Graduate Student Profiles

Olga KozanianOlga Kozanian

I am a fourth year graduate student working with Dr. Kelly Huffman. Our lab studies the mechanisms involved in neocortical development and regionalization of the neocortex. That said, I am currently working on several projects, which focus on investigating cortical development in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) mouse models. The purpose of these studies is centered on my primary interests: understanding how prenatal ethanol exposure impacts mammalian neocortical organization and development. One of the advantages of our lab is the variety of techniques we use, including genetic, neuroanatomical and behavioral assays to better understand different aspects of the developing and evolving brain.

The systems neuroscience area at UCR offers courses in various concentrations, including statistics, psychology, and neuroscience, in order to set a strong foundation for students with interests in different areas of study. A very important facet pertaining to the professional training of graduate students at UCR is our weekly journal club, where we present and discuss current literature, as well as our own research with other graduate students and faculty. Being given the opportunity to discuss current scientific discoveries and our own data with colleagues, allows students to not only advance their understanding in the field but also conduct innovative and valuable research.

Aside from coursework and the lab bench, I am particularly grateful for the fact that UCR allows graduate students to gain first hand teaching experience at the collegiate level. Allowing graduate students to obtain teaching and teaching assistant positions in a variety of courses including undergraduate statistics, personality psychology, cognitive psychology, neuropharmacology, etc. provides invaluable experience that will without doubt be advantageous when choosing a career in academia.

In general, the support and encouragement offered to students by UCR faculty is unprecedented. Department affiliates are committed to the long-term achievements of the students. I can gladly say that choosing UCR for my doctoral training has proven to be a great decision because I am certain that, regardless of the career path I pursue, I will have the necessary skills and knowledge to be a competitive and successful candidate!

 

Ana Kamille MarceloAna Kamille Marcelo

I am a 5th year graduate student in the Development area. I work with Dr. Tuppett Yates, and my work focuses on the socioemotional significance of play and the importance of early ethnoracial and cultural experiences, such as early development of ethnic identity and experiences of discrimination, to development. My programs of research stem from one of the ongoing longitudinal studies in our lab, the Child Representation and Regulation Project. This project aims to understand children’s representation of themselves, others, and their relationships and different indices of regulation across different contexts throughout development. My dissertation builds on my programmatic studies of play in typical development to evaluate if and how the characteristics (i.e., form) and developmental significance (i.e., function) of play may or may not vary in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Throughout my graduate studies, I learned and experienced the different aspects of conducting independent research, such as designing a study, conducting research assessments, and disseminating research through conference presentation and papers. Moreover, I also had the opportunity to develop my teaching and mentoring skills by working with undergraduate students in both classroom and research settings.  I also had the opportunity to apply for different outside funding sources, such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Ford Foundation Fellowship, and National Research Services Association Fellowship. With the help of my mentor and the support of other faculty, I received the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship.

Despite completing my undergraduate studies at UCR, I decided to stay at UCR for my graduate studies, because of the students and the faculty. One of the goals of the program is to foster its students to become well-rounded academics who are able to develop research ideas, conduct independent research, and disseminate findings to audiences inside and outside of academia. The program also aims to train their students to become effective instructors and mentors inside and outside of the classroom. The faculty and students at UCR create a supportive and collaborative environment. The faculty are always available to offer support and word of advice whether it is about a complicated statistical problem or giving us words of encouragement to help us get through our qualifying exams. The students offer both academic and social support to one another and help each other get through the difficult milestones we have to accomplish throughout graduate school.

If I have to go through graduate school again, I will definitely choose UCR again!

 

Elizabeth McDevittElizabeth McDevitt

I am a student in the Cognitive area working with Dr. Sara Mednick in the Sleep and Cognition (SaC) Lab (sleepandcognitionlab.org). I received by Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology with the intention of continuing on to medical school. After volunteering as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Mednick’s sleep lab at UC San Diego, I fell in love with research and couldn’t let it go. I had the unique opportunity to move with Dr. Mednick from UCSD to UCR to pursue my doctorate. Before making a final decision, I visited UCR and was incredibly impressed by the beautiful facilities, the warm welcome from the administrative staff, and the enthusiasm of the current graduate students who took me to lunch. Now entering my third year in the program, I am very happy I followed my instinct to pursue a career in research, and think UCR has provided an excellent academic environment for my development as a scientist.

In the SaC Lab, we are interested in understanding who we are as humans by investigating how we form memories. Using sleep as a tool to examine mechanisms of memory formation, some of the main experimental questions we are exploring together as a lab include: Why do some memories tend to become stronger after a period of sleep? What are the specific roles of individual sleep features in consolidation across a wide range of memory domains? What are the roles of individual neurotransmitters in the memory process? Can we enhance memory performance by improving sleep or with pharmacological intervention?

My advisor has taught me how to develop research questions and given me the tools to conduct the studies to answer some of these questions. My first study examined differences in daytime sleep architecture between habitual and non-habitual nappers, and I am currently following up on this study by asking whether these differences mediate cognitive performance following a nap, whether napping is a trainable skill, and if genetics might play a role in determining nap habits and the cognitive benefits gained from a nap. My second-year project identified REM sleep as the critical sleep stage for rescuing learning that was damaged by “interference” during waking. I have also published first-author publications reporting that men and women show different patterns of sleep-dependent consolidation in the visual domain, and that specific states of consciousness lead to specific memory performance outcomes for visual object recognition. With Dr. Mednick’s guidance, I have co-authored several journal articles, had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from a wide range of disciplines, and regularly attend and present at some of the most important conferences in my field, including the annual meetings of the Society for Neuroscience, Associated Professional Sleep Societies, Vision Sciences Society, and Cognitive Neuroscience Society.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is the opportunity to mentor undergraduate research assistants working in our lab. I look forward to weekly lab meetings that bring my team of RAs together for student-led discussions of seminal papers in the field. My goal is to ensure every student understands the science behind our research, and to create a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions about science and can contribute to the best of their abilities. I have mentored some of the hardest working, most inquisitive and scientifically-minded people I know. I was especially proud earlier this year when several of my students presented the culmination of their work in our lab at undergraduate research conferences at UC Riverside, UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Overall, my time at UCR has been very productive, which I attribute to the wonderful environment fostered by supportive faculty, students and staff. I am confident that when I finish my doctoral training and leave UCR, I will be equipped with the skills necessary to continue a career in academia.

 

Patrick MorsePatrick Morse

I am a fourth-year graduate student in the Social/Personality area working with Dr. David Funder. Generally, his lab is concerned with the interactions between personality and situation variables (i.e., the psychological characteristics of situations) in explaining how people construe situations and subsequently behave in those situations, and these interactions are now studied in both national and international samples. I also use these data to determine the various ways in which we can define the strength of situations. That is to say, is a situation deemed ‘strong’ if it is has a powerful influence on your behavior or your construal of a situation? Or are we better off understanding the strength of situation in terms of the extent to which they constrain the influence of personality on behavior? Are these definitions even mutually exclusive? All that and more to be answered soon!  In addition to this work, I am interested in studying person-situation interactions in more applied settings. For example, I work with Dr. Kate Sweeny to consider how patients’ perceptions of healthcare visits are influenced by their personality and the visit itself and how these variables are related to health outcomes like patient satisfaction and adherence. Another line of research, currently in its nascent stages and being conducted with Dr. Will Dunlop, is the consideration of intentional personality change. We intend to explore people’s motivation, strategies, and success in changing aspects of their personality.

My experience at UCR serves as an example of the collaborative nature that is typical of this department. Many other graduate students work with multiple faculty and their productivity and career prospects are better for it, and even if a formal collaboration isn’t in place, many faculty are only an email away and happy to offer advice when needed. The psychology department at UCR also provides a wealth of opportunities to teach, whether it’s a position as a teaching assistant that consists of more than just grading or a position as the instructor of a course, which allows for a wide variety of courses and teaching experiences across your time in the department. Additionally, our weekly brown-bag meetings allow students and outside speakers to present their research in a supportive and collaborative setting, providing great experience when it comes time to go on the job market.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to study at UCR. Whether it’s the chance to work with multiple world-class faculty, the experience gained teaching in the classroom, or the supportive and congenial nature of faculty and graduate students alike, I could not have lucked into a better program as I have no doubt that UCR has been crucial in my development as a researcher and teacher.