Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Dominique Martinez, COL ’20

I spent my summer working as a Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship (PURM) research assistant (RA) in the Brannon Lab. The Brannon Lab is one of the six labs that make up the Penn Child Development Labs, a group that is interested in how children grow and develop within various cognitive domains. Collectively, the group studies creativity, language, brain plasticity, and numerical cognition. More specifically, the Brannon Lab is concerned with the development of numerical cognition from birth to late-childhood. My main role as an RA consisted of collecting both behavioral and neuroimaging data. The hands-on nature of the position allowed me to explore my academic interests and love for research like never before.

One of the projects that I worked on this summer sought out to answer the question: Can children successfully divide before they are taught division in school? The study helps to determine if division is an innate ability or if it is a socially-learned skill. Collecting data for this study involved administering a computer task to children aged six to nine. Although I had previously collected this type of behavioral data, this experience strengthened my ability to collect data accurately and without bias. I especially enjoyed data collection for this study because of the children; the stories that they shared with me and the other RAs were always very entertaining.

Another project I was involved in used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study at what point children are able to map verbal numerical quantities to physical objects. Data collection in this study provided me with the chance to work alongside MRI technicians to image childrens’ brains. Although I had been a participant in an MRI study before, being on the other side of the scanner was both exciting and academically enriching. Since I am majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB), I have learned about neuroimaging in an academic setting; however, through this summer opportunity I was able to learn about this technique in person and with actual participants. More specifically, the post-doctoral and graduate students in the lab taught me MRI safety and the science behind how an MRI machine actually functions.

Overall, this research position introduced me to new experimental techniques, exposed me to a new participant age group, and helped me discover my passion for research. I was lucky enough to participate in this opportunity because of sponsorship from the Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships (CURF) and an additional funding award from Career Services at the University of Pennsylvania. The additional funding from Career Services allowed me to focus on research and not on how I was going to afford various expenses, such as rent and groceries. Without this funding, I am not sure that I would have been able to accept my position in the Brannon Lab and pursue my academic goals this summer.

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