This summer, I have the privilege to be working as an undergraduate research assistant for the Neurochemistry and Cognition Lab at Brandeis University located in Boston, Massachusetts. The Neurochemistry and Cognition Lab is in the Department of Psychology and supervised by Principal Investigator, Anne Berry, Ph.D. The research team I am working with consists of the principal investigator, research administrator, lab manager, research assistants, a postdoctoral fellow, PhD students, and two other undergraduate research assistants. The mission of the lab is to better comprehend neurological factors that influence cognitive decline in older age. Through behavioral and neuroimaging tests (fMRI, EEG, PET), the lab studies how lifestyle and neurobiological components, like the dopamine system, shape different aspects of cognition across young and older adults.
As an undergraduate research assistant, I spend most of my time focusing on the Brandeis Aging Brain Study. The goal of the Brandeis Aging Brain Study is to better understand cognition and thought as humans age. It is a longitudinal study in which some participants are invited to return to the lab every few years. The study consists of multiple tests to examine cognitive performance. Some of the exams are on paper and pen while others are on the computer. The exams consist of tasks including solving different types of puzzles and remembering lists of words. It is approximately 3 to 4 hours. The participants are mostly older adults, all healthy, who are passionate about research and committed to participating for a longer-term collaboration.
I am being trained so I can administer these neuropsychological testing sessions; this has included shadowing sessions and learning how to supervise and evaluate the results of the various exams. I have also been helping recruit participants and supervise pilot trials (initial trials of a study) for a postdoc researching aspects of intrinsic motivation (curiosity). Additionally, I attend weekly lab meetings in which we discuss obstacles and potential solutions to different lab members’ research as well as possible directions for new research. I have read past academic papers the lab has published and other papers the lab has used as the topic of periodic journal clubs. Along with the other undergraduates in the lab, I have helped the lab stay informed about its participants by organizing the participants’ data and communicating with them through newsletters we send out.
This internship directly aligns with my personal, professional, and academic goals. As a neuroscience major at Brandeis, I have always been interested in the brain and how it functions across a lifespan. In the Neurochemistry and Cognition Lab we directly study how the brain ages overtime and what factors contribute to healthy cognition and thinking in older adults. Similarly, as a rising senior, I am thinking of my career path after college. I am very interested in gaining more experience in neuroscience research to potentially pursue this field later on in my life. The lab provides me with a warm and welcoming environment to explore the world of neuroscience and psychology research and gain confidence in my work as I take on more responsibilities in the lab while being guided by those around me. I’m really excited for what the summer has to offer!