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My name is Julia Sorensen, and I was born and raised in Delray Beach, Florida until the age of eighteen when I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I am a transfer student from Elon University and I’m grateful every day that I made the switch to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From my experiences and classes, I have fallen in love with researching the developmental psychology of children and adolescents. From my previous work at the Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab, I have learned about the social and neurological growth of adolescents and the importance of peer influences on decision-making. My research interests involve adolescent resilience to adverse situations, stress, and trauma.

Through the Gil Program, I am currently an intern at the UNC Early Brain Development Program. Here, I have hands-on experience of what happens behind the scenes of a longitudinal research study. Our lab works with DTI scanning technology to examine the white matter of neonate infants, one-year-olds, and two-year olds. This is a landmark study because there is a great lack of past research on the white matter development of newborn infants, so our lab is breaking ground in this area. The goal of our study is to examine past hereditary history of schizophrenia, and learn if there is any way to see a difference in cortical structures of infants at risk of developing schizophrenia compared to infants at no genetic risk. These findings will hopefully be of use for future utilization in clinical diagnoses and intervention methods as at-risk children grow older. My job at the lab includes running statistical analyses to see if we have obtained any significant findings in our study, and quality control of the DTI scans to make sure the images are clear enough to utilize in our studies for the future.

I have already learned many things at the Early Brain Development Program. Not only have I gotten to know how the brain is structured and how it develops year-by-year, but I have also seen how everything in the studies runs smoothly. Teamwork is very important, and so is caffeine. Our main office contains an espresso machine that has colorful little coffee pods surrounding it like crown jewels. If you bring your own mug, the coffee is fair game. My supervisors and coworkers are highly dedicated to their work, and find sweet reprieve within the espresso. I tried it as well at one point, but the bitter taste told me I wasn’t ready for the real deal. I like to listen to the intelligent conversation that happens near the machine: talk of cortical structures, and imaging techniques, and computer programming that I have not yet worked with. It makes me excited to think that soon, after ideally obtaining my PhD in Developmental Psychology, I will be able to join in these conversations and drink espresso with the scientists that I look up to.


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