Neurochemistry, Cognition, and Collaboration

I have really been enjoying my time as an undergraduate research assistant at the Neurochemistry and Cognition Lab. It has exceeded my expectations in every way possible. As an undergraduate, I assumed all I would be doing was the grunt work for the lab, However, that is so far from the truth. I feel valued as a member of the lab and know that my work is necessary to achieve the lab’s goal of understanding aging and cognitive decline more thoroughly. Likewise, the people in this lab are invaluable to work with, making this position that much better. The members of the lab cultivate such a warm and supportive environment for academic growth. Initially, coming into this internship, I was nervous of what to expect since the last time I worked in research was during high school. After working in the lab for some time, I now know that I had nothing to fear. The researchers in this lab are such great mentors who are happily willing to help me out when I have questions about my work. They are so knowledgeable about a variety of different topics related to psychology, research, graduate school and life and they always share their advice. Through this job, I am learning so much about the research process, but also so much more than I expected. 

Our lobby provides a great, collaborative space to work and share ideas with one another!

My experience at this lab has taught me a great deal about how the World of Work differs from university/academic life. In academia, there are defined roles for students and professors. The student’s main role is to learn as much as they can from the professors who are supposed to teach them all they know. It is a logical method as the professors have much more experience in their fields compared to students, but it can be flawed in its rigidity because it does not allow the professor’s much opportunity to learn from their students. In my lab, there are clearly defined roles of each individual based on experience in research, but there is still much more of a sense of collaboration than in class. Every lab member’s opinion is valued during lab meetings and input from anyone, no matter how much expertise they have in a topic, is taken seriously. The world of work in this lab in particular is very supportive because, even though every individual has their own work they are responsible for, each time a lab member succeeds, it advances the lab as a whole in achieving its goal of learning more about neurochemistry and cognition. 

This cooperative spirit is a skill that I will try to apply to my academics, extracurricular activities,  and hopefully through my medical career. Working with others in an environment where we all win when someone succeeds is so valuable to creating a productive space. Likewise, as I have spent more time in the lab, I’ve learned much more about the neuropsychological exams that we administer in the Brandeis Aging Brain Study. I better understand how to administer and score them as well as analyze their results. These more specific skills in neuropsychology and data analytics help me comprehend how neuroscience research is applied in a clinical setting which is very beneficial to me as I would like to become a doctor. I’m so glad I’m working at the lab and for all the knowledge it has given me so far!

WOW Blog #1: A Day in the Life at the Neurochemistry and Cognition Lab

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!