In this podcast, Dr. Sarah Raskin uses her hippocampus to recall what ignited her interest in neuropsychology. She walks us down memory lane and explains why she chose Johns Hopkins University for her B.A. in Behavioral Biology and the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center for her Ph.D. in Neuropsychology. She also discusses her ReMIND Lab, her recent research, and offers practical advice to those interested in getting a graduate degree in neuropsychology.
From the time she took her first class with David Olton called Physiological Psychology, Dr. Raskin was hooked. During our discussion, Dr. Raskin revealed that she actually teaches the same class now at Trinity College, but it is called Brain and Behavior. Continuing our walk down memory lane, she recalls jumping at the chance to enroll in Dr. Olton’s newly created program called Behavioral Biology which Dr. Raskin believes might have been “one of the very first programs in what we would now call Neuroscience.” Ever since then, she has been enthralled with blending psychology and neuroscience. Apparently, she is not the only one as more and more fields of study are now incorporating a component of neuroscience or psychology (or both) into their lines of research.
What is clear during my discussion with Dr. Raskin is her love for her students, her research, and her career at Trinity College. She states “I really fell in love with Trinity” because “…it felt like the right fit for me. It felt like a life where I could be happy.” Dr. Raskin is the Director of the Neuroscience program at Trinity College, and she has a joint appointment (half neuroscience and half psychology), so she is always thinking about increasing awareness of both programs and how to help students. Therefore, it was no surprise to me that she offered practical advice to those interested in psychology or neuroscience throughout our discussion. In fact, she took a few minutes to highlight how the neuroscience program at Trinity College is really unique.
Dr. Raskin explains how neuropsychology is different from the other branches of psychology. She also discusses the ReMIND Lab and some of her recent work on prospective memory and the tests she and her colleagues created specifically to measure this concept. Dr. Raskin and I then highlighted some of the organizations and resources available to those interested in neuropsychology including APA Division 40: The Society for Clinical Neuropsychology, International Neuropsychological Society (INS), KnowNeuropsychology, the upcoming NEURON Conference 2022, and the ReMIND prospective memory training page.
One of Dr. Raskin’s favorite theories is Hebb’s rule and Hebbian theory from 1949. The idea that learning something new actually changes your brain physiologically, at the synaptic level, way before anyone could test it, was “so prescient.” Near the end of the podcast interview, Dr. Raskin revealed that she is writing a book on what she is conceptualizing as preventable brain injuries. She is Co-writing each chapter with someone who has lived the experience. For example, one chapter is with a woman who had a severe brain injury from domestic violence, and it includes her medical history, personal history and experiences, and her neuropsychology assessment. Another chapter is with a man who experienced a gunshot wound to the head. Given Dr. Raskin’s passion and drive, I am sure the book and remaining chapters will be powerful and moving.
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Sarah Raskin’s research focuses on better understanding neuroplasticity and its applications in creating cognitive interventions for people with brain injury. She is particularly interested in prospective memory which is the ability to remember to do things in the future. She and her colleagues developed specific tests to measure prospective memory including one for adults (MIST – Memory for Intentions Screening Test) and one for children (MISTY – Memory for Intentions Screening Test for Youth).
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Behavioral Biology (1984); Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Neuropsychology (1990); City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, New York, NY.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Dr. Sarah Raskin to the show. Dr. Raskin is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Trinity College. She received her BA in Behavioral Biology from Johns Hopkins University and her doctorate in Neuropsychology from CUNY in New York. Today we will learn more about her academic journey, advice for those interested in blending neuroscience and psychology, the ReMIND Lab, and learn more about her lines of research. Dr. Raskin, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Well, I’m excited to talk to you more about your academic journey and your professional journey as well. And you know to start off, tell us, what ignited your interest in neuropsychology in the beginning.
Uhm, so originally, I was a biology major, and I was interested in biochemistry and then a good friend of college friend of mine who’s a psychologist now himself was a psychology major and he said you have to take this class in physiological psychology, which we would now call brain and behavior. I actually teach the exact same course myself now. And I said, you know, I’m not really interested in psychology, and he said, but this professor is amazing. You just have to take this class. And I did, and it was phenomenal. So, I would recommend to anybody who’s still in an educational environment to just take classes in anything, branch out, find out what ignites your passion. You never know. You know, don’t say no. So, I took this class with this amazing professor Dave Olton and he, at the end of the class, invited anybody who was interested to do research in his lab. And so again, the professor makes that offer, take it, if you possibly can, if you have the time and the ability. Uhm, and I just couldn’t get enough, we were doing research on hippocampus and memory, uhm, using a rat model but, uhm, but I found it really exciting, and I did it throughout my undergraduate career. And then at some point I walked into his office and said, you know, Doctor Olton, I love what we do. I love studying memory. Does anybody do this with humans?
Sure, that’s called neuropsychology.
Right, right? Of course. So, for our listeners, tell us a little bit more about how is neuropsychology different than the other branches of psychology, and what I’m going to do while we do this is I’m just going to share my screen real quick because, you know, we were talking before the show here that you know a lot of people in high school or undergrad are thinking well, I’m interested in psychology, but how in the world do I make a choice on, you know, all these different branches of psychology out here, and you know how did you come to the realization, I have a feeling, I have a guess that I know, but kind of let us know how is neuropsychology different than all these other branches of psychology that we have on the page here versus why didn’t you go into personality psychology or anything else? I think it is because you already mentioned you were always interested in the brain, so I don’t want to answer for you. But tell us a little bit more about that.
Yeah, so I. I really knew very little about psychology and you know, full disclosure, that’s really one of the only psychology courses I took as an undergrad. I did take a neuropsychology course, which was great my senior year, so yeah, so neuropsychology is the branch of psychology that’s interested in the relationship between the brain and behavior. And so traditionally, neuro psychologists have worked with people with neurologic illnesses. So traumatic brain injuries or strokes or Parkinson’s disease or people do developmental work with people who have ADHD or autism but always around the idea of what’s the relationship between the brain and behavior and, and obviously these borders have gotten muddied somewhat because I think almost every branch of psychology now is interested in neural underpinnings. Understanding how the brain I mean, except for a few people, understanding how the brain underlies some of the things that we’re talking about, and even some psychotherapists who are interested in how therapy can induce brain plasticity. So, so I think that there is great overlap now that these lines are not so firm. But I think if what you’re really interested in is how the brain leads to some of the behaviors that we are interested in psychology, including cognition and social behaviors. If you’re interested in neurologic disorders, if you’re interested in going into a career where you maybe do neuropsychological assessments so you could have a private practice where people come to see you to get diagnosed and find out you know why is my child not doing so well in school or how am I doing after that car accident then I think neuropsychology is, is the field that may be calling to you. But that doesn’t mean that any of the other fields may not also satisfy some of that interest. As I said, I think there’s overlap a lot now.
Well, I’m glad that you mentioned that because more and more I’m finding out through my discussions and through the podcast that, you know, I had a, I had a couple guests on that talked about legal psychology and you know the reports and the witness reports in, in the police. Now they’re looking at how the brain recalls that information versus before it was just identify a lineup, identify and you know I. So, I, I find all that fascinating and another thing that I know that I’ve been always interested in since ever since I was a kid is just how the brain works, and so this automatically kind of puts me in this category a little bit and my, my daughter actually was at the University of Minnesota doing some work in neuropsychology as well, so.
Now I saw that you received your BA as I mentioned in behavioral biology from Johns Hopkins University. What made you gravitate toward behavioral and why Johns Hopkins?
Uhm, why Johns Hopkins? Uhm, at the time that I left high school and entered college, I was thinking that I was interested in medicine or at least healthcare in some form as many many high school students start off thinking that’s what they’re interested in. I actually ended up applying to medical school going for a week and deciding that I was much more interested in Graduate School in psychology than I was in. Medical school but, uhm, ahh, and so Hopkins just felt like a good fit in that way. I will also say you know, full disclosure, I visited Hopkins on a beautiful sunny day. People were out playing Frisbee. It looked like a great place to go. I’ve visited other places like Brandeis in three feet of snow. So, like all, you know, 18-year-olds I made decisions based on the available evidence and not necessarily weighing it appropriately.
But you know, there are things I liked and didn’t like about, about Johns Hopkins, but you know it, it, it was a great place for what I was interested in studying. Uhm, and so what happened was as, uhm, I was a biology major this same person I mentioned David Olton who some of your listeners might know from like the radial arm maze and memory measures decided to create what I think must have been one of the very first programs in what we would now call Neuroscience. He called it Behavioral Biology. He invited students who were interested I think maybe only five or six of us signed up because it was brand new and we were already juniors or seniors I think at the time I may not be remembering exactly correctly, but we’d been there a while. And he just created it from scratch and said here and it was it was actually quite broad because there were, you know now like where I am at Trinity. We have a ton of courses in neuroscience, but at the time there weren’t so part of the behavioral biology major included medical anthropology. It included science writing. It included all kinds of things that wouldn’t necessarily be in that kind of a major today. But I think he was trying to just capture whatever was there that that he possibly could that would feed into the idea of brain and behavior. And so, by the time I graduated, I was a behavioral biology major, which I feel really fortunate to have been one of the 1st and to have had that opportunity. So that’s, that’s how I ended up in that major.
So, it’s interesting, you know when I ask some of the people on our podcast, when did you realize that you wanted to earn a graduate degree? So, I’ll ask you the same question. At what point did you, if you can recall, hey, I want to do this a little bit more and I want to continue with my education. So, was there a point at which or did you always know even before you started your undergrad?
So, continuing my theme of not, I’m not an over thinker. So, like I said I had, I had mentioned that I wanted to work with humans and so I got connected with a couple of neuropsychologists that were at Hopkins, Jason Brandt and Alfonso Caramazza, who were very kind and generous mentors to me, and it was Jason Brandt who said you want to go to Graduate School in neuropsychology, that’s what you need to do. This is what you want to do. You need to go to Graduate School and I wasn’t sure, and I was also not sure I wanted to go straight out. So, I would say in today’s world I would recommend to people that they take a couple two years out, you know a year or two off and do other things. But this was a long, long time ago and so I applied to Graduate School, and I applied to the peace core, and I did not get accepted in the peace core. But I did get accepted to Graduate School, so it was kind of, you know, it was all I had.
It was meant to be. Yeah so.
So oh, go ahead.
Oh no, it’s OK. So, and then Jason Brandt actually is the one who said do you really want to go to CUNY? So, I applied to, uhm, maybe three or four graduate programs? There weren’t very many in neuropsychology then it was very new and not a lot of programs were doing it. There were some clinical psychology programs that had a couple courses in neuropsychology, but again, I was coming from the biology end, so I wasn’t quite ready to jump into a program that was all psychology. Uhm, and so I applied to the three or four programs that were out there and of them, you know, CUNY had everything I wanted. It had the option to go clinical. It provided me with a stipend that was generous and it, you know, one of my mentors was saying this is really I, you know, given what you love, this is the place for you. So, it, it just made sense to go there.
Well, I apologize. I show that my, my ignorance. I said SUNY and actually the, the correct pronunciation is CUNY.
So, I apologize for that.
They’re different, so SUNY is the State University.
And CUNY is the City University. So, I was at the City University of New York.
OK, alright so I just wanted to make sure, so I apologize to you and my listeners.
Yeah, Brad, what did you, what did you just do, what did you just say?
You’ve got Johns Hopkins, right? So, you get a lot of points for that.
Right, OK, good, good. So, you know when you when you look back or in hindsight when you looked at the process that you went through related to searching for graduate schools and programs. I understand you also went outside of the academic field as well. But would you do anything different or any kind of advice for those who are just sitting down (thinking) I want my I want to continue education, but I’m not sure how to go about it. How do you start? You know, tell us a little bit more about that, or any suggestions that you may have.
So, I think that students today are way more savvy than I was. And the advice that I usually give to my students is to, to find someone who’s research you love. You know, to find out what it is that you really want to study, what do you want to spend the next 6-7-10 years of your life learning about. What gets you excited? Where’s your passion? And then figure out who’s doing that research. Figure out where they are. And then it’s totally OK to reach out to them or to go to their websites and say are you accepting new students? You know, if you’re not accepting new students, how many years from now do you think you might be and apply to the graduate programs that have people whose work you’d like to do? Because that’s that’s really what makes the difference in Graduate School, right? Is that it’s something you’re passionate about. Spending all day, every day for years of your life doing. And and it’s out there for everybody, right? So it’s just a question of of following that love rather than thinking too hard about what school do I want to go to?
Good advice. The other thing that I’d add, if you don’t mind, is even when you look up their research, look at, obviously, when they conducted that research and realize that the research might have taken 1-2-3-4 or 5 years, and then you know that goes into publication. And so, they may, or may not, still be doing that line of research, so it’s important to reach out to them and ask them, hey, are you still doing this, and if not, what are you into now? I, I hate to have you apply and then all of a sudden, I want to go to, you know Trinity College with Sarah Raskin because she’s doing this line of research. And then find out, well, Brad, she’s moved on to a different line of research, and so that’s just another thing that I’d like to point out do, yeah, yeah, do your research a little bit, and don’t be afraid, yeah?
Excellent point, yeah, excellent. Definitely worth connecting with the person before you do it, make any serious moves.
Yeah, definitely. The other thing that I’d also talk about is get involved and, you mentioned this earlier, don’t be afraid, go ahead and find your passion and what ignites you. But you know I, I’m kind of jumping around here but I know that the APA Division 40 is, is one that if you’re interested in neuropsychology, that’s the, that’s the division that you really want to be looking at. Attend one of those conferences as an undergrad. Attend some of the panels. Don’t be afraid to submit something for a panel discussion or a poster session or anything like that as well so, I’m brainstorming with you as, as we’re talking here.
Yeah, and so, so right. Division 40 is the Society for Clinical Neuropsychology, and that’s a great place to start. The other organization, International Neuropsychological Society, and both of them have student liaison organizations. They’re really designed for graduate students and postdocs, but I have my undergraduates go to their meetings and conferences anyway. And submit posters. There’s, there’s also yes, exactly beautiful, so right. So, thank you for the plug for women in neuropsychology. And student leadership. Excellent oh, this is great. I’ll stop talking and let you.
Yeah, and the, the other thing that I wanted to share since I’m sharing the screen, I don’t think I was able to share. I said that I shared earlier, but I don’t think I, I actually selected my. I have three monitors here and I don’t think I selected it, so that’s why you probably didn’t see that earlier. But yeah, STEM is another one that comes into play. And, and this is the 1 million women in STEM website that I’m sharing right now, and you’re highlighted on here as well, but I wanted to give the due credit because when I did my research on STEM, there’s still a significant gap between women and girls and men and boys in STEM. For those of you not familiar with STEM it’s women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. And as you can see on this website and other websites, show and reflect the same thing. Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, and men vastly outnumber so, I am a firm believer that we need to balance this out more. There are so many different advantages to having more diversity in these fields than ever before, so I, I wanted to plug this a little bit, if you don’t mind.
I so appreciate that. Thank you, it’s really important and then women in neuropsychology page that you just had. We actually have an event coming up on mentorship in in for women in neuropsychology, and so people are interested they can go to, to that Division 40 page and find out.
And then the last couple that I have here, since we’re talking about these different organizations that you could get involved in, uhm, INS is International Neuropsychology Society and they’re actually having their conference in New Orleans this year, it’s virtual.
Actually, it’s all virtual.
Yeah, it’s all virtual right here, so you and I are on the same page, but it’s coming up fairly quickly. February 2-4 in 2022. Can you believe we’re already talking about February already?
I know, so actually the women in neuropsychology…
And then, oh, go ahead.
…event that I was just talking about which is on mentorship. It’s just an open sort of. It would have been a coffee hour, but now it’s a virtual, is part of INS, so it’s during INS and the, sorry, INS is the International Neuropsychological Society. There are student rates to attend the INS meeting virtually. There’s still, you know it’s, it’s not cheap, but if it’s something that you’re interested in, I would say for sure go ahead and jump on, uhm, you know, if it’s something that you could afford, I think it’s $125 for students. Uhm or no even less.
At $130 I was…
INS In-Training Member Student is $130.
…looking early registration, sorry. But, but then you have full, have full access to all of the talks and poster sessions and plenary and, and, and I want to second what you said before, which is don’t be afraid to submit, if you’re doing research, to submit your own work. There are some other undergraduate organizations you can submit your work to as well, and in fact I don’t know if you have this up here, but there’s a group called Know Neuropsychology.
I have this one.
OK, so this is this is a. So, each of the regions of the United States has its own undergraduate neuroscience conference, and this is the one for the Northeast. So, NEURON stands for Northeast Under/Grad Research Conference in Neuroscience, and this will be at Quinnipiac coming up in February. And this is just for undergrads and for any undergraduate in the Northeast are welcome to attend. Send in a poster. It’s a, a phenomenal event I go to every year. But there is one for every region of the country. Now these are neuroscience, so some of them will have a psychological content and some of them will be very cellular molecular.
And what’s the other one that? You mentioned right.
KNOW neuropsychology. KNOW Neuropsychology.
I’ll bring that up. And then one word KNOW Neuropsychology, OK?
Yeah, neur…there it is. And so, they have this. This series of talks that you can listen to that are free and they also had a, have an online on Twitter poster session that a bunch of my students sent posters into. So, if you’re interested in neuropsychology, or you think that that might be a field for you, this is a great place just to if you go to their didactic series. They have a bunch of talks on all aspects of neuropsychology, including how to become a neuropsychologist.
That’s wonderful, look at that, yeah.
And so, the old ones are recorded. They’re free to watch. And you can sign up for the ones that are coming up.
Well, that’s great advertising and, and just a good resource during this discussion. One last one that I was actually I found when doing this research is the overall APA convention this year is actually in Minneapolis, MN where I am, so I’m glad that we’re, we’re hosting that. So yeah, a lot of great resources. What I’d like to talk about now is I know that you’ve done a lot of, well, you’ve done various clinical as well as academic appointments, and one of them was when you actually were working on your doctorate. I believe you were at the Department of the Rehabilitation Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, while you were working on your doctorate, tell me a little bit more about that experience and how you found that opportunity.
So yeah, so I actually found it through my graduate program, so part of our graduate program was the requirement to do some practica and internship, and so I did my internship at Mount Sinai. My internship was actually split between the neurology department and the Rehab Medicine department because my dissertation was on Parkinson’s disease mostly because so alright, let me back up. So, I started Graduate School working for somebody who was doing human memory because that’s what I told you I came out of undergraduate school interested in, but he ended up leaving the program in the middle of my training. And so, another faculty member was really kind and generous and took me under her wing, but she wasn’t doing human memory and she wasn’t interested in doing human memory and what she said was I have a bunch of people with Parkinson’s, and I need somebody to do research with them. I’ll take you if you do that. So, I was working in the neurology department on Parkinson’s for my dissertation, but I knew that I really loved rehabilitation and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do for my career. So, she worked out for me to have my internship be partially in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, where they had a big TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury Model systems program. So, they’re doing a lot of traumatic brain injury rehabilitation. So, I got to know them there. And then when the internship ended, they offered to just hire me as a staff psychologist. So, I was super lucky and fortunate. I was still writing my dissertation. I never did a real postdoc because I just stayed and worked there full time in a regular staff position.
Well, that makes more sense to me now that I was looking at the chronological order of what did you do next. What did you do next? And I was kind of confused there. I’m going well, how could you be at two places at once, and so that makes more sense to me and, and what you’re referring to is the Department of Psychosocial Nursing at the University of Washington is that that’s something different?
No, no, I’m still in New York.
OK, all right?
That’s later yes.
OK, all right. So, tell me, tell me how did you transition and, and find yourself at the Department of Psychosocial Nursing at the University of Washington.
OK, so you’re learning a lot about me here, so I was in New York City. I lived there for a while doing my dissertation. I received my doctorate. I stayed on at Mount Sinai, amazing place to work, amazing people. I was very fortunate. In fact, I’m kind of tickled to tell you that I’ve now had three students leave Trinity, get their degrees, and work at Mount Sinai, so I feel like a real, still a real connection there, right? But I was tired of New York City, just to be totally honest with you, I was ready to leave New York City. Uhm, how honest should be? I’m just going to be honest, so I had gone to an INS International Neuropsychological Society meeting. I had flown in from New York to San Francisco and driven up the West Coast with a bunch of friends to INS, which was in Vancouver. We had spent one night in Seattle. I was on a panel in Vancouver with Catherine Mateer, Katie Mateer, who did rehab, and telling her how I had just driven through Seattle for one day and it was beautiful, and she said, well, if you ever want to move to Seattle, you know how people say that, but they don’t really mean it? So, I was in New York and tired of New York. I knew I loved Seattle, although I’d only been there for one day. Uhm, the person that I was dating at the time who’s now my husband was very easygoing and so we jumped into a U-Haul. We moved to Seattle. I called up Katie Mateer and I said you know how you said if I’m ever in Seattle, well, I’m in Seattle. So, she said, OK. Let’s see how this goes. And so, I ended up. She had a practice in, uhm, actually Puyallup, an hour South of Seattle, at Good Samaritan Hospital, but she was interested in branching out to the Seattle area, so she had me start doing some of that work there, in conjunction with the University of Washington, which is how I ended up with the appointment there at the University of Washington.
OK, well thank you for sharing and you can always be honest on our program, so don’t worry about that. I understand if you don’t want to say anything. I asked a question to one of my guests one time and he interpreted it as well, I don’t want to talk bad about my previous appointment or anything, and I said no. I, I wasn’t saying that I was saying tell me about, more about the process through which you found your next. you know, opportunity, and that’s what I’m going to do next with you is then you found an opportunity to join the faculty at Trinity College in 1994. Tell us more about how you found that and were you also looking and applying at other colleges or universities?
Yeah so. Hum, so then Katie, who ran the private practice that I was in and the, we also did inpatient work at a couple of hospitals, ended up taking the position of so, shout out here, she ended up taking the position of Chair of the Graduate Program in Neuropsychology at the University of Victoria, which is a great program if people are interested in neuropsychology, which meant she was leaving. So, I knew that I do not have the ability to run a private practice, so some of the people listening to this will have great business acumen and be able to start their own private practice. I knew that that was not where my skill set lied, lay and so, uhm, and also my then husband, you know by this time was my husband was missing the East Coast and so we just applied to jobs. We picked a geographic region. You know, from here to here, we’ll apply to whatever job. We now have a 2-body problem, so we need to find 2 jobs that are somewhat close to each other. I was lucky to get a few offers, all of them great. Uh, but I really fell in love with Trinity, and I have to say that I never once considered being at a liberal arts college. I didn’t even know what that was when I interviewed at Trinity like I’d only been at big universities, right? I’ve been at Hopkins and CUNY and so I didn’t really know what the difference was. I didn’t know why it mattered. Fortunately, they looked past that and hired me anyway, but it’s it just felt like the right fit for me. It felt like a life where I could be happy, so it was really on the interview. Uhm, that I ended up deciding that teaching at a small liberal arts college felt right to me compared to another, you know, medical, research position or other kinds of hospital-based positions. And I will say that I’ve always missed since then, uhm, I think that there’s an excitement to being in a hospital setting, a medical setting. A kind of an urgency that that I miss, but on the other hand, there’s a, a sense of kind of having time for the life of the mind at a small college. So, there’s always tradeoffs.
Sure, and, and I’m going to share my screen once again. And here’s Trinity College and I’m focused more on the neuroscience. So, here’s your opportunity to plug Trinity College. I found that there’s a lot of different, uh, maybe lanes or avenues or, or paths you can, you can take within here. So, tell me a little bit more about the neuroscience program at Trinity College.
Right, so I’m the director of the program, but just full disclosure, I have a joint appointment, I’m half neuroscience, half psychology, so I’ve always sort of at that intersection. So, I think our neuroscience program is really unique. For one thing, it’s been around for almost 30 years. It was one of the very first at a liberal arts college, and the other is if you look at most neuroscience programs, they’re kind of housed within psychology or housed within biology, and, you know, have a few courses here or there in other places. But we really are multidisciplinary, so we have faculty that contribute to the program from psychology, from biology, from chemistry, from philosophy we have two philosophers who look at consciousness. We have an engineer because Trinity happens to have an engineering program at the undergraduate level. And so, I think we really span neuroscience from the very cellular molecular all the way through, you know, what is consciousness and how does the human mind work? And so, I think that that makes us very unique. The other thing is we’re in a city compared to a lot of other colleges and universities, and so we have tons of really great community-based experiences for students. We’re two blocks away from Hartford Hospital, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the Institute of Living, which was one of the very first psychiatric hospitals in the country, it’s now part of Hartford Hospital Hartford Healthcare. But it has within it the Olin Neuro Psychiatric Research Center, which has researchers just looking at neuro psychiatric disorders. They have research dedicated fMRI and EEG, and so it’s a great opportunity for our students to have an amazing facility like that so close. So, so I think really those are the things that set our neuroscience program apart and I will say that our neuroscience program has within it 5 psychologists, so there are three of us who are part psychology, part neuroscience. You know have a split position between the two. And then there are two people who are fully in the psychology department but love neuroscience. Their research has a neuroscience component, and they really love contributing to our program so. It’s a great way to, if you’re in that neuroscience psychology border, like I am it’s a great place to be able to sort of combine the two.
Wow, what a nice advertisement. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Good summary. I’m sharing the screen and on your, on your page it does show and I’m glad that you mentioned that one of the advantages that you have at Trinity College is you have these hospitals and other outlets where you can apply some of that research, and even in this third paragraph here you talk about you, you love having your students conduct the, uh, you know, teaching a certain section, but then in another area, uhm, you’re able to apply some of the research and go to these different hospitals that are close by to look at that. And you know, I, I’m going to switch a little bit now to your research interest. This is a, uh, don’t take this wrong, but this is a gross summary of what you’re doing, but you have a lot of other things. That you’re working on as well. Hopefully you didn’t take that the wrong way, but you had.
You had to. You had to summarize what are my research interests, so tell us a little bit more about your research interests and then are they stemming from the ReMIND Lab or are they separate from or you know, when I talk to a lot of professors, it, it, it usually comes from the brainstorming of the their lab, but I saw that some of yours is, is not necessarily within the lab. So, tell me a little bit more about your lines of research that you’re currently doing, and then we’ll transition to the ReMIND Lab…how that started, that sort of stuff.
So, the ReMIND Lab is my research lab, uhm, so basically you know they’re, they’re, they’re essentially one in the same. So, what was your question? How did I come to my research interests?
Yeah, tell me a little bit more about what you’re looking at currently. I, I see some of your current, you know more most recent remembering to remember the role of cognition impairment, and you know all of these that I have on the screen here. But tell me how it has changed. ’cause I saw that earlier in your career. You were focused on some other areas and now you’re more focused on you, know significant, and I’m not going to say it correctly. Traumatic Brain, TBI? is that what you said?
There you go. I’m picking up on it a little bit, so just tell us what about your current research and what you’re interested in right now.
So, I first became interested in prospective memory, which is the ability to remember to remember. So prospective memory is remembering to take your medication at the right time or to call your mom on her birthday or to go to your doctor’s appointment. And so, uhm, I initially became interested because back when I was in Seattle, the group there had sent out some questionnaires to everyone in the Washington State Brain Injury Association asking what are their biggest problems. What are the things that actually affect you the most? And it came back with a lot of people saying that those were the things that bothered them. Remember, they’re less concerned about forgetting what they did yesterday and more concerned about forgetting to do what they need to do tomorrow. And it was a really understudied area of research. It was something that people weren’t looking at a lot within the neuropsychological community. And so, we started looking at it and quickly realized that there is no standardized measure of neuroscience. There were a lot of research measures and a lot of really incredible researchers trying to learn more about this cognitive ability, but no kind of standardized clinical measures for clinical populations. So, within the ReMIND Lab with, with collaborators and students, we created a test of prospective memory, which is the MIST, the Memory for Intentions Screening Test and so then we’ve used that since then to try to characterize, first we were just looking descriptively, like how does it go bad? Where does it go wrong, and how does it go bad in different populations? So, we’ve looked at a lot of people, studies in people with traumatic brain injury. We’ve also looked at people with schizophrenia, people with Parkinson’s disease. These two articles with my wonderful student Ginger Mills, who graduated a few years ago and is now a neuropsychologist herself in New Haven was really interested in developmental work, which is not what I do, but she was amazing so I said let’s do it and so we’ve looked at, she looked at a couple studies in children and created a children test called the MISTY or the Memory for Intentions Screening Test for Youth. So those were the articles that you were just highlighting that came out recently. Uhm, so we were interested in sort of what happens with prospective memory, what, what, where does it fall apart? Why does it fall apart? It’s a very multimodal cognitive function, so you have to measure time passing to know that, you know, oh, it must be almost 2:00 o’clock. I need to take my meds. You need to have the ability to form an intention. You need to have the ability; these are very kind of frontal lobe executive functions. You also need to have the retrospective memory component. What was it I was supposed to do at 2:00 o’clock? And you have to be able to monitor. Did I do it right or did I do it wrong? And so, there’s a lot of things that go into it, so we were curious in different disorders, do different things fall apart?
Uhm, and then, of course, you know I’ve always had a love for rehabilitation I ever since I was in Graduate School. I started running support groups for people with brain injury and I just it was really hard for me personally to do neuropsych assessments and be like, well you have all these problems, see you later, you know. So, I was really interested in creating rehabilitation modules that might be useful for people, so we’ve focused a lot lately on coming up with modules of rehabilitation for prospective memories specifically. Again, just because there wasn’t much out there already, and we felt like it was something that was important to do.
But as you mentioned, I also uhm, I’m happy to follow the loves of my students so you know Ginger was really interested in children, so we did that. I have an amazing student right now who’s planning to go on next year to Graduate School in, or actually, I think she’s going to take a year off to do some research and then go into neuropsychology Graduate School the year after. She was really interested in the effects of culture on memory, and you know one of the things about our memory for intentions test is that it’s not culture free, so people from different cultural backgrounds, different identities score better or worse on the test. And that’s not good. So, the way that we make up for that in neuropsychology, most of the time is by having separate norms based on identity. But obviously that’s not what we want. What we want is a test that’s, that’s fair to everybody, and so she’s been really interested in studying in as we have a very large Puerto Rican population in Hartford. Uhm, and so she’s been really interested in looking at not only prospective memory, but episodic future thoughts. So, the ability to imagine yourself in the future and how different cultures and speaking different languages might change the way that you project yourself into the future. So that’s another line of research we’re doing right now and then. I’ve also had a long-standing interest in in looking at sexual abuse, domestic violence, interpersonal violence, and whether there are occult brain injuries that are undiagnosed in those populations. If you think you know first there’s the whole, you know stress and trauma and PTSD that we know can affect brain function and brain structures, in fact. But then there’s the piece that you know in people with interpersonal violence blows to the head anoxia from strangulation. These are things that that are clearly happening, and so there’s reason to believe that, uhm, at least in some of these folks, there may be brain injuries happening as well, and so that’s another sort of area that we’ve been looking at recently.
So, another plug I’m sharing the screen again. You have a lot of good information on the lab site and I, I went to the research area and you can see some YouTube videos and some of the recent research that you and your team have conducted, and then of course you talk about the MIST and the MISTY, and I’m glad that you brought up that there was another one ’cause I saw the MISTY and it was for youth and so, the, the researcher in me is thinking, well, I wonder how you tweaked the assessment for youth instead of just the overall, and it’s I don’t know if you, you have a quick answer for that, but I’m, I’m just curious how did, how did you change that or tweak that for the youth?
Yeah, a lot of hard work and hours so. So, we had to change all the items basically, so the MIST is things like in exactly 2 minutes, sign your name on the bottom of your paper. So, so one of the things about perspective memory is you can’t just be staring at a clock, right? In real life you’re doing other things. So, in our test of prospective memory, we have people do a word search task. So, we had to simplify that for kids and then the items we had to make more kid friendly. So, there were more like the kinds of things you would do in school, so you know finish this math problem or turn in your here, you know, finish your homework and turn it into me at 2:00 o’clock or those kinds of things. So, we just, you know for both tests, we just sort of brainstormed items and then piloted them. You know this kind of thing just takes giving it to a lot of people and having them say that doesn’t make sense or that does make sense or this one’s too hard or whatever.
So, I’m glad that you mentioned that because the, the other pages on the website I’m sharing the screen again is. You have links and we, we kind of highlighted some of the other professional organizations, but you have some others on here as well. And then education and advocacy, advocacy and then some fun stuff. And I went into some of these, Pinky and the Brain, I went to that right away and that was kind of fun to look at that information as well. But you also have a, a press and awards page, and so if you want to learn a little bit more about some of the awards that you and your people on the I don’t know if these were all of yours or if they’re a combination on there, but you have some other links in here and, and especially nowadays with some of the things that have been happening through and coming out of COVID. Some of these I found very interesting as well, so. Anything else that you’d like to say about the ReMIND Lab?
Uh, no, except that if you go back to the home page. I don’t know if this is of interest to, to your listeners, but scroll down to where it says visit the prospective…no, go up, scroll back up. Yeah, visit our ReMIND…yeah so if you go to that page, it actually has all of our training modules open for anybody to use. It has information for people with brain injury. You can do homework at home if you want to if you’re a person who’s having prospective memory problems. So, all of the modules are there if, if people are interested.
There it is, great. Thank you. So, I can tell you’re passionate about your job and it’s almost a redundant question, but what do you love most about your job?
So, I love that I get to do everything. I love that I get to do the research that I love, and I’m not constrained in what I can or can’t do. Separate from funding, of course. Uhm, I love that I get to work with students, and I get to teach. I love that I still get my hand in clinical work by doing clinical research. Uhm, I have an appointment at Hartford Hospital so I’m able to recruit folks from there and I do lots of great collaboration with wonderful researchers there. So, I kind of feel like I get to do it all and, and that’s really great, and I get to do it all on a beautiful campus with beautiful environmental scenery, which I think is so important. So, so all that together and I get to collaborate. So, I’m doing another collaboration with another student who graduated many years ago who’s now a researcher on looking at multiple sclerosis, uhm, in Hartford and she and I are looking at prospective memory and multiple sclerosis now she just got some funding. So, uhm, so I sort of get to do everything I love all at once, which, which I feel really happy about and I get to teach bright undergraduates. Our students are the best, they’re hardworking, they, the ones in my lab are incredible. So, uhm, so it’s all good.
Well, it’s all, to me, it’s obvious because of your smile and your enthusiasm. And everything that you’re, you’re bringing through the podcast. I can feel that even though we’re virtual, so I’m happy for you that you found a place that you enjoy rather than being an undergrad, uh, three feet of snow? Are you kidding? I don’t want to go to this place. As you mentioned, but I have some fun questions that I usually ask my guests near the end here. What is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why?
So, I think I’m going to have to go with, I mean there’s a lot of them right, for all of us. Uhm, but I think I’m gonna have to go with Hebb’s rule with Hebbian theory ’cause I just think he was so prescient. So, you know he came up with this idea in like 1949 or something. The idea that you can, that learning something new changes your brain. That the way that you learn something new is actually a physiological change in the brain. That he could come up with what he thought might be happening at the synaptic level way before anybody could test it right? And so even when I was in Graduate School. I was being taught adult brains can’t change. Yeah, sure, there’s plasticity in kids, of course, ’cause they’re still developing. But once you hit about 26, nothing, there’s no change, no change in the brain. And, uh, so I just am so impressed that Hebb was able to come up with this idea, you know, in the 1940s-50s and that we now know he was absolutely right, and that there every time we learned we’re changing our brains and that, that we can harness that not only to help, you know, like my students, learn what they need to learn to pass their courses, but to help people with brain injury recover memory, you know deficits after something like a brain injury or a stroke. So, I just I, I, I am just impressed and, and try to hold on to that in all of the work that I do. In fact, so I, I still have a, I mentioned that we had done this in Seattle, but I still have a brain injury research board, so I have a group of people who’ve had brain injuries who we meet with, my students meet with, on a regular basis so they can tell me what research is important to them, like what would be useful to them. What would they like to see us learn more about? And I love talking to them about brain plasticity and how you can harness the power of brain plasticity and, and in what ways you can apply it to real world kind of research questions. Not in every way. I’m not. I’m not trying to be too broad based about this, but I do think it’s fascinating to think about.
You mentioned one and I always I. I’m always interested when I read an article saying that there are certain things you can do to help avoid the onset or reduce the progression or the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s and, and playing new games doing something new. And I’m probably not going to use the right terminology, but it creates the new synaptic pathways in your brain or whatever, and so it’s always interesting to, it’s not only applicable in TBI situations, but it’s all these other ones as well, so.
Yeah, in terms of healthy aging, you know the one thing I would say is don’t buy an expensive program. There’s some really expensive ones out there. There’s you can get the same stuff without it. Uhm, but yeah, learn a new language. Brush your teeth with your left hand. Learn to play a musical instrument. Any of these things can be really useful in just keeping up new, new synaptic pathways new, new brain just, even if we’re not talking at the level of synapse, you know, maybe we’re just talking about cortical reorganization, but, but keeping parts of the brain active.
This next question don’t limit yourself to the academic world. You can think about anything. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your life?
In my whole life?
In your whole life, that’s a tough one. Take, take a moment and think about that one.
Gosh, so many things. I guess I would say to be open, to be willing to take chances, to not be afraid of taking chances. But then to be forgiving of yourself and others so you know, take a chance and understand that maybe it was the wrong one. And that’s OK. You know you’ve, you’ve learned something, and I think, especially during COVID, we’ve all really learned to sort of be forgiving of other people. Be forgiving of ourselves, give each other a little bit more grace. Except that maybe our standards for I, I will say that my, my COVID lesson is definitely that it’s nice to not be stressed all the time and that, so I’m lucky right, that I live a life in which my stress level actually went down. That’s not true for many, many, many people around the world, but, but just to learn that balance. So, so one of the people, pieces of advice that I like to give junior faculty members is you can do it all, but you can’t do it all at once. So, I sort of like to think in my life about, you know this is the year I’m going to really work on teaching and I’m going to create a bunch of new courses and I’m going to really like, think differently about how I involve students in the community, and I’m going to form some really true organic, meaningful relationships with community partners. But next year is all about research and next year I’m going to be really focusing on getting this new line of research up and running and getting some funding for it and learning all about it. So, so, so I think that we make the mistake of thinking we need to be doing everything every day and then we beat ourselves up for not getting it all done. But if you can think about the long game, then I think you know you can be much more forgiving of yourself and understanding of your limitations and feel like you still got it all done, you know, at the end.
Good reminder, good advice. I, I remember somebody told me that and they used the analogy of how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So that’s what it is. Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology, or specifically, neuropsychology? And if they want to pursue a career in psychology in the academic world versus outside of the academic world, so that’s a loaded question. But any other advice that you’d have?
I, I mean, I think the main thing is to get involved in in research as early as you can. So, if you’re at an undergraduate institution where you can join a research program, then I strongly recommend that you do that. Getting that kind of experience is really important. If you think that you want to be a clinician, then also getting some clinical shadowing, you know, ask somebody in the area if you can just observe, uhm, as soon as you can. Sometimes you can’t. With COVID it’s harder because of bodies in the room. But if you can, I, I just think it’s really important to first of all, to have that experience, because that will make you more valuable, but also to really find out that you actually do want to do this, like until you’ve spent a day doing what you’d have to do all day, every day. It’s hard to know that that’s actually, you know, is this, my next 30 years, going to be fulfilling until you’ve actually tried it. And so that’s, those are my big pieces of recommendation, especially the academic route. Do some research, be in a research lab. It’s not for everybody. Uhm, moves more slowly than you think. Many more dead ends than you think.
Right and, and the results aren’t always what you expect, so that’s the other thing.
Exactly, which is kind of a fun part, but yeah.
Yeah, that’s actually the more fun part. If you already expect it, then all of a sudden. Oh, OK, I just reaffirmed what we thought. Kind of no big deal. But, oh my gosh, look at this result, you know, so.
Yeah, and how do I explain it?
Right. If you had the time and money to complete one project, or go on one trip, what would you do?
I have to choose one or the other?
Hey, either or both, you’re, you’re free, you’re smiling enough, laughing enough, you can do whatever you want.
I can do whatever I want? Ok, good. Uhm, I mean I love to travel one of the great things about academia is that conferences are all over the world and they’re great excuses to travel to places that you might not have before, I’m really lucky to have a collaborator in Australia that I’ve so I’ve been able to go there a few times. I’ve never been to India and it’s a place that I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s just never happened for me yet, so that’s sort of on my bucket list of, of travel hopes. Uhm, in terms of projects, you know, I sort of do what I want to do. I’m really lucky to be able to do that. So, I really do want to follow up on the interpersonal violence work some more. I want to maybe come up with some kind of treatment modules that might be useful. I will say that I’m trying really hard to write a book right now that I don’t know anybody will ever want to publish. So maybe this is the one that I should be answering this question with, so I’m sort of writing a book on what I’m conceptualizing as preventable brain injuries. So, what I’ve been doing is Co-writing each chapter with someone. So, one is with a woman who had a very severe brain injury from domestic violence, and so she and I are writing the chapter together and it includes her medical history but also her personal history, her personal experiences, my neuropsych assessment, all that stuff. One on a young man who had a gunshot wound to the head. So, so these kinds of things that I think have a really strong, uhm, social, social justice perspective to them, but that I think are more powerfully told by the person with the lived experience. Uhm, so this is sort of one of my pet projects right now. I don’t know that it’ll ever see the light of day. Maybe it’ll just be a blog somewhere on the internet but, but I’m just feeling really strongly that these stories need to be told.
Well, thank you for sharing that ’cause I, I was going to follow up and say can you tell me more about the book, but you just went right into it. So, it, it sounds interesting that each chapter is, is Co-written and you’re bringing in first-hand experience, uh, about that particular topic and how it applies to them, so it’s, I find it interesting. So just to let you know that I, I definitely would look at that book. Is there anything else that you’d like to bring up or discuss on the podcast?
No, I think this has been great, thank you.
I really appreciate your time and your willingness to share your thoughts and your advice. Sarah thanks again for sharing your story with us.
Alright, thank you.