Triangle Talks: Tell me about your custom-designed major.
Leah Friedman: I’m a custom-designed major in neuroscience—I’m actually playing with maybe calling it cognitive neuroscience? I’m more interested in the cognition aspect of neuro than the cellular and molecular. But, for now we’ll just call it neuroscience. It’s a combination of psychology courses, biology courses, all the basic sciences and some computer science. I’m trying to find ways to include the cognitive aspect of things more into my curriculum or do it through extracurricular somehow, like lab work.
TT: Speaking of lab work, you participated in the Students Tackling Advanced Research Program this past summer at Drexel. What did you research there and how did that research apply to your major?
LF: What I did through STAR was a lot of psycholinguistics kind of work. So basically the study presented a bunch of pictures and asked participants to produce a one word name for each picture. We looked at how the type of picture presented affected the word people chose to use and how long it took them to produce a name for each picture. I’m not as interested in the linguistics aspect but it was a great introduction to neuroscience. Right now I am doing more semantic memory work. It deals with how features are represented and what portions of our minds hold that information and integrate that knowledge when we try to name pictures, rather than focus on the words themselves.
TT: Why did you choose to be a neuroscience custom-designed major?
LF: I guess I’ll give you the story of how I landed on neuroscience as my major when I was in high school. I choreographed a bit and this convoluted thought process led me to neuroscience when I was working on a piece one day. I was like, hey, I wonder what would happen if I just took away the music? Or changed it completely? What kind of effect does the music have on the perception of the piece? That would be a cool research project! Then I was like, oh that’s a neuro thing to study—how we perceive things differently depending on surrounding sounds. That led me to thinking neuro was cool and now, more broadly I’m a neuroscience major. So, dance is what got me into neuro. At some point in my life I want to combine dance and neuroscience. And I still really want to do that initial question as like a senior research thesis, or something.
TT: What do you do for fun outside of your major?
LF: Dance. I dance with the Apprentice Company of Philadanco, which is a local company for modern and contemporary dance for the most part. I do some jazz and take classes in ballet so that’s like 15 hours a week of my time outside of classes. I’m also vice president of the Neuroscience Society of Drexel University now, so that’s pretty fun. And something that’s been recently happening that I’m pretty excited about is this event series that I’m trying to develop. I took a class over the summer on popular science which culminated in organizing these two panel talks on philosophical topics approached from scientific perspectives.
TT: Were you initially trained as a ballerina?
LF: Yes, I was classically trained in ballet since age three or four up through the end of high school, basically. I did more modern near the end of high school, but it was still at a ballet studio. That’s still very much ingrained in me. It’s weird because I was the modern girl there but at my current company I’m like the classically trained ballet dancer rather than hip-hop or jazz, which a lot of the girls are great at. I’m like, I can do it, but I don’t have swag sometimes, I’m still working on the swag that’s associated with hip-hop.
TT: What’s your favorite dance influence?
LF: His name is Jiri Kylian. He was the resident choreographer for Nederland’s Dans Theater, which would be a dream company if I was good enough and not doing school and dance full time. Just all of his work is beautiful and he finds this balance of being funny, elegant and super quirky but gorgeous at the same time. That is what got me into choreography. It kind of inspired me to do more modern than ballet.
TT: Do you have any other hobbies besides dance that you enjoy?
LF: Cooking. I do like to cook. I wish I had more time for it. I had a food blog when I was in my sophomore or junior year of high school that I was super into. That part of me is still alive and trying to thrive, but not really thriving. It’s so hard to get fresh fruits, or fresh anything. I like cooking fish, but fish at Trader Joe’s is more expensive than rent…