Research pays off for psych student


When you're up against 500 applicants, having research experience under your lab coat doesn't hurt.

Mercyhurst University senior Jessica Braymiller landed one of 12 competitive research fellowships sponsored by the American Psychological Association in mid-June. Braymiller was matched with Craig McDonald, Ph.D., assistant professor of cognitive and behavioral neuroscience at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

At the recommendation of Matthew T. Weaver, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory of Addiction and Impulsivity at Mercyhurst, Braymiller was selected for one of the six-week fellowships. It was her experience as Weaver’s lab assistant during her junior year, when she conducted preliminary research for a study on nicotine dependence as part of her senior research practicum, that helped her stand out in the pool of applicants.

“Jessica possess the traits of a great researcher — she’s self-motivated, independent, good at problem solving, a critical thinker and she is organized,” said Weaver. “I have seen a marked improvement in Jessica; she came back from the fellowship with new ways of thinking. This experience really solidified what she wants to do for the rest of her life.”

As a student fellow, Braymiller conducted research that most students at the undergraduate level do not get to experience. The project involved the use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) testing, a procedure that uses a large magnet to measure changes in blood flow in the brain.

“These changes in blood flow allow researchers to detect which areas of the brain are activated during different activities. When an area of the brain is activated, blood flow to that region will increase and light up on the scan of the brain,” said Braymiller. “I am extremely fortunate to have had training and experience using this kind of technology.”

The fellowship was an opportunity of a lifetime for Braymiller, who ended her fellowship with a level one certification in MRI safety and operation. It’s this experience in conjunction with her hands-on research at Mercyhurst that she hopes will give her an edge when she begins applying for graduate school this fall.

“My experience in the psychology department at Mercyhurst more than prepared me for my time at George Mason, where I gained knowledge and experience that will help me overall when pursuing my future educational and career goals,” said Braymiller. “I wouldn’t have made it to George Mason if it wasn’t for the guidance and support of Mercyhurst faculty.”

As a psychology major with a minor in biology and a concentration in neuroscience, Braymiller is currently completing her senior research practicum comparing the behaviors of social and dependent smokers, including the effects that nicotine has on these different groups.

Braymiller hopes she can enroll in a graduate program where she can also earn her doctor of philosophy degree. She plans to pursue a career in research, possibly in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience.


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