The post below comes from Joshua Fuller, an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, former President of Honors Student Council, former Junior Advisor and Sophomore Advisor for the Honors Housing Community. Fuller is a senior psychology and Spanish double-major, with a minor in neuroscience. You can find his ePortfolio at http://joshuafuller.weebly.com.
– By Joshua Fuller ’17
Exhilarating. Intimidating. Inspiring.
These three words explain my four-day long journey at my first national research conference, the 36th National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) annual meeting.
Applying to NAN 2016 was admittingly somewhat of a last-minute endeavor. I remembered my research mentor, Dr. Steve Balsis, talking about his experience at NAN 2015 in Austin, Texas, and thought NAN 2016 would be a great forum to present my most recent work, a first-author publication on the nature of neuropsychiatric symptom presentation in Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, we caught the abstract deadline two weeks before it passed (which still blows my mind since the abstract deadline was in February and the conference was in October). As an undergraduate interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology, or the assessment of neurological conditions, this conference was an obvious place to submit my work.
As a seasoned undergraduate Alzheimer’s researcher and an aspiring neuropsychologist, I was simultaneously excited and timid as I exited my cab and walked into the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, the site of NAN 2016. Sure, I had presented my lab’s work before at the Texas A&M Student Research Week (and even took home an award), but this was clearly a whole different ball game. Instead of answering A&M student or faculty members’ questions about my work, I was going to be fielding questions from actual real-life neuropsychologists (some of whom are faculty at the Ph.D. programs I am currently applying to, so that was also terrifying).
I attended two long lectures the morning of my poster presentation, the first on neuroimaging and the second on diversity in clinical practice. Following the lectures, I immediately went to the exhibit hall where I hung my poster and talked to passerby for two hours. In the mix of visitors, two judges came by my poster and seemed to be very impressed by the quality of my work (especially because I was an undergrad among a sea of graduate students and post-docs). I had also networked some via email with Dr. Laura Lacritz, the President of our conference, because she studies Alzheimer’s disease is a professor at the UT Southwestern Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program (one of the Ph.D. programs I applied to this application cycle). Well… if there’s one thing I have learned by now it is that networking sometimes can really pay off! Dr. Lacritz stopped by my poster, talked to me for about fifteen minutes, and as we parted ways she complimented my research me that if I ever have any questions or would like to collaborate she’s just an email away.
After my poster presentation, I had the chance to listen to other world-renown Alzheimer’s experts, like Dr. Yaakov Stern of Columbia and Dr. Dorene Retnz of Harvard, give lectures on their inspirational research. I also had a chance to go to a few events for students where I met many graduate students (including a large plethora from UT Southwestern) who talked to me about their experiences and their research, giving me more encouragement during my Ph.D. application season.
I was sad that I had to leave the conference early to get back to College Station for a fundraiser, as I was truly in nerd-heaven. Before I left, a new graduate student friend told me to be on the lookout for the student poster award recipients (as I was going to miss the award ceremony). I knew I had a nice poster and that I gave an excellent presentation, but my poster was one of several hundred at the conference eligible for five awards. Surely I was not going to win a student poster award…
Well, I did… and I am still surprised and humbled to this day. Honestly, though, receiving such an honor is not a testament to my ability, but rather the time and energy that Dr. Balsis and so many other mentors have poured into me throughout my undergraduate research career. Being among the top poster presentations at the conference was an amazing way to close my first ever national research conference.
When I left College Station for Seattle, I felt anxious. When I returned, I was inspired. Undergraduate research has been a winding (and sometimes cyclical) journey for me, but I am so proud of the relationships I’ve built and the projects that I’ve been a part of over the years. As someone who was cynical about research before coming to A&M, I encourage you to keep an open mind! There are so many different questions that need to be answered, and you have an incredibly unique opportunity to explore alongside some of the world’s most talented research faculty. If I got involved in research (and have now won multiple awards and first-authored a publication currently in review) simply because I asked my professor about research opportunities in the Alzheimer’s arena, so can you! Get started today by visiting the LAUNCH website and talking with your professors about topics you would like to research.