Post 1: My Internship at The Valera Lab

This past year I was a Lurie Undergraduate Fellow in Disability Policy Research at the Heller School where I was mentored in research practices and studied the relationship between opioid use and traumatic brain injury (TBI). While conducting a literature review, I encountered fascinating articles written by Dr. Eve Valera at The Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. The Valera Lab’s impactful work resonated with me as I have a pre-conceived notion that the field of academic and clinical research is driven by producing papers and garnering recognition, however this lab goes out of their way to ensure that their work directly helps the population that they are researching. After discovering that the lab is located nearby in Charlestown, MA, I reached out to Dr. Valera in hopes to join her lab’s very important work. Shortly thereafter, I was offered the position of a research intern for summer 2020 and gratefully accepted this amazing opportunity.

The Valera Lab, affiliated with the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, studies TBIs caused by intimate partner violence. This lab utilizes MRIs, blood tests, and other biological indicators as primary data. However, in light of COVID, the lab has switched its typical activities to an online interview protocol, and I assist in conducting interviews with women who have sustained TBIs as a result of IPV. These interviews consist of surveys regarding alcohol and drug use, traumatic brain injury, relationship history, and intimate partner violence. Furthermore, I also administer computerized neurocognitive examinations and balance testing. My work conducting interviews will allow for greater understanding of the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral manifestations of IPV in women.

I work with the P.I., Dr. Eve Valera, the clinical research coordinator, and two other student interns, one of which joined at the same time as me. Everyone in the lab feels so passionately about the study of traumatic brain injuries caused by intimate partner violence. There is a diverse pool of knowledge and experience in the field between the five of us. As of now, we have spent a great deal of time practicing the administration of study screener interviews and running the protocol of the study. I do all of my practicing and training with the other new intern, Sarah. It has been lovely to train alongside someone else my age who is also excited about what we are studying. Although I am very sad that I do not get to spend time with my lab, especially my co-intern Sarah, I feel grateful that we are still able to form connections and share this experience. Here is a photo of a Zoom meeting with Sarah, myself, and the clinical research coordinator, Annie!

Screenshot of a Zoom meeting with my co-intern Sarah, the clinical research coordinator, Annie, and myself.

Coming into this internship I had two primary goals. First, to learn more about the neurobiological manifestations of traumatic brain injury. Second, I hope to learn how to work in a collaborative environment with other researchers, as in my prior research internship I was the only person working under my research mentor.

I am so excited to continue this awesome work and to see what I accomplish this summer. I would like to thank Brandeis University’s World of Work fellowship for allowing me to do this work.

– Maddy Pliskin

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