Can you provide a brief summary of one of your research projects?
The project I presented at Neuropsychology Research Day looked at child reactivity using temperament, which describes how the child regulates emotions and responds to stimuli in the environment, and skin conductance response to startling stimuli, which directly measures sympathetic nervous system activity (the fight-or-flight system). We found significant gender differences such that boys with temperament scores indicating more reactive and difficult to soothe temperaments had high skin conductance reactivity to startling stimuli, whereas girls with similar temperament scores had low skin conductance reactivity.
When did you first become interested in your field?
I first became interested in behavioral neuroscience as an undergraduate psychology student at Adelphi University. I immediately appreciated the scientific approach to understanding psychopathology while taking a course in neuropsychology. I found out that my professor for that class had worked in brain imaging and asked her about the field. She offered me an opportunity to work with her designing computerized experiments to measure psychopathic traits in participants. I was lucky enough to work on projects with several other professors as an undergrad simply by asking questions about their work and voicing my interest in research.
What was your first real research experience?
My research methods professor approached me about applying for a program at Adelphi called the Emerging Scholars Program. Students are paired with faculty members to work on a year-long research project and offered a stipend to present their work at a national research conference. I was accepted and worked with this professor on a longitudinal research project studying the associations between changing relationship status, attachment style, depressive symptoms, and drinking behaviors. Presenting a poster on this data at the Association for Psychological Science made me feel proud of my work and I realized that this was something I enjoyed doing.
What inspired you to become a scientist?
For me, science offers a way to quantify aspects of human nature that are not easily understood. By studying aspects of psychopathology piece by piece, and then seeing if and how those pieces fit together, we can begin to form an idea of how and why we behave the way we do. I believe this is the best way to identify risk factors and evidence-based treatments for psychopathology.
What challenges have you faced in your education or career?
One of my biggest fears was that I came from an almost purely psychological background I would be behind my peers when I came to Queens College for graduate school in terms of neural and biological knowledge. These concerns pushed me to study hard, ask questions, and absorb as much information as humanly possible. Thankfully, the wonderful professors here helped make it a smoother transition than I feared.
What did you do differently between old college and QC?
When I came to Queens College for graduate school, I made sure I found a professor and lab that matched my interests so that I could begin working on research projects as soon as possible. Taking a proactive approach has helped me get ahead and focus my efforts.
If you could start over again, what would you do differently?
At Adelphi I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go in psychology until I took a neuropsychology class. I wish that I had starting talking to professors and gotten involved in research sooner than I did while I was an undergrad. If I had, I might have found my passion more quickly.
What has been the most exciting event in your career?
Although my career has barely begun, presenting my own research findings at the Queens College Neuropsychology Research Day this past September was very exciting. Collecting, processing, analyzing, and presenting the data before my peers was a very rewarding process and has motivated me to continue developing as a researcher.
Where are you now and what are you doing?
I am working in Dr. Yoko Nomura’s lab for the Stress In Pregnancy (SIP) Study for my second year. As participants come in for the study we collect neurodevelopmental data from children and mental health information, biological specimens, and psychophysiological startle responses from mothers and children. We are also planning to begin diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans and genetic analyses for children in the study to examine the connectivity in brain structures. This is very exciting, as it will add even more layers to our multidisciplinary approach to understanding psychopathology and neurodevelopment.
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