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Meet Melissa Burroughs, a Senior Psychology major and Neuroscience minor, who works in the Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab with Dr. Eva Telzer. The DSN Lab is interested in how social processes evolve during adolescence and why teenagers are more likely to take risks. The lab uses fMRI tasks to link behavior with brain activation. Melissa is interested in how risk taking functions during adolescence.

What has been the most difficult part of your research experience? I never realized how difficult it would be to even just come up with a research question! When I was given the opportunity to do my own independent project last year, I first had to come up with a research question that I was interested in. I expected this to be necessary yet simple task; however, I spent a long time sifting through previous literature to try to determine what novel questions I could ask. My hard work paid off, and I was able to eventually narrow down my broad interests and converge on an interesting question worth asking.

Do you get to work with any interesting equipment? The DSN Lab uses fMRI machines to study adolescent brain activation during tasks. An fMRI machine uses huge magnets to track blood flow in the brain as an indicator of which areas are most active during that time. I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about how these machines work, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of relying on them, as I’ve continued in the lab. It’s particularly difficult to use fMRIs with children because it requires them to be still for a long time, which is hard for them to do. I haven’t had the chance to have my brain scanned while I play games yet, but I hope to one day!

What do you like most about your work? I have met so many great people through the DSNL! I’ve had amazing and supportive mentors who challenge me to become a better researcher. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from all the graduate students, staff members, and post-doctoral researchers in the lab. I have learned invaluable skills. The lab members are always willing to teach me more about research, professional development, or even just talk about an interesting psychological topic.

Our Undergraduate Research Series features spotlights on our Psychology and Neuroscience majors and minors who are doing undergraduate research with our faculty! We believe strongly that undergraduate experiences are greatly enriched by inquiry and discovery through undergraduate research. Research experiences allow students to better understand literature, determine areas of interest, discover their passion for research, continue on to graduate studies, and to jump start their careers as researchers. If you are an undergraduate who is interested in pursuing research experiences, we offer PSYC and NSCI 395 as an opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students and faculty members on cutting-edge psychological and neuroscience research. We also recommend you visit the Office for Undergraduate Research to find research opportunities, apply for research funding, and for helpful tools and advice. Research opportunities abound at UNC – find one that works for you!

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