Craziest, Weirdest, Most Dangerous - Don't Lose Your Head

Sometimes our head gets the best of us, causing us to panic, hallucinate, or give us pause about what is happening. This mini episode of Craziest, Weirdest, and Most Dangerous is all about those moments where our thoughts and even dreams have created a hiccup in our study process. We feature Valerie Stampley and Heidi Novokowski and when their wondering minds resulted in some exciting moments. (Transcript below.)

Listen to the full episode below, and subscribe to LSU Experimental on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn or anywhere you get your podcasts.

LSU Experimental is a podcast series that shares the research and the “behind the scenes” stories of LSU faculty, student, and alumni investigators across the disciplines. Listen and learn about the exciting topics of study and the individuals posing the questions. Each episode is recorded and produced in CxC Studio 151 on the campus of Louisiana State University, and is supported by LSU Communication across the Curriculum and LSU College of Science. LSU Experimental is hosted by Dr. Becky Carmichael and edited by Kyle Sirovy.


Becky Carmichael  0:00  

This is LSU Experimental where we explore exciting research occurring at the Louisiana State University and learn about the individuals posing the questions. I'm Becky Carmichael. Sometimes our heads get the best of us, causing us to panic, hallucinate or even give us pause about what is happening. This minisode of Craziest, Weirdest and Most Dangerous is all about those moments where our thoughts and even dreams have created a hiccup in our study process. We feature Valerie Stampley and Heidi Nowakowski, when they're wandering minds resulted in some exciting moments.

Kyle Sirovy  0:41  

Hey, Becky, how are you doing? You ready to do another craziest, weirdest and most dangerous episode?

Becky Carmichael  0:47  

I absolutely am. I am having a wonderful time. Thinking back to the conversations that we've had with some of our guests, and reliving those moments that were just unexpected, and, and really surprising from the things that they revealed. So this, this particular episode, we have titled as Don't Lose Your Head. And I really think that we've captured at least two guests that had two moments where there was some literal head loss. So in your experience, in your time, has there been a moment where you really had to not lose your head in the situation and keep centered?

Kyle Sirovy  1:43  

Yeah, I mean, nothing, nothing as crazy as what we're about to share with our two guests. But I definitely have had the common grad school experience of ... I said that I was going to present at this conference. And I said here was my talk is going to be about and I promise you, I will have data on this. And that data ended up coming in at about 2 a.m. the day of the talk. And so this is my very first presentation I've ever given in my entire life. And so I was sweating through two shirts, and literally like near hyperventilating. And I was the fourth talk that day. So it was like an 8 a.m. talk. I'm there at 7 a.m. I have to wait for everyone to go. They're all doing really good. And I'm just so nervous. Because this is like some of the first times I've ever even heard some of the words. And I'm going to have to go give you know, a 10 to 15 minute talk explaining something that I just tried to make sense of at three in the morning for the first time.

Becky Carmichael  2:43  

My God, had you stayed up that whole time waiting for this data to come in? Or did you try to get some sleep?

Kyle Sirovy  2:49  


And it ended up being like a whole my whole lab all participated. We all end up finishing a bottle of Maker's Mark whiskey and analyzing all this data as a whole group. And then they try to explain this to me so I'd give a talk. And so they're all they're rooting me on. But all of a sudden, I mean, I was so bundle of nerves, and then a channel of energy where I just delivered this really solid talk. I am in no way religious, but I swear I took on the persona of someone who could give a talk all of a sudden, and it was by divine ...

Becky Carmichael  3:24  


Kyle Sirovy  3:25  

I don't know where it came from. But it was amazing. 

Becky Carmichael  3:28  

Oh my gosh.

Kyle Sirovy  3:29  

So I was really proud of myself that I was able to like, in the moment, I was able to ground myself just enough even though I had sweated so much that I was nervous. Everyone could probably see that and ...

Becky Carmichael  3:42  

They could probably smell the Maker's Mark, like coming oozing out of every pore.

Kyle Sirovy  3:47  

Yeah, exactly.

Becky Carmichael  3:48  

Well, there, there was a paper a couple of years ago that talks about, you know, great ideas happen in science around some beer together. So you know, I think any kind of adult beverage potentially that that can be true. I could be wrong. So what conference was this do you or do you care to share?

Kyle Sirovy  4:09  

It was SICB. This is Society of integrative and comparative biologists. And so we've got all these people coming that I had you know, Morgan was like this your first chance to make these impressions on these new labs that you're going to have, you know, further relations and collaborations with and so my nerves I mean, I've just have never been higher. But honestly, that speaks to our two guests and I don't know if you wanted to share. Was there a time before we launch into them where you really had to keep your cool or like not lose your head?

Becky Carmichael  4:40  

Uh, well, mine, I don't, mine didn't have that kind of career, high stakes, aspects that yours did. Mine is another straight up survival kind of situation.

Kyle Sirovy  4:54  

From the woods all the time Becky. That's just what it is.

Becky Carmichael  4:57  

I don't know and for some reason, that's Probably I know I have lost my head, you know, dealing with data analysis or trying to best articulate some kind of idea for a publication or a presentation. That's certainly something that anytime I have to do any kind of, you know, faculty engagement I want, you know, I want to do a spot on job, right. But the, the one moment where I really had to keep my cool was, again, I'm back in the woods in Shenandoah. And the two women and I that were together again, we've been sent, we've been sent out into the park to go and collect data on transects. And we were just, oh, my goodness, we were in our early to mid 20s. And we were having a great time and just so appreciative of where we were in life. So here we are. And that particular day, our handheld radios were not working. And the vehicle that we were able to take with us. The actual, like, AM/FM radio did not work. And the other radio that was like the communication radio was not working. And I'll tell you a little bit of why after. So anyhow, the two, the other two girls and I, we got up to this particular area, got our gear on hiking out, and it was in September. And so acorns are just abundant. They're everywhere. There's all these oak trees, and what comes with this, but black bears. So here we go, we're hiking,

Kyle Sirovy  6:44  

So black bears like acorns, or they're just living in acorn lands, are they attracted?

Becky Carmichael  6:51  

They were eating them.

Kyle Sirovy  6:52  

They? So we're talking about several, several black bears,

Becky Carmichael  6:56  

We are talking about 13 black bears all in one location that myself and two other women, all about 5' 5" between 110 and 130, 140. Okay, um, we come upon this, this party, black bears and their acorns. And we realized that they were in the majority of the party is happening at the survivor tree with which we need to get to, to then use our campuses and navigate to our plot. And we all kind of stopped all of a sudden, like, holy crap, what is this? And when we did, it was like the bears felt like they just were subjected to a raid. And they were sliding down the trees and kind of looking at us. And I remember we were like, what do we do? What do we do and it was okay, we have to make ourselves look even bigger than the bears. So the three of us, like we were touching each other's shoulders, we put our hands up, we picked our backpacks up above our heads. And it was like, Okay, we got to just back up, back up. And so we started making all this noise and backing up and some of the bears it came toward us. And we just were like, oh my god. So we we got out of there as quickly as we can. We hiked backwards literally, like, I don't even know, the half the quarter, like half mile to three quarters of a mile we had hiked in, got back into the truck and sat there and looked at each other. And we're like, What in the world just happened? And then proceeded to go to our next, our next site.

Kyle Sirovy  8:37  

And we've got to be the scariest thing to come across. I mean, I guess if they were brown bears, that would be the only big worse but ...

Becky Carmichael  8:45  

Yeah, I don't want to have an encounter with a grizzly bear, polar bear. Like I want to see them from a distance and appreciate them. I don't want to be in, I would have been dead. They would have eaten me.

Kyle Sirovy  8:56  

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Becky Carmichael  8:58  

It was funny because well, it's not funny. What's really like crazy about this was the next site we went to, again hiking down to it, and we're looking around and and we had we had some other instances that day and ...

Kyle Sirovy  9:16  

Yeah, let's see more black bear.

Becky Carmichael  9:19  

I'll save the last part of that day for a future episode.

Kyle Sirovy  9:27  

Perfect. Yeah, this story is actually a pretty good segue into our first guest, Valerie Stampley. Because she has a situation where I mean I can't imagine 13 black bears in an area that's so many black bears, but she sees much higher numbers than that and have some scary animals as well. And so let's let's have her tell us first so

Valerie Stampley  9:51  

Um, so I don't know if it's the most dangerous or weirdest but when part of my undergrad I was doing a research program in Huntsville, Texas. It was an REU. And I was working with Sam Houston University studying the mating behaviors of scorpions. So if you don't know, scorpions get into this little dance that's called the promenade I do, and they hold pinchers. And the male will guide the female as he's trying to find a really great space to lay his sperm metaphor. And then once he finds a really good flat space, he drags her over it, and then she'll uptake it. But he has to keep her interested the entire time. Like he's always massaging her. And like they do something that looks like a kiss, but it's obviously not, they like get really close to each other. So it's really cute. And so my job was to document the mating behaviors of the bark Scorpion that was located in Texas. Mm hmm. And so I was I would spend hours just trying to record the scorpions meeting. And one of our collecting trips, so we had to go and collect the scorpions ourselves, and scorpions glow under blacklight. So we would shine a black light over the scorpion, and they would glow like the screen color. And that's how we would find them because you would go at night. And during this trip, this is my first time working with scorpions. And we don't we I think we have scorpions in Louisiana, but they're not very common. We never see them here in Baton Rouge. And so it was a little bit nerve wracking because the ones that we're working with, especially when we were in Arizona, there was a really, really venomous scorpion. 

Becky Carmichael  11:34  


Valerie Stampley  11:35  

If you get stung by that it's not good. So I am a person who has what's called sleep related hallucinations. So can I see things sometimes that aren't there? It's usually sleep related. 

Becky Carmichael  11:50  

So you have sleep related hallucinations? And is this something that you've had on your life? 

Valerie Stampley  11:56  

Pretty much there's countless stories from family members? And, you know, friends, boyfriend,everything. 

Becky Carmichael  12:05  

And what have you? Did you warn the people you were with about this? 

Valerie Stampley  12:10  

I think I did. This was a good sleep mentioned it.

Becky Carmichael  12:14  

Because otherwise, this would be like a fantastic surprise.

Valerie Stampley  12:17  


yeah. I mentioned it in casual conversation, sometimes. And so I think we had a conversation with one of the grad students who was on the trip, because he sometimes does the same thing. I normally see animals, but he would see people. And so we had, we had talked about it. But then one night, and he also was talked about how he at home keeps like a gun near his bed for protection. So um, apparently one of the nights I yelled out, get the gun. I don't remember that part. I was sleep talking. But then that will come up. And then he was got freaked out. He's like, no, don't get the gun because he's thinking that the gun is near his bed. And that woke me up. And I started to see scorpions all over the room. So then I started to their scorpions in the room, the scorpions in the room. And so the advisor who is with us, he was like, okay, so everybody's freaking out, and he gets out the black lighting the whole room looking for the scorpions. During that time, I'm starting to realize these scorpions are not here. I'm seeing these things I'm hallucinating so they're not to tell them. Never, never mind if they're not there.

So it's just huge fiasco in the middle of the night.

Becky Carmichael  13:30  

How many people are in this room? 

Valerie Stampley  13:32  


Becky Carmichael  13:33  

there's four people about what time is this? 

Valerie Stampley  13:36  

I don't know, maybe 3am? in the middle of the night

Becky Carmichael  13:39  

And you guys, you also have to get up pretty early, right? Because right? 

Valerie Stampley  13:42  

Yeah, so for this trip, we weren't only collecting scorpions, we were also collecting grasshopper mice. Because the guy that we were working with, he studies the interaction of the scorpions with the grasshopper mice, because the grasshopper mice could eat them and get stung and they don't die. So I'm collecting both. If you're trapping mammals and live trapping them, you have to get out really early in the morning because we use metal traps and so you don't want them to burn inside.

Becky Carmichael  14:06  

So you weren't getting a lot of sleep, regardless. And then this happens. Um

How many other trips were you able to go on?

Valerie Stampley  14:16  

I think we went on one other trip. And it was fine. It was funny. It ended up being funny and fine. It was definitely a crazy experience at the time.

Becky Carmichael  14:29  

I can't help but laugh every time I really listened to that. And it's such an inappropriate like in the moment laughing probably wouldn't have been appropriate at all but ...

Kyle Sirovy  14:41  

Wrong response Becky.

Becky Carmichael  14:46  

I would feel so betrayed by my own head and so mad at myself. Particularly you know when you think about the position that she was in, you know, she's she's on an REU. So beginning her science career and in trying to make impressions with others and being on this field trip, and then this happened. I can't imagine, I can't imagine being in that situation for her. And I think it goes back with those moments of where you were talking about earlier, you're trying to make a good impression. And what I would like to think is, is the people that were with her, found the humor in it, and were able ...

Kyle Sirovy  15:32  

... betraying you in throwing scorpions all over the room, that's hard to deal with.

Becky Carmichael  15:39  

Well, it also tells me you know, once you're really in your, in your research, and particularly when you're having to work those hours, you start to take that and carry that with you through everything that you're doing. So even in sleep, your your mind is processing, things that you've said, or conversations and things that you're seeing, or I know personally, sometimes I will have dreams or ideas that come up in my sleep, or in the moments right before I'm actually waking and it's, it is related to something that I'm trying to achieve so ...

Kyle Sirovy  16:14  

I literally just my lab was laughing because I've been stuck on a lot of hard coding problems. And I literally had solved the problem in my dreams, and I came out so excited to tell everyone because that that means you have officially earned like a science right in my eyes is that you've dedicated enough that you're literally now dreaming about your project and still working on it.

Becky Carmichael  16:38  

Oh, my gosh. Yeah, I think that your mind is these these interesting opportunities when your mind has a lot of clarity that can think about those processes. I will say for, for Valerie, in this case. I'm also in all of her that she did have enough, where with all to realize, Oh, wait, I know what's happening. I've been through this before, to kind of get everybody to say, Hey, this is me, this is this is one of those unique aspects of who I am. And to kind of defuse that situation quickly because I could see other people really starting to panic.

Kyle Sirovy  17:23  

Yeah, it's interesting. In this case, it was us getting to show someone kind of having a nightmare in real life, in some in some instance, but it's their brain doing it. Our next guest is one of those where it might actually give you nightmares. But But she's in it. She's in a different world. This is the medical school world. And so norms are shifted.

Becky Carmichael  17:47  

Norms are definitely shifted. And so let's take a listen to Heidi Nowakowski's story about her first semester in anatomy class. 

Heidi Nowakowski  17:58  

Okay, I will say this, like, it kind of seems normal to me now, because we all had to do it. But we cut our cadavers face in half. Like we cut a human face in half. When when I when I sat back and thought about that, I was like that. Yeah, that is weird. 

Becky Carmichael  18:19  

But probably you got it, you've got to understand, like how everything is layered and oriented, right? 

Heidi Nowakowski  18:25  

There was a definite purpose to it. But like, just just sitting back and thinking about that. I'm like, wow, I'm cut a head and half. Okay. Okay. It was also weird to hold the brain. Because it's like, everything that this guy ever thought felt. And the action came from this. That was really surreal.

Kyle Sirovy  18:54  

You know, my first reaction is that there's like about a million doctors in the US, which means there's about a million people walking around me, who's cut a face in half.

Becky Carmichael  19:07  

At least just the face. Right? That's, there's other parts that they have cut, right?

Kyle Sirovy  19:15  

It's just their norm. It's that's their life, though. I guess, you know.

Becky Carmichael  19:18  

And the fact that this is something that has to become the norm, their first semester, in medical school, it's like, this is your maker break time. I'm sure there's other maker break times, right. But when Heidi was saying this, she's like, yeah, we cut a face in half. And then it's like, we cut a human face in half and it was this like, she's there in the normalization of it, but then she's also the very human reactorarey, is reactorarey a word? reaction is oh, you know, that that that connection that we have with other human beings, was also present during her story. This, and Heidi went on to tell us, you know a lot about that anatomy class and the respect that they were giving to the cadavers that they were given and the things that she was really impressed about her particular cadaver in terms of the muscle definition and the health of somebody who at an older stage in their life, when they passed, she was really impressed by it. How do you go about doing that?

Kyle Sirovy  20:34  

Your first semester, so we're talking about you know, you're, you're 22 years old. You've been? How much have you experienced in life that's even come close to this. I mean, some of us have experienced a lot but not like cutting a face in half.

Becky Carmichael  20:50  

I didn't like, okay, I enjoy dissections. But I didn't like dissections. Right. And that was of, you know what? The frog still just really why frogs really just creeped me out. In that case, I don't know. But even with the cats, when we dissected cats, or little piglets, that's like, OK, this is kind of weird, but yet still kind of cool. You're seeing all how things work. To do that to a person, or to know that that tissue had was a person. Man that takes that takes some some serious kind of resolve, I guess is was it? Yeah, is it resolve does it or just kind of

Kyle Sirovy  21:33  

Craziness, but even if it's craziness, we need them, we need the people because that's saving our lives, especially even in the COVID crisis right now. I mean, those are, you need the person who's going to be able to stomach something like that, because that's also the same person who's gonna, you know, bite the bullet. And even though all these patients around them are exposing them to COVID, they're there. They're treating them.

Becky Carmichael  21:54  

Absolutely it this particular story, it, it gave me a more respect for even more respect for the medical field, but in particular, it gave me a lot of respect for Heidi. I can't help but be creeped out by this one. I'm also fascinated. And then I keep looking at my face. And it really is symmetry. You know, like, this is also how we look at people's faces and think if you were to cut that person's face in half would it be symmetrical?

Kyle Sirovy  22:27  

That's a creep. That's a creepy thought. So hopefully, yeah, all our viewers can go play with their thinking about how to cut a face in half and all all the different things about it.

Becky Carmichael  22:37  

We're not advocating for that to happen. We don't think that you should do it unless you're in medical school. And you are in that anatomy class. Please, please don't do that. No,

Kyle Sirovy  22:49  

But if you're there you have to you got to do it. You got to learn.

Becky Carmichael  22:53  

Everybody's doing it.

Kyle Sirovy  22:54  

Everyone's doing it. That's a good reason to cut someone's face now.

Becky Carmichael  22:59  

In medical school, not just in general. Let's rein this back in, Kyle.

Okay, so for our next episode of Craziest, Weirdest and Most Dangerous, we're going to get into some of those minute, small details that if you don't pay attention to they can definitely bite you. 

This episode of LSU Experimental was recorded and produced in my home and is supported by LSU's Communication across the Curriculum and the College of Science. Today's interview was conducted by me Becky Carmichael. Our theme music is Bramby at Full Gallop by PCIII. To learn more about today's episode, ask questions and recommend future investigators. Visit and while you're there, subscribe to the podcast. We're available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.