My research interests are twofold: 1) identifying primary auditory and visual neural deviations in major psychotic and affective disorders, and 2) the use of large datasets to identify novel sub-groups of psychiatric diseases using brain-based measures. Over the course of my academic training I have gained extensive experience in electrophysiological and magnetoencephalography (EEG/MEG) research and multivariate statistical analysis techniques that provide the skills necessary to make significant contributions towards biologically-based psychopathology research. I work in the Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory (CCNL) under the direction of Drs. Brett Clementz and Jennifer McDowell. The CCNL is highly renowned for its psychosis-related research in electrophysiology, fMRI, and eye-tracking, with numerous publications in top academic journals.
The CCNL is part of the Bipolar and Schizophrenia Network on Intermediate Phenotypes (BSNIP). BSNIP is a 5 site research consortium (Harvard Medical School, Yale School of Medicine, University of Chicago, UT Southwestern Medical School, and UGA/Augusta University) that uses a dense battery of clinical, neurocognitive, neurophysiological, neuroanatomical, and genetic measures to identify unique biomarkers related to psychosis and affective disorders. The current BSNIP project is in the process of collecting data from ~3000 individuals with schizophrenia (SZ), schizoaffective disorder (SAD), psychotic (BDP) and non-psychotic (BD-NP) bipolar disorders. Due to my involvement with BSNIP I have had the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from top experts in the field of biological psychiatry. My role in BSNIP has been to oversee the quality control of the EEG data, to independently analyze 4 EEG measures (Auditory Oddball, Paired Stimulus, auditory and visual steady-state response), to perform multivariate integration across EEG measures in order to generate novel hypotheses about the biological causes of psychosis and affective disorders, and to use clustering algorithms on large datasets in order to generate, replicate, and validate biologically based classification systems that go beyond the current clinical phenotype-based classification system of psychosis and affective disorders.
As an undergraduate I completed independent research on the philosophical implications of dynamic systems theory, embodied cognition, and neural oscillations and was awarded the UGA philosophy department’s Daniel S. Hart Scholarship to Outstanding Undergraduate (2012). This work inspired me to transition from philosophical research to psychology and neuroscience research and to join the CCNL. As an undergraduate researcher in the CCNL I was awarded the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) summer research fellowship, which provided me with the opportunity to collect and analyze electrophysiological data and to examine how pre-stimulus neural oscillations in the 4-12 Hz range contribute to saccade reaction times in healthy individuals. As a graduate researcher I make significant contributions to multiple NIH funded projects that use EEG to study early visual and auditory neural responses in psychosis. In 2014, I was awarded the psychology department’s Michael H. Kernis Research Award for having the best first year graduate project in the brain and behavioral sciences program. In 2016, I was awarded the Franklin Foundation Neuroimaging Research Training Fellowship, which provides additional training in Neuroimaging techniques and funding for my graduate research assistantship, an independent neuroimaging project, and an annual travel award. My independent project is highly mutlimodal and uses simultaneous M/EEG and an fMRI paradigm to identify precise locations of neural sources related to the auditory steady-state response in healthy individuals. I have participated as distinguished speaker in three symposia at: the Society for Neuroscience (2013), Southeastern Psychological Association (2016), and the Society for Biological Psychiatry (2018). My research was selected for presentations at multiple international conferences such as: the International Congress on Schizophrenia Research (2015, 2017), the Australian Conference on Psychosis (2018), and the Society for Biological Psychiatry (2016), and I have presented three posters at Society for Psychophysiological Research (2014, 2016: Poster Award, 2018). As a graduate student one of my passions is research mentorship with undergraduate and junior graduate researchers. I have directly mentored 11 junior researchers, with many of them presenting their research at the CURO or UGA Psi Chi annual meetings; Zoe Schnieder, Lingyu Huang, and Libby Thomas presented posters at international conferences.
My long-term career goal is to become a fully independent research scientist at a major research university/hospital who uses neuroimaging techniques to identity unique biomarkers related to psychiatric brain diseases. On a personal level, I am familiar with the individual and family tolls engendered with major mental illness. I feel that due to my personal and academic background, and in addition to the research training I will receive under Drs. Clementz and McDowell, I am building a solid foundation towards my lifelong objective of finding neural mechanisms that will significantly affect how psychosis/affective disorders are diagnosed and treated.