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Researcher of the Month
Psychology major, Class of 2011
URECA Summer Program 2010, Psychology Honors Thesis program
Dr. Greg Hajcak, Psychology; Dr. Roman Kotov, Psychiatry & Behavioral Science; Dr. David Klonsky, Psychology
“Startling” discoveries are par for the course in the day-to-day lab experiences of Lynne Lieberman, Psychology major, class of 2011. Involved in screening and scheduling outpatient clinical participants, doing clinical interviews, and running subjects through experiments as a Research Assistant/Project Coordinator on a joint investigation with the research groups of Dr. Greg Hajcak (Cognitive & Affective Psychophysiology Lab, Department of Psychology) and Dr. Roman Kotov (Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Department), Lynne routinely collects data involving peripheral psychophysiological measures (heart rate /EKG; skin conductance/SCR; and electromyography/EMG, including the well-documented measure for studying emotion— the eyeblink startle response). Her work on this 300-participant project, “A psychophysiological examination of emotion processing in major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),” is currently being funded by URECA. Lynne will be using much of the psychophysiological data collected this summer as the basis for her senior project with the Psychology’s Department’s honors thesis program. Lynne is a member of the Psi Chi National Honor Society and has completed extensive training—to work with subjects (e.g. CORIHS), to conduct personality interviews, and to do data cleaning. She is known for being extremely diligent, conscientious and responsible. This month, Lynne plans to take the GREs; next fall, she will be applying to Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology.
Lynne first began doing psychology research early on at SB, in the second semester of freshman year when she enrolled in Psychology 273 and started working as a research assistant for Prof. Klonsky in the Personality, Emotion and Behavioral Lab on various projects related to emotion dysregulation, borderline personality disorder, and non-suicidal self injury. In addition to these research experiences, Lynne has served as a support line counselor for Response of Suffolk County (a crisis hotline); worked as anOrientation Leader and Office Assistant for Student Orientation; worked in University Advancement’s Telefund; as an AIDS walk team leader/Peer Educator; and held part-time jobs as a waitress, telemarketer and cashier. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, and attended James Madison HS. Below are excerpts of Lynne's interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your current research.
Lynne: The project I’m working on now concerns personality and psychophysiology in mood and anxiety disorders. We have a group of ~300 people that are coming in. We do extensive structured clinical interviews, electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings. I’m responsible also for scheduling interviews for the patients’ second visit. So it’s been a busy summer so far! ...The second project that I’ve been working on involves adolescents. They also do an EEG. We measure their startle response also. That project focuses on fear generalization tasks. We’re trying to see if they learn basically to associate an aversive stimulus with what’s being shown to them.. …Right now there’s so much data, with both projects. The data collection will be done probably by the end of the summer. I'm really enjoying both projects, including the second project with the adolescents. ...It’s strange because, initially, I thought I wouldn’t like working with kids as much. But I’ve found, kids are much less jaded, more open. Interpersonally it’s been fun and engaging.
How long have you been working with your research group? How did you get first involved?
I’ve been working with Prof. Hajcak since last July. I also work with Prof. Roman Kotov and have been working with him also since last June/July. (They’re doing a joint project. ) Initially, I worked with Dr. Klonsky’s Personality, Emotion and Behavior (PEBL) lab through a Psych 273/Supervised research course. I worked on a longitudinal study examining the cross-sectional correlates (behavioral, clinical and personality) and potential prospective predictors of non-suicidal self injury (NSSI). A lot of what I was doing was data entry, running college students through reaction time tasks. At the end of my sophomore year, when Dr. Klonsky left, I went along with his graduate students to Dr. Hajcak’s Cognitive and Affective Psychophysiology lab. With these various experiences, I ended up liking research a lot ... it ‘s worked out really well.
What do you like about doing research?
I like that it’s a puzzle. It’s sort of like a game….figuring out that little missing piece that perhaps somebody didn’t study before. That standard line—“because it helps people in the end,” is part of it too. But when you’re doing the research, you’re not really thinking of that so much as you’re thinking, “This is interesting, this is cool.” And I think psychophysiology research is really fascinating. I’m really interested in the application of psychophysiological methodology—the science of looking and analyzing physiological responses. I want to understand it more.
Has it been helpful that you started doing research early on, in your freshman year?
Oh yes, definitely. Part of it is just figuring out and developing what you’re actually interested in. Over a period of time, too, I’ve learned about how the department works, what graduate student life is like … what clinical work is like. It’s been really helpful in terms of developing my thoughts of where I want to be next year, or two years from now.
Do you work a lot with graduate students?
There’s one graduate student, Cassie Glenn, who I’ve been working with since I was a freshman. She’s been really helpful with everything, in terms of the best way to go about getting research experience, and applying to graduate school, thinking about the GREs. She’s been amazing since day 1. It’s helpful too just being around graduate students - I think at this point I feel prepared as I could feel for graduate school.
How has being involved in research enhanced your education overall?
I don’t know what I would have done without it! It has really helped me in terms of understanding what’s going on in my classes. It’s also nice in that it tends to overlap – the research and the coursework. When I took a Fear and Anxiety class with Dr. Hajcak, for example, he talked in class about what we were doing in the lab -- the startle response, about EEGs. And it makes you realize that it’s not just something you read in a textbook, that the citations actually came from somewhere. Sometimes I don’t know how people go 4 years without getting any research experience, especially as a psychology major. Being involved in research helps you understand so much better the background, the research methods… You don’t take things for face value so much. You become more of a critical thinker when you see how research actually goes on.
What have you learned from your mentors?
It sounds silly, but I’ve learned how busy professors are! But really….you get to see what their life is like – how they integrate teaching, doing research, etc. I really like talking to them, seeing them get so excited about their work. I too want to be a professor after all’s said and done.
Apart from the lab meetings, have you had chances to present your work?
At URECA, I presented some of the data that we’re still collecting now on bipolar disorder. It was the first experience I had where somebody was asking me the questions. Professors were asking me, "what is this about?"...And I would have to answer. There was no graduate student or professor there to save me. It was interesting to see how it comes out of my mouth vs. what I’ll put on paper, or what’s on the poster. It helped me realize that I understand what I’m doing more than I thought I did. Because I was able to explain it. And that’s a nice experience ...
What did you think is one of the hardest things about doing research?
As an undergrad, balancing it with your coursework. And also, establishing that you’re responsible. What’s difficult is proving yourself and to the people you’re working with that you can balance your coursework with whatever is going on in the lab. …At times, things can get frustrating. When you’re hooking up someone to an EEG, trying to get things to work, you sometimes need to take a minute to step back and calm down, and realize that it’s okay if you mess up one thing. A lot of it is developing patience.
Do you think doing research has helped with problem solving or other skills?
It definitely has. It made me grow up a lot. It’s helped me in managing stress … Just when you think you couldn’t possibly have more to do, you suddenly do. There’s a person who cancels. You need to reschedule. There’s someone comes in two hours early when you thought you had time (e.g. to study!). A lot of it is time management. Prof. Hajcak’s lab is always really busy. He’s got a ton of projects going on. I think if I just took courses and studied a lot, it wouldn’t have been the same undergraduate experience. I wouldn't have had what I got out of all this.
What advice do you have for other students?
Get started early! Even if you get started in research and you find out that the work is not exactly what you’re really interested in, it’s part of the narrowing down process. I think it can be really helpful. The earlier you start, the quicker you can narrow things down. Getting started early also makes it easier to apply to other labs. When you get to your third year in college, they want to see either that you’ll be there a long time or have experience. So the earlier you get started, the more experience you have. The more you have to offer.
Does it take a lot of training to analyze physiological responses?
At first, you’re just learning the set-up – e.g., where to put the electrodes. Just because you plug something in doesn’t mean you get a good reading. You can get a whole bunch of noise. It can come from the air conditioner. Or maybe the person has dry skin that day. Maybe they wear too much hair spray. It depends. . . You learn to troubleshoot. That took a long time. It took a couple of months to really get it. I had really never done anything like that before.
Also for me, going to the Hajcak lab at the end of sophomore year was a huge transition. A lot of the time, I was worried…I was afraid that I didn’t understand physics or voltage or physiology well enough…that I’d be at a huge disadvantage. But part of it is reading on your own time. And asking a lot of questions when you’re there.
So are you more comfortable there now?
I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve never taken physics. But I ask a lot of questions when I’m there. I don’t just want to plug stuff in. I want to know why it’s working or why it’s not working. I want to do know what it means. It’s hard to do that sometimes when you don’t have a background. If I could go back, I probably would have taken physics my first year.
Is asking questions one of your strengths?
I hope so. I ask a lot of them!