Assistant to Co-Author: Research in ALS and Cognitive Reserve

Sebleh Alfa, COL’23, Philadelphia, PA

As an undergraduate Psychology major, there is one thing that every advisor stresses almost tirelessly: research. It is almost every Psych students’ goal to have substantial research experience under their belt to eventually pursue higher education—whether that be in a PhD program or varying masters’ programs. It is invaluable.  However, I’ve found that roles such as ‘research assistant’ seem to always be heavily emphasizing the “assistant” portion.  You are contributing to meaningful work, but not with a substantial amount of autonomy and influence. This is what made my summer especially unique. I had the amazing opportunity to work closely under a neuropsychologist in the Frontotemporal Degeneration Center (FTD) at Penn.

The FTD Center has a diverse array of faculty, from MDs in research to neuropathologists and social workers. The FTD Center is a one-stop shop for patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as FTD and its variants as well as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Through working at this center, I was exposed to just how many different professions contribute to Geriatrics, which is a rapidly growing field. Not only was I able to shadow diagnostic appointments with physicians as well as social workers, but I was trained in administering common neuropsychiatric test such as the NACC, which consists of the MoCA, MINT, Boston Naming Test etc.

Lastly, I was able to co-author a new project surrounding ALS and Cognitive Reserve. This provided amazing experience as I was hands-on with every step of the research project. The initial idea, conducting literature reviews, choosing the best measures to analyze, and much more. I got intensive experience in data analysis in R through data cleaning, checking assumptions within data, performing multiple linear regression models, creating graphs/figures, and ultimately collaborating on an abstract to be submitted to a conference. I was able to challenge myself and learned a copious amount in a short time. Most importantly, I had consistent interaction with the population my work would be serving/impacting. This is the most rewarding aspect of research, if you’re able to learn the personal experiences of your patients beyond their de-identified study ID.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services