Researcher of the Month
Majors: Psychology, Biology
Research Mentor: Dr. Hoi-Chung Leung, Psychology
Lyrikah Rodrigues is a junior in the Honors College, pursuing dual majors in Psychology and Biology (Neuroscience track); and has been a member of the research group of Dr. Hoi-Chung Leung (Psychology Department) since June 2021.This past summer, Lyrikah was funded by URECA to investigate the relationship between the apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype, beta-amyloid plaques, and executive-function task performance using data from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) database. She will be presenting a poster on her URECA project, titled “TheEffect of Apolipoprotein E (APOE) Gene on Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms,” at the upcoming URECA campus-wide research symposium in May; and has also submitted a paper to The Undergraduate Research Journal of Psychology (URJP) at UCLA detailing her findings. Lyrikah is also participating in the Psychology departmental honors program, and plans to do her senior honors thesis focusing on TOMM40, a gene closely linked to APOE. Lyrikah’s long term goal is to pursue an M.D. or M.D/Ph.D. with a focus on geriatric psychology.
Lyrikah participates in the JFEW-SUNY Global Affairs Program, and will have the opportunity to participate in a paid internship at a NYC-based globally-focused organization this coming summer. She is a commuter student, and has been extensively involved in campus activities including serving as a Success Navigator Mentor with the Academic Success and Tutoring Center; as an Honors College “big sibling” peer mentor; and as a member of the Middle States team participating in the institutional self-study for Standard IV - Support of the Student Experience. She is also current President (and formerly social media representative) of Dumbledore’s Army Stony Brook, a club inspired by the Harry Potter book series; and formerly a member of Neuroscience Axis (2020).
Over the last few years, Lyrikah has developed extensive experience in video editing and website design, and has put her skills to use for the SBU Medicine Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine, as well as the Mandl School: The College of Allied Health where she has been involved for several years in producing virtual commencement ceremonies and facilitating online education
Lyrikah was born in Bangkok, Thailand, immigrated to the US at age 11, and graduated from New Hyde Park Memorial High School. Her hobbies include writing poetry and fiction, and art (acrylic painting, digital). Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your research focus.
Lyrikah: I’m a research assistant in the Leung Cognitive Lab in the Psychology department. For URECA this past summer, I studied the effects of APOE, the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene. There are a few different allele types: APOE ε4 is the allele linked with the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. My project focused on amyloid accumulation, tau accumulation, brain volume or atrophy, and neuropsychological domains of memory and executive function. I primarily used data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) to carry out the data analysis for this study.
I’d say that my project has been a year in the making, because when I first joined the lab, I didn't have a lot of experience. I had been interested in Alzheimer's Disease ever since I was in middle school, and had done a bit of background reading on this topic, but I needed to get more deeply informed about the literature in the field. I started working with Ryan Wales, a graduate student in the Leung Lab who works on Alzheimer's Disease focusing on tau accumulation. I also gained more experience using Matlab and then, more recently, with SPSS software and RStudio.
Something that's always interested me was genetics. I knew I wanted to go in that direction when I started developing my URECA project proposal, and Ryan was a great mentor in directing me, helping me to ask the right questions. I learned thatit's very important to ask the right questions.
How did you first get involved with the Leung research lab?
Initially I was under the impression that it would be difficult to join a lab without more experience. But after freshman year, when I was looking online on the Psychology Department page, I saw that they had a list of labs looking for research assistants, and so I just sent in an application. The Leung lab was the first to contact me and ask me for an interview. I wasn’t too confident when I interviewed, but to my surprise, they accepted me. I had hoped that they could see that I was enthusiastic, and I really wanted to learn.
I also think that it was the right time for me to apply. It was not too early, because I had already done a year of studies, and had taken quite a few psychology classes by then. By starting right at the end of freshman year, it gave me enough time to develop my knowledge and skills in the Lab, and prepare for URECA which I participated in last summer.
Do you feel that your confidence has improved through research?
Yes, and that confidence isn’t something that I outwardly show but it’s something I have inside. I’ve read all these papers and know the terminology at this point. So I feel like I have a much better understanding now. And it's not something that I could have got just by taking classes. I think this is something that has come from doing research. It's not something that you can learn by studying for an exam or anything,it's something that you have to learn by doing. And I also feel that the research hasreallyconnected with what I am reading and learning in my classes.
Was it useful for you to have a summer to immerse yourself in research?
Definitely, because over the semester I found myself not having enough time to focus on research because of being caught up with assignments and tests. Having the summer to focus solely on research was really eye opening for me. And I learned a lot! 10 weeks sounds like a lot of time, but with all the things that go into a research project, I found it's not really enough time. Still, over the summer, I feel that I have learned how to plan my time a little bit better, and that will be really helpful for the next project that I work on – particularly for my honors thesis project.
Was there anything that you found to be particularly surprising, or that you didn't expect, when you were starting this research project over the summer?
Yes, mostly dealing with inconsistencies in the databases. That was something that I didn't expect, and after panicking when I initially couldn’t find certain data, I learned that there are different naming systems and you have to learn how to look for and find the data you need. My graduate mentor, Ryan, was very helpful in going through this process.
What has been your experience generally of working in the Leung Cognitive Lab research group?
I do a lot of my work remotely, behind the computer. But I can definitely say that the research group is very friendly and they encourage undergraduates to present at group meetings. And because of the welcoming environment, I don't really feel shy to ask questions.
What are your long-term goals?
I'm a pre-med student, and I’m very interested in geriatric psychology. I also hope to pursue an MD/PhD because I’d like to remain actively involved in research. I've learned a lot from it, and I want to continue being in this field and contribute to this field.
What motivated your interest in this field?
I immigrated to the US when I was 11. At that time, I got to know my grandfather who was in a nursing home and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I got to see the progression of the disease by getting to know him, observing how he forgot his memories but still clung on to core memories, such as his love of music. He passed away in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic but my interactions with him were what sparked the interest in me in this field. It just really fascinated me, how certain things can affect memory, and the way that the brain works. Because of how terrible of a disease it is, and what it does to people, I think it's so important for us to be doing research to better our understanding of this disease.
What advice do you have for other students about research?
First of all, don't be afraid. Don't make the same mistake that many people make by thinking that the labs aren't going to want you just because you don't know enough. The whole process of research is actually about learning, and about getting acquainted with a field of knowledge that interests you. So don't be afraid to reach out to labs and professors; they’re a lot less scary than we think they are. Also, do something that you're interested in, because your enthusiasm and interest in something will get you very far. It'll make the experience a lot less tedious if you're doing something that you're genuinely interested in. And as a bonus, research also teaches you a lot of things which you don't expect to learn, particularly about time management, and communication.
I definitely think research is a good thing to do early on, to get the most of your education. Sometimes it's difficult to make progress, and you realize how many questions we have for which we still don’t know the answers. But these questions are important to keep investigating and to keep focusing on. For me,the experience ofdoing research has been really great! I ‘m very glad that I got the opportunity to do it and that I can continue to do it. And I really hope more people feel less afraid to get involved in research!