Hello! My name is Leela Rao, and I am a senior undergraduate Tarheel from Lake Mary, Florida. This semester, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Karen M. Gil Internship in Psychology Program, with a placement at RTI International. Looking back to my goals and academic interests in my first and second years at UNC, I would have never imagined that my interests would align so well with conducting research in an industry setting. That being said, I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to see what conducting research looks like in outside of traditional academia!
My long and winding academic trajectory at UNC started off with an attempt to create my own major and ended with a double major in Psychology and Hispanic Linguistics and a minor in Speech and Hearing Sciences. Looking to the future, I aim to bridge the gap between clinical neuropsychology practices and speech-language pathology methods concerning aphasia rehabilitation. Aphasia, for those of you who are not familiar with psychology or speech therapy terms, is an acquired deficit of speech, usually caused by trauma to the left hemisphere of the brain or stroke.
My work at RTI, though not directly connected with these interests, has shown me the vast reach of communication deficits outside of aphasia. I am currently working on two separate projects with my mentors at RTI. Both projects are aimed at finding better ways to get consent from participants with intellectual disabilities and disorders that is truly informed. As an undergraduate research assistant, I considered myself to be fairly familiar with the process of informed consent. However, I had never thought about the difficulties that arise when a research participant has an intellectual disability that could impact his or her ability to understand and give informed consent. Researching this problem, and exploring the extent to which our ability to communicate impacts all aspects of our lives, has proved to be an incredibly fascinating way to spend my time this semester.
Working at RTI has also exposed me to the importance of being able to work as part of an interdisciplinary team. Both projects I am working on involve people from all kinds of professions – psychologists, geneticists, computer scientists, and many more. All of these professions contribute integral parts to the projects, and the sum of the parts is definitely greater than what each profession could create independently. Being exposed to interdisciplinary groups like these has convinced me that, in the future, fostering interdisciplinary research projects will be the key to creating advances in the fields of neuropsychology and speech-language pathology!
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