Julia Zhang ’25

Rutgers-Princeton Center for Computational Cognitive Neuro-Psychiatry, Piscataway, NJ

This summer I was a research assistant for the Rutgers-Princeton Center for Computational Cognitive Neuro-Psychiatry (CCNP), which works as a facility that runs, funds and recruits for studies at Rutgers University and Princeton University. CCNP works closely with—but not a part of—the University Behavioral Health Center (UBHC), and the Adult Inpatient Unit (AIPU) is our primary recruiting site for these sub-studies.

CCNP conducts several simultaneous sub-studies that follow an overarching general protocol and is in the process of proposing more. Topics of interest include schizophrenia, mood disorders and drug/alcohol use disorder. The “Snack Study” is a sub-study that investigates the relationship between major depression and cognitive and physical effort. Another sub-study seeks to characterize the interaction between mood states and the valuation of various stimuli in bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. The final study that I had the opportunity to help out with explores the relationship between various biomarkers of schizophrenia, symptoms and cognitive function.

My main tasks at the CCNP were conducting studies on patients and controls, focusing primarily on the “Snack Study” and recruiting from the AIPU and interested outside sources. I went into the unit several times a week to establish rapport with patients, screen them and update our census. The “Snack Study” constitutes three sessions totaling six to seven hours in length. Session one consists of surveys; session two utilizes computer games to analyze cognitive and physical effort; session three uses snacks and additional computer games to investigate relationships between urges, rewards and choice-making. I ran and completed this study with three participants and aided with some sessions that other interns were conducting.

I came into this internship with the intent of exploring research and the field of psychology to determine if this was something that I would be interested in pursuing further, especially given my interest in mental health and clinical psychology. I was able to obtain key insight into the research process and working in AIPU. Although I enjoyed this internship and firmly believe that it was a valuable experience, I don’t see myself continuing down this path of neuropsychology.

Exposure to patients inside the unit and hearing many of their stories was incredibly humbling and eye-opening. Discussions with my supervisor about the flaws of the UBHC and the AIPU inspired me to inquire about possible solutions and causes to these problems. I am more determined to work on improving healthcare and/or public health after my experience at the CCNP, which has been nothing but positive. It has been helpful speaking to my coworkers, other interns, students and postdocs, and staff members at the UBHC about their experiences and potential future plans, for they have provided incredible advice and given me many things to consider as I continue my education.

Given the valuable insight I have gained, I cannot thoroughly express my appreciation and gratitude to my supervisor, Johanne, as well as to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Class of 1974 for this opportunity with the CCNP. Thank you for making this summer incredible.