Growing up in Las Vegas, Solena Mednicoff trained to be a classical pianist with plans to perform at the highest level. Along the way, she developed an equal passion for science. She combined the two as an undergrad at the University of Nevada, Reno where she earned a bachelor’s in neuroscience and minor in piano performance. She then applied and was accepted to UCI’s highly ranked graduate program in cognitive sciences where she’s pursued research on how music affects the human brain.

“As someone who is interested in music and auditory research, it was valuable to me to learn that there was more than one professor, as well as an entire Center for Hearing Research, dedicated to auditory and hearing research on campus,” she says.

Her work, which has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative and Center for Hearing Research, has resulted in a publication in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America with another on the way.

For her dissertation, she’s solidifying a test that can quickly assess musical aptitude, regardless of how much musical training or practice a person has.

“My research has shown that 70% of people - including many musicians with 10+ years of training - cannot tell the difference between certain musical sequences that are central to the meaning of music, and that 30% of people can tell these sequences apart like night and day,” she says.

If the test proves to be good assessment measure, she says its application could help aspiring musicians target their practice accordingly.

Another area of interest she has is in how sounds affect people differently. “There’s a group of people where certain sounds can ‘drive them crazy,’ and I really want to understand the neurological basis of this perception, or misperception,” she says.

The disorder - misophonia, where a certain sound triggers a (usually negative) emotional or physiological response that may be perceived as unreasonable given the circumstance – is something she’ll be exploring further as a postdoctoral researcher at UNLV.

As she reflects on her academic journey thus far, Mednicoff is extremely grateful for her mentors – most notably UCI cognitive sciences professor Emily Grossman.

“She’s been a huge mentor and role model through my graduate degree. I would not have been able to complete the final chapter of my dissertation without her mentorship and guidance, as she has been invaluable in helping and guiding me over the hurdles of graduate school,” Mednicoff says. “She is truly someone who will take the needed time and energy to help and plan your graduate journey and beyond, which really highlights how much she cares.”

“As someone who trained as a professional classical musician, I never thought I would be pursuing research and science in this way, and ultimately seeing how my research can help and affect people in the long run is incredibly rewarding.”

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