Allison Li ’22.5

Center for Biomedical Imaging and Neuromodulation (C-BIN), The Nathan Kline Institute for 
Psychiatric Research, Orangeburg, NY

This summer, I worked remotely as a clinical research intern with the Center for Biomedical Imaging and Neuromodulation (C-BIN) at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research (NKI), a New York State-funded research center focused on the causes, treatment, and prevention of mental illness. C-BIN in particular focuses on developing, refining, and applying brain imaging techniques with the goal of better understanding brain maturation throughout the lifespan and improving the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Under the direction of research scientist Dr. Zhen Yang, I supported a project focusing on distress tolerance: the ability to persist in goal-directed activity during emotional distress. This construct is important because it is essential for cognitive and social functions and tends to be low across different psychiatric disorders. We wanted to use data from the NKI Rockland Sample (NKI-RS), a community sample with thousands of participants across the lifespan, to better understand the relationship between distress tolerance and various categories of psychopathology, as well as the neural basis of the construct.

I learned a great deal about spreadsheet-based data management in the process of downloading and organizing the NKI-RS data. I also learned R in order to filter the data, create graphs, and perform data analysis, and used the SPSS skills I gained from my PSYC 201 class for analysis as well. I first worked only with the physical, behavioral, cognitive, and diagnostic data, but towards the end of the summer, I began looking at our structural MRI data and comparing high and low distress tolerance and depressed vs. non-depressed subjects on structural brain measures. Given that our sample size with distress tolerance data is fairly small, we decided to change the focus of our project to brain and behavioral predictors of depression, but may incorporate distress tolerance to some extent.

This internship was an amazing experience: I was able to learn so much about the process of conducting clinical psychology 
research, and know that I will continue to develop my research and writing skills as I continue working with Dr. Yang throughout the fall. This experience has definitely reaffirmed my interest in a career in clinical psychology research; I will definitely pursue future research opportunities, including a senior thesis in psychology and obtaining a Ph.D. in this field.

I’m incredibly grateful to Dr. Yang for her mentorship, and to Kristin Trautman and Dr. Anna MacKay-Brandt for leading NKI’s summer internship program. I’d also like to thank the Public Service Internship for sponsoring my internship and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for making this experience possible.