As an intern at the Neurocognition and Imaging Research Lab (NIRL), part of UNC’s medical school, I have had the opportunity to see disorder research firsthand. Not only have I been able to see the research process all along the way, but I have also had the incredible experience of working with each of the people involved in conducting research of this type. I observed and aided in everything from imaging data acquisition to data analysis and even began to see how publications are written and constructed. This educational experience has really changed the way I view research as I transitioned from an observer to a producer. I now have a more informed view of what it looks like to conduct psychological research as a career and I understand the benefits and challenges involved.
NIRL does world-class disorder research in a variety of different areas including autism, PTSD, and schizophrenia. They utilize multiple methods, including various imaging capabilities and neurocognitive assessments. Arriving at NIRL, I was unsure of what to expect or how I would fit into a busy, high-functioning research environment. My worries were quickly eased as the lab director, Dr. Belger, and the graduate student I worked with, Mariko Weber, were inviting and patient with me as I began to learn the research process. I was assigned to a study on PTSD that sought to treat veterans who had been affected from the recent wars in the Middle East, as well as look at the behavioral and neural deficits that accompanied their disorder. Throughout the semester, I got experience using fMRI, learned some commands used to run data analysis scripts, as well as received invaluable insight into the day-to-day life in the academic research field.
NIRL and the Gil Internship program have allowed me not only the opportunity to personally learn about graduate school and research careers, but have also given me valuable skills, connections, and contributions that I will be able to use in future academic and workplace settings. I was able to see the lesser-known stages of research, such as design and data cleaning, which gave me a more accurate view one should expect if choosing to pursue this line of work. I must admit that although I was not very open-minded about working on disorder research or with clinical populations at first, I now see this type of work as extremely unique and even a way to give back to others while still pursuing my desire to increase the pool of knowledge in the area of psychology. I am thankful for the caring and passionate members of the lab who really made me feel comfortable in an initially foreign environment. These are experiences that I would not have had the chance to be part of as an undergraduate without the help of NIRL and the support of the Karen M. Gil Internship.
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