Student Perspective: Brain Trust

by Jessica Kubik '05

Being careful not to separate the cerebellum, I sliced through the dura mater with my scalpel and peeled it back to reveal the entire brain. From there I made my first sagittal cut and began to identify such structures as the thalamus and fornix. No, this is not a description of a class in medical school, but a sheep brain dissection for a cognitive neuroscience lab at Scripps College.

Now, as I apply to Ph.D. programs in clinical neuropsychology, I can look back to that particular moment in lab to pinpoint the exact moment I decided to become a neuropsychologist. It was exhilarating to know that I was about to explore one of the most mysterious regions of the human body and see firsthand the structures and pathways which are responsible for our every thought, breath, and movement.

Having been lucky enough to have intelligent, inspirational mentors, I was able to gain more research and clinical experiences than most undergraduates do. Not only were there classes such as “Foundations of Neuroscience,” for which students did everything from manipulating single neurons in a crayfish tail to collecting EEG data during different phases of physiological states, but individual professors had interesting research going on at all times. After that first neuroscience class, I joined the lab of Dr. Juliana Baldo and explored how working memory was affected by the disruption of inner speech. From there, I went to the lab of Dr. Richard Lewis and Dr. Nicole Weekes at Pomona, where I was able to use my experience with event-related potentials (ERP methodology) to help investigate the relationships between stress, memory, and their neural correlates. I am currently the lab coordinator for my advisor, Dr. Stacey Wood. In her lab on aging and decision making, I am responsible for recruiting participants, organizing research assistants, and analyzing data.

Along with these experiences in research, I was able to get an internship at a local hospital for rehabilitation through the recommendation of my advisor. During my seven months as a clinical intern at Casa Colina Hospital for Rehabilitation, I was able to see the relationship between brain injury and the resulting behavior. More important, as I observed the difficulties and frustrations of clients struggling to regain their lives and independence, as well as shared in the delight of seeing their hard work pay off, my compassion and empathy grew. I felt fortunate to be able to contribute in so many different ways—from facilitating group therapies and brain injury education seminars to helping with neuropsychological evaluations of clients and report writing. What I encountered at Casa Colina has made me even more eager to work in this field, as well as to use my strong research background to improve the clinical sphere.

Due to this early exposure to in-depth research as well as a clinical environment, I am already successfully involved in the tasks that will be expected of me in graduate school. Coordinating lab groups, working as a teaching assistant, designing and programming experiments, and doing independent research as well as my course work are all part of the challenges I thrive on.

As I go through graduate school and earn my Ph.D., I will always look back fondly to that moment when I first looked at a brain and realized I wanted to know everything I could about it. I have so much appreciation for everyone who helped and supported me while gently guiding me towards a lifetime of exploring the relationship between behavior and the brain. Being a woman, I am especially thankful to have had so many strong women role models who show by example what is possible.