currently is training a young mare not only for her own pleasure, but also to acquire the qualifications needed to go through a training program for dressage instructors.