Baby Brain Research at UMass Medical School

I’m working this summer as an intern at UMass Chan Medical School in support of Dr. Sohye Kim’s Infant Brain Imaging Study. 

Dr. Kim, a clinical psychologist and developmental scientist, seeks to discover early neural markers in the infant’s social brain that predict long-term developmental outcomes. She is also seeking to identify modifiable early-life factors that influence the trajectory of development to translate into innovative strategies for early diagnosis, prevention, and treatment in high-risk children and families. Her Infant Brain Imaging Study uses innovative imaging techniques to investigate how naturally occurring hormones in the brain and early life experiences impact social brain development. 

One part of my work in support of the study involves subject recruitment. This study looks at pairs of first-time moms and their infants, so we recruit participants at UMass Memorial Hospital within a few days of delivery. Recruitment involves pre-screening participants by reviewing their medical charts, approaching and explaining the study to Moms who we believe might be eligible, and guiding them through the consent process.

Another large part of my job involves study visits. My responsibilities include setting up materials needed for each visit, assisting in brain activity monitoring (fNIRS and fMRI scans) and salivary specimen collection, and interacting with participants. 

Below is an example of the setup for fNIRS scans. You’ll see the doll is wearing a cap with optodes attached to measure blood flow in response to neural activity. 

My main goals for the summer are the following:

  1. Learn how the theories I’ve learned in psychology classes at Brandeis apply to actual research in the field and learn new methodologies like fNIRS, fMRI, and salivary oxytocin assays. These skills will make me a better future researcher or clinician, and the firsthand observation of phenomena and use of methodology will make me a better consumer of the research I learn about in classes.
  2. Explore a potential career as a clinical researcher and learn from other lab members about their various career trajectories. I want to learn from professionals about their jobs in psychology and medicine to aid in my consideration of a future career as a psychiatrist, psychologist, pediatrician, etc.
  3. Gain experience working in a professional setting. As my undergraduate career nearly ends, I am eager to gain confidence in my verbal and written communication skills to feel more sure of myself in professional spaces.

The first half of my internship has been phenomenal! I look forward to continuing working on my goals and learning a lot from Dr. Kim and her team during my time with them.