By Gitty Boshnack, Science and Technology Editor
Throughout the year, and especially over the summer, many students take advantage of various research opportunities at Yeshiva University and its affiliated graduate schools. This month I sat down with Talia Simpson, who interned at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in a cognitive neurophysiology lab, to gain greater insight into the research she was involved in over the summer.
Gitty Boshnack (GB): Hi Talia, thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Let’s start by getting to know you a bit.
Talia Simpon (TS): Hi! I’m a rising junior majoring in psychology, specifically the neuroscience track. I’m still undecided about my specific career at this time, but something in the psychology field.
GB: How did you get involved in this research?
TS: It was actually a super easy process! I went on YU CareerLink and found a summer research internship through YUSOOP (Yeshiva University Summer of Opportunity Program). The project was categorized as “pediatrics/ neuroscience,” and the research involved a rare condition known as 22q11.2DS deletion syndrome, which really interested me since I hadn’t heard of this syndrome before, and I particularly love learning about underdiagnosed or rare conditions. I sent in my resume online and was later invited for an interview.
GB:What did you hope to gain from this research experience?
TS: As my first clinical research internship, I wanted to get my feet wet and immerse myself in the field as much as possible. As someone exploring different careers, it was incredibly valuable for me to meet neuroscientists, clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, and other staff. In addition to being in a lab environment, it was a valuable opportunity. My work in the lab also allowed me to have some experience under my belt for whatever I choose to do next.
GB: What did you study in the lab, and whom did you study under?
TS: I’m grateful to have interned for Dr. Ana A. Francisco at the Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab. This project was characterizing the sensory profile in 22q11.2DS deletion syndrome and autism. We learned about the goals, background, and methods of our research and met with the rest of the lab team. Then, together with another intern (who happens to also be from Stern!) I worked on data input and assisted with data analysis through group difference analysis using violin plot and network analysis models. We then made a presentation together and presented our findings to the rest of the lab staff.
GB: What does Dr. Francisco hope to achieve with this research?
TS: People with 22q often have a unique set of sensory processing differences compared to the neurotypical population, but as of now, there is no defined sensory profile or set of characteristics, which would be helpful for diagnosis and treatment/ intervention. Since 22q11.2DS deletion syndrome is considered rare, this population’s cognitive and psychiatric profiles aren’t well-researched, as opposed to the sensory processing differences for individuals with autism, which is more well researched. Dr. Francisco hopes that by comparing both these groups with controls, we can uncover any possible distinctions between sensory profiles in autism and 22q and learn more about the specific sensory differences in the 22q population.
GB:What was something that interested you from your research experience?
TS: It was eye-opening to see how the lab functions as a unit with so many different moving parts. Dr. Francisco was wonderful in that she integrated the interns into the rest of the lab– we were invited to meet everyone at all the lab meetings and journal clubs. This was the first time I was exposed to what it really means for study coordinators, primary investigators, lab managers, research fellows, clinical psychologists, and neuropsychologists to work together.
GB:What are some skills that you developed?
TS: I found myself thinking critically and analyzing information in new ways. For example, after we ran the data and looked at network analysis models, I thought a lot about relationships, strength, and centrality of variables and what differences in those models might point to.
GB: Did you change any of your or your family’s habits due to anything you learned from this study?
TS: While I did not change any habits, I learned a lot about sensory processing differences, their effects on quality of life, and different methods of measuring them. Everyday occurrences that most neurotypical people might not even think twice about, such as the vestibular input of playing in a park, or the auditory input of a motorcycle driving by, for example, can be extremely distressing for people with sensory issues.
GB: Do you have any advice for students who are trying to get lab positions?
TS: Start looking early! I waited until May, and while I was lucky enough to find this internship (which I loved), many positions by this time were already closed.
GB: This was so interesting Talia! I learned so much about your productive summer. Thank you so much for sharing.
TS: My pleasure!