My name is Rachel Phillips and I am an undergraduate senior working towards a B.S. in Psychology, minoring in Neuroscience and Biology. This fall I have had the opportunity to intern with UNC’s Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC). BRIC is host to a collection of skilled research faculty, and I have had the privilege to work with Dr. Stacey Daughters, who is also a member of the Human Neuroimaging Group at UNC. Daughters conducts research on addiction as the principal investigator for the Biobehavioral Research on Addiction and Emotion (BRANE) lab at UNC. My specific project in the lab has been on an fMRI study examining the effect of transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) on distress tolerance in substance users.
To this point in my internship, I have worked on developing our study’s experimental design. One aspect of this has been through meetings between Dr. Daughters, graduate and postdoctoral students in the BRANE lab, and research faculty in other departments including neurology and behavioral and integrative neuroscience. Collaborative opportunities such as these have given our lab insight into tACS administration, including how to perform stimulation safely with participants.
In addition, I have been able to learn new techniques for recording psychophysiological measurements like galvanic skin response (GSR) and EKG for heart rate. Currently, I am receiving training on processing fMRI data, which can be very challenging. Once our study begins recruiting participants, I will be responsible for applying this new knowledge by helping instruct participants through tasks when they are in the fMRI scanner and interpreting the resulting data.
On that same note, one of the biggest take-aways I have gleamed from my experience so far has been a lesson in flexibility. A large chunk of time this semester has been spent preparing our study before recruiting participants. This crucial time for development will ensure that our results are valid and reliable. Any obstacles have taught me more about the process of scientific research, providing an appreciation for this sometimes bumpy process.
Despite any setbacks in our study timeline, my internship has allowed me to clearly define my research interests for graduate school, and I plan to apply to clinical psychology PhD programs this year. I am interested in researching the biomarkers and neural correlates that characterize psychological disorders, to inform the RDoC (Research Domain Criteria) initiative set in place by the NIMH.
I want to encourage any and all undergraduate students interested in a career in psychology to consider the Karen M. Gil internship program. There is no other opportunity on campus that enables you to network with leaders in the field, explore your interests in depth, and learn alongside a brilliant cohort of peers.
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