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Exploring Brandeis’ labs: Rebecca Simon ’19

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Features

September 23, 2016

Opportunities to work in a lab are multitudinous at Brandeis. Many college students find research to be an incredibly rewarding experience that offers helpful skills for future careers. For students who aren’t interested in working in a hard science lab, there’s the Lifespan Development Psychology Laboratory. This is where Rebecca Simon ’19 discovered undergraduate research.

The Lifespan Lab, located in Brown, is dedicated to promoting good health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, while discovering the secrets behind aging. From the time between birth and death, the lab hopes to research all of the changes that happen to the mind and body. Studies from the lab include subjects of all ages and investigate the cognitive and physical performance and effects of age on the human body.

Simon began working in the Lifespan Lab during her first year at Brandeis. For most of the academic year, she worked independently on a laptop, listening to recordings from a call center of subjects answering questions to a cognitive test. Her job was to correct the time difference between the lag of the cell phones that were used to record the calls and the response time of the subjects to the questions that they were asked during their tests. Essentially, she was adjusting the calls so that the data would correctly measure how long it took for people to respond to the cognitive questions.

While this may not be the first example that comes to mind when thinking of research, Simon said that she is “really happy that I can do research as an undergraduate,” and learned that there are many “different aspects to working in a lab.”

Additionally, Simon received the opportunity to assist a graduate student with her research project during the last few months of her second semester at Brandeis. The project allowed her to interact more with Brandeis students as opposed to data, and she collaborated with students taking psychology courses on campus to obtain the information needed to support the graduate student’s research.

When Simon first arrived at Brandeis, she was thinking of majoring in psychology and was thrilled to be able to start her research career right away. She had some experience with research previously. During her senior year of high school, she worked at the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders and was able to “see the sleep labs,” shadow doctors while they were collecting data and help inform patients about new treatments for various sleep disorders.

This experience greatly benefitted Simon, who is still considering a career in research and would like to continue with undergraduate research at Brandeis. At some point in her academic career, she is interested in the idea of “leading my own project and designing an experiment,” as she was inspired by the work of her colleagues in the lab.

The time commitment for a job in the Lifespan Lab is six to eight hours a week for an undergraduate student. While Simon mentioned that it can sometimes feel repetitive to work with similar data for extended periods of time, there is a period of adjustment like there is at any other job, and the work done by students largely benefits the project as a whole.

Simon also said that she was surprised to learn that she could help graduate students with their research and that a wide variety of opportunities could arise from the initial project that she was assigned as an undergraduate student.

There are opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in the research in the Lifespan Lab. Simon explained that despite some challenges, generally speaking, research is important to “discover new things and help people.” She believes it can greatly add to a student’s experience at Brandeis and said that it is “nice that curiosity can become a job.”

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