Psych Major Wins Fellowship In Cognitive Neuroscience
As a first-year student, Ben Majors ‘09 had a vague idea he wanted to study psychology and maybe go into medicine. Over the next two years, the relationships he developed with the professors teaching neuroscience, along with his enthusiasm for courses in research methods and advanced statistics, directed him instead toward a Ph.D. program and a career as a research scientist in cognitive neuroscience.
“One of the things that first attracted me to Washington College was the expectation that I could easily talk to my professors,” Ben says. “The faculty in the psychology department are always open to sharing ideas for research topics and encourage you to do what you’re interested in.”
Last spring, his professors helped him land a summer science fellowship in cognitive neuroscience—one of 12 awarded by the American Psychological Association. Based on the strength of his lab experiences and his professors’ letters of recommendation, Ben spent the summer before his senior year in the lab of Dr. Amy Shelton at Johns Hopkins University, where he assisted with experiments seeking to understand how the brain processes spatial information.
“I had already had tons of experience with testing human subjects,” Ben notes by way of explaining how he won the fellowship. His research methods course in cognitive psychology introduced him to setting up tasks, working in behavioral stages, and running statistical data.
In Dr. Shelton’s lab experiment, Ben first disoriented the test subjects by spinning them around in a chair, wheeled them into a learning room, and then permitted them to learn the room’s physical layout. The test subjects were then removed to another room to test their recall of the room’s spatial relationships, including distance estimation.
“We wanted to build a map of how people process spatial information—both how it is learned and how it is retrieved.”
Ben considers his summer fellowship a “trial run” for graduate school, as well as an opportunity to get some ideas for his senior capstone project.
“This is an exciting field,” he says. “It’s fun to be part of the leading edge.”