I am a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.S. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University and subsequently worked in clinical psychology research for two years as part of the Yale Child Study Center’s Autism Program. I am interested in investigating the cognitive and brain development of typically and atypically developing children, in order to use this knowledge to construct developmentally appropriate educational curricula and interventions for individual learners, particularly those with developmental disabilities.
Kandice Varcin, Ph.D.
I joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow in August 2013 after completing my Ph.D. and Masters in Clinical Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. My doctoral research focused on the identification and characterization of mechanisms contributing to social cognitive disruption in individuals with schizophrenia using electrophysiological techniques. At the LCN I will be expanding my repertoire of neuroscientific techniques to investigate potential neurobehavioral and cognitive markers of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) emerging in infancy in various clinical and high-risk populations. The overarching goal of this stream of research is to identify early markers of developmental disorders that will translate to earlier diagnosis and intervention at the clinical level.
Jocelyn LeBlanc, Ph.D
I joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow in July 2013 after receiving my PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard. My graduate work focused on investigating the neurobiological basis of autism. Specifically, I used molecular, biochemical, and electrophysiological methods to characterize the development of the visual cortex in a genetic mouse model of autism. I found interesting changes in visual processing and plasticity that were accompanied by an altered balance of cortical excitation and inhibition. As part of an exciting collaboration between my doctoral lab and the Nelson lab, I am now collecting electrophysiological data, including EEG and event-related potentials, from children with Rett Syndrome, a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene. My goal is to determine if cortical processing of sensory stimuli is altered in Rett Syndrome and if we could ultimately use such measures as a biomarker of cortical function during the early regression period.
I graduated from Duke University in the spring of 2014, with a B.A. in Psychology and minors in Chemistry and Theater Studies. As an undergraduate, I developed an interest in gene-environment interactions, and my independent study specifically investigated the effects of early childhood stress on IQ throughout the lifespan. I am thrilled to be a part of the Nelson Lab and I am currently working on the Emotion Project, which examines the neural bases of emotion processing in early childhood. I love working with children, and hope to attend medical school in the future to become a pediatrician.
Johanna Bick, Ph.D
I received my Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Delaware. As a doctoral student, I explored the neurobiological and psychophysiological correlates of bonding between at risk mothers and infants, with the goal of understanding how non-optimal parent-infant relationships may place infants at risk for adverse outcomes. After completing a postdoctoral training program at the Child Study Center at Yale University, I joined the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Fall of 2013. As a research fellow, I am examining how insufficient early rearing experiences, characterized by profound psychosocial deprivation in institutional rearing contexts, may alter neural pathways that subserve social-emotional adjustment and cognitive functioning. I am also exploring how early intervention programs may attenuate risk for atypical neural, psychosocial, and cognitive development.
I joined the LCN as the Clinical Research Program Manager in June 2014. I oversee Dr. Nelson’s large autism research program as well as several studies investigating the development of children with Down syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. I received a Master’s degree in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology in 2009 from Boston College. I am presently completing my doctoral research toward a Ph.D. in Social Policy with a focus in Disability Policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. My doctoral research investigates the joint impact of early intervention services and the family environment on the well-being of families raising children with developmental disabilities over the life-course. My research interests include exploring how experiences in early childhood shape developmental trajectories for children with disabilities and their families. I am also interested in service utilization, the quality of services, and state-level variation in early childhood systems.
I graduated in the spring of 2013 from the University of Rochester, with a double major in brain and cognitive science and American Sign Language. There, I worked in the autism lab and in a parent training clinic for parents of children with autism. I am happy to continue this work with ISP! After working in the LCN, I plan to pursue a PhD in developmental neuroscience.
I graduated from Harvard College in 2011 with a B.A. in Economics with honors, focusing on family economics and early intervention policy. As an undergraduate, I volunteered as a tutor and mentor with programs designed to address educational inequity through early intervention and served as a staff intern to the Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. My interest in early childhood development and intervention brought me to the Nelson Lab in 2012, where I began as a research assistant for a study investigating spatial memory development during the first three years of life in typically developing children. Currently, I am a clinical research assistant working on multiple studies that use ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking technology to identify early behavioral and neurological markers of autism in rare populations at high risk for developing the disorder.
I graduated from Harvard College this spring with a Bachelors in Neurobiology. I worked on the 4 Year Follow-Up Study with Brandon Keehn as an undergraduate intern and I am excited to join the Infant Sibling Project team as a full-time research assistant. I am working under Helen Tager-Flusberg at Boston University Psychology but I spend most of my days at the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience investigating early behavioral and neurological markers of autism in children at risk for developing ASD.
I received a bachelors of arts in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience from the University of Connecticut. My honors thesis centered on the novelty and familiarity preferences of children with autism. Currently, I am a research assistant for the Infant Sibling Project, which is a longitudinal collaborative study between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. This study focuses on the development of infants siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves.
I received my B.S from Boston University in Human Physiology in 2011. During college I worked overseas on a variety of NGOs in Cambodia and Thailand on projects ranging from education and rehabilitation of trafficked and battered women and children, providing rural communities education on HIV/AIDS, developing physiotherapy programs for children with disabilities and HIV/AIDS, building community centers for Burmese refugee,s and working at orphanages to promote better hygiene. Throughout college I developed an interest in developmental and cognitive neuroscience. I joined the LCN in April of 2012 and am currently working on multiple studies using ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development in rare populations at high risk for autism including Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, Rett Syndrome and 16p. I am interested in the development of early biomarkers for autism and changes in sensory processing in atypically developing populations.
I graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a B.A. in Child Development. I first joined the Nelson Lab in the summer of 2009, as an undergraduate research assistant working on a variety of projects investigating atypical development. I completed my senior honors thesis using data from a study focusing on autism and the development of face and object processing. Currently, I am working on multiple studies that are using ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development from infancy through adolescence in atypical populations including autism, tuberous sclerosis complex and Rett syndrome.
I joined the LCN as the Family Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project in 2011. The Infant Sibling Project is a collaborative project between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University studying the development of language, social, and communication skills in infants who have a sibling diagnosed with autism, a speech or language delay, or no known developmental difficulties. I also coordinate the genetics portion of the project and work as the phlebomotist to collect genetics samples. Prior to my participation in the LCN, I worked in the MRI Department at Boston Children’s Hospital and graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in Psychology in 2009.
I joined the LCN in 2011 due to an interest in the early development of both typically developing children, and children with developmental disorders. After receiving a B.A. in Psychology at UCLA and working briefly as an ABA therapist, I worked as part of a research team at UCLA studying the development of children with autism and their younger siblings. Currently, I work as a research assistant on the Infant Sibling Project, a collaborative project between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University that studies the development of infant siblings of children who have a language impairment or an autism spectrum disorder.
I graduated from Wellesley College in 2012 with a double major in Computer Science and in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. I am currently involved in a new study investigating the development of emotion recognition in infants. This study involves integrating methods such as event-related potentials (ERPs), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), skin conductance, eye tracking, and pupillometry.
Vanessa is a former clinical research coordinator at the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, at Boston Children's Hospital. She received her bachelor’s in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota twin cities. Her research interests include early brain development and early identification of autism.
Ross Vanderwert, Ph.D.
I received my Ph.D. in Developmental Science from the University of Maryland and joined the LCN in October 2012. My research interest is in understanding how early social experiences shape early brain development. My doctoral work focused on the neural correlates of action observation and execution and how social interactions may shape the development of premotor and somatosensory areas in both human and non-human primate models. During my postdoc, I will continue to examine the role of early social experience in brain development and expand my repertoire of neuroimaging techniques. I aim to better understand the changes in infants’ processing of emotional face expressions over the first year and how those changes may be mediated by their social interactions with their mother. To this end, I will be using a multi-method approach that includes eye tracking, autonomic nervous system responses, electroencephalogram and event-related potentials (EEG and ERP), and Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) data.
Brandon Keehn. Ph.D
I received my Ph.D. from the San Diego State University / University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Language and Communicative Disorders in the summer of 2011 and subsequently joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow. My graduate work employed a multimodal (fMRI, EEG, eye-tracking) approach to understanding attentional strengths and weaknesses and their neurofunctional underpinnings in school-age children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At the LCN, I plan to extend my investigation of attention to infants and toddlers at risk for ASD. The aim of this research is to provide insight into how early impairments in attention impact the development of higher-level social and communicative abilities in children with ASD. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to identify behavioral and biological markers to assist in making an earlier diagnosis of ASD and to determine potential targets for early intervention.
I received my Ed.S. in School Psychology from Florida International University in Miami, FL and a M.S. Ed. from Duquense University in Pittsburgh, PA. I joined the Nelson Lab in May of 2012 after moving from Miami, Florida. Previously, I had worked at the University of Miami for the past 7 years coordinating various research projects focused on autism spectrum disorders. Additionally, I had the privilege of working with various families and individuals affected by autism spectrum disorders at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of Miami. Currently, I am the Clinical Research Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project, which is a longitudinal collaborative study between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. This study focuses on the development of infant siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves. Additionally, I am coordinating a multisite Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network project in collaboration with Yale University, University of Washington, and UCLA investigating the sex-specific differences in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The purpose of the study is to identify sex differences and to further understand the heterogeneity in brain structure, function, connectivity, and genetics in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Adeline Jabes, Ph.D.
I joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in February 2011 after receiving my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. My graduate work focused on the structural development of the monkey hippocampal formation, a medial temporal lobe (MTL) structure that is essential for memory. Following from this work, I have now put forward several hypotheses about the emergence of memory functions in human infants. During my postdoc, I will investigate the emergence of spatial memory during infancy and the maturation of the specific MTL circuits that subserve this function. Using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques, I aim to establish links between brain maturation and behavioral development in order to better understand the emergence of human memory. Further, such study will also give fundamental information about infant’s memory performance that might become useful tool for detecting early signs of memory impairments in children at risk for MTL pathologies such as epilepsy, autism, or hypoxic-ischemic injury. Finally, I will also be involved in a study of children born following a diabetic pregnancy, using behavioral and neuroimaging methods, to assess the outcomes related to this altered fetal environment.
I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2012 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Applied Math and Statistics. I am currently working on the emotion project, which examines the development and neural bases of emotion processing. This project uses a variety of methodologies to investigate emotion processing in 5 – 10 month old infants, includingeye tracking, electrophysiology, near infrared spectroscopy, genetics, and physiological measures.
Rhiannon Luyster, Ph.D.
I received my PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Michigan and joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in September, 2009. My graduate work focused on early development in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with a particular emphasis on social communication and language development. In general, I am interested in using our knowledge of typical development to better understand which features of ASD are core components and which are sequelae of disrupted early development. During my time at the LCN, I plan to explore the ways in which the brain and behavior are related in young children. I am currently looking at the relationship between visual attention and face processing in children with typical development and children with ASD, using eye-tracking and ERP. These investigations will help disentangle the effects of developmental disorder versus individual differences in development, and my hope is that they will lead to targets for early intervention.
Sharon Fox, M.D., Ph.D.
I graduated in June of 2008 with an MD from Harvard Medical School, and received my PhD in Medical Engineering through Harvard-MIT's Health Sciences and Technology Department in February of 2012. My dissertation work was conducted in the LCN, and focused upon 6-7-month-old infants in the Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) portion of the Infant Sibling Project. I worked to identify regions of the brain responsive to face stimuli in infants using NIRS, and then examined the effects of specific facial characteristics on the NIRS response in both typically developing infants and those at high risk for developing autism spectrum disorders. My current interests involve a wide range of applications of imaging to the early detection of disease, and my work in the lab focuses on a continuation of my previous projects, as well as new applications of NIRS to the study of infant development.
Kristin Concannon, M.A.
I joined the LCN as Research Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project (ISP). The ISP is a collaborative project between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University studying the development of language, social and communication skills in infants from 3 to 36 months. My previous research experience includes serving as lab manager for the Health and Psychophysiology Lab at Harvard University. I have my masters in Mental Health Counseling from Boston College and studied Child Development at Vanderbilt University as an undergraduate.
I received a B.A. with honors in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Wisconsin- Madison in 2010. As a research assistant, I am currently involved in a large-scale study that examines the role of early experience in the development of face processing. More specifically, this study will strive to chart the course of perceptual narrowing in infants. Additionally, it will explore the breadth of an infant's perceptual window through discrimination tasks in categories such as age, species, gender, and race.
Adrienne Tierney; M.Sc, Ed.M., Ph.D.
I am currently a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.A. in Neuroscience and Behavior from Wesleyan University, my M.Sc. in Neuroscience from Universitity Paris VI, and my Ed.M. in Mind, Brain and Education from Harvard's School of Education. My research interests are in the relationship among biological, cognitive, and social development particularly as they relate to development in children with autism. For my dissertation, I will be working with Dr. Nelson on understanding how genetic, neural, and cognitive information together help explain aspects development in autism.
I am an EdM candidate in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received a B.A. with honors in Psychology and a minor in Spanish from Smith College in 2008. I became a graduate student intern in the LCN to gain a better understanding of how the tools of a developmental cognitive neuroscientist are being applied to the study of typical and atypical cognitive development. Currently, I am involved in multiple studies including examining memory and attention in infants with hypoxic-ischemic injury, facial processing in infants at high risk for autism, as well as looking at an infants’ understanding of numbers and quantity by learning the administration and data analysis methods of various neurological tools.
I graduated from Wesleyan University in 2010 with a B.A. in Neuroscience and Behavior. I first joined the Nelson Lab in the summer of 2009, when I worked on a pilot study examining pattern learning in typically-developing children and children with autism. My write-up of the data from that study was accepted as my undergraduate senior honors thesis. Currently, I am working as a research assistant on multiple studies that are using ERP and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development from infancy through adolescence. Specifically, these studies are looking at the processing of social stimuli in children and adolescents with autism, face processing in infants with tuberous sclerosis complex, and memory development in infants who spent time in the NICU due to oxygen deprivation.
Giulia Righi, Ph.D.
I received my PhD in Cognitive Sciences from Brown University in the summer of 2009, and joined the LCN lab in September 2009 as a post-doctoral fellow. In graduate school I used a cognitive neuroscience perspective to study face processing and executive function in adults. As a post-doc, my work will focus primarily on understanding how face processing changes through development, from infancy to adulthood. In particular, I am interested in understanding how the neural systems involved in recognizing faces mature with age, and how these changes relate to observable behaviors across development.
I received my PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in December, 2008 in psychology with an emphasis in clinical psychology. I attended internship at NYU Child Study Center/Bellevue Hospital 2006-2007. My general interest area is in the environmental variables which effect the development of the brain generally and frontal-striatal systems specifically. My graduate research focused on the neural correlates of working memory and inhibition in adolescents with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While at Berkeley I also examined the neural correlates of learning in children raised in different socioeconomic status environments using fMRI. As a post doctoral researcher in the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscienc I plan to continue this cross-disciplinary investigation into the effect of environmental variables on brain development. I am currently running studies which examine stress, learning, and memory in children ages 8-12 years. My hope is to discover changes in neurobiology which may mediate the relationship between social variables, stress, and health outcomes.
I graduated from Wellesley College with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in music. Currently at Dr. Nelson's lab, my research is focused on the Infant Sibling Project, a collaborative longitudinal study between Boston University and Boston Children's Hospital. We will be working with infants who are at an increased risk for autism spectrum disorder or language impairment. Specifically, we will be using both ERP and eye tracking data to identify signs of language or communication problems.
I received an Sc.B. in Neuroscience from Brown University in the spring of 2008. My time in the Nelson Lab began in the summer of 2007, when I began working with data from a longitudinal study concerning the long-term cognitive effects of early iron deficiency on Chilean school-aged children. The completed paper was accepted as my undergraduate honors thesis. As a research assistant, I am currently involved in a large-scale study that examines the role of early experience in the development of face processing. More specifically, this study will strive to chart the course of perceptual narrowing in infants. Additionally, it will explore the breadth of an infant's perceptual window through discrimination tasks in categories such as age, species, gender, and race.
Ben Balas, Ph.D.
I am a post-doctoral researcher in the Nelson Lab, having received both an S.B. degree (2002) and a Ph. D. (2007) from MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Science. I am generally interested in high-level recognition skills in adults and infants, with an emphasis on face recognition. My work to date has been focused on integrating computer vision models with visual psychophysics, a strategy I hope to keep pursuing while studying the development of face and object expertise with Dr. Nelson. In particular, I am interested in contributing to our understanding of the nature of "perceptual narrowing" over the course of visual development.
I obtained my B.A. in psychology from Mount Holyoke College, where I developed a strong interest in clinical and developmental child psychology. I was privileged to become a member of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience in December 2007. I am currently involved in two research studies that are designed to investigate emotional reactivity and regulation in infants and preschool-aged children. Specifically, the aim of the studies are to ascertain whether children who are at increased risk for developing anxiety difficulties process emotional expressions differently from children who are at low risk for anxiety difficulties.
Anne Rifkin, Ph.D.
I received a B.A. in psychology from Georgetown University, and an M.A. and Ph.D in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. I am primarily interested in the impact of non-optimal-but not necessarily extreme-experience on the brain. In my dissertation I examined the impact of subtle differences in early relationships with parents on subtle changes in stress hormones (i.e., cortisol) and cognitive functions known to be impacted by stress (e.g., memory and executive functioning). As a post-doc in the Nelson laboratory, and in collaboration with researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I have broadened my research interests to also consider the effects of other individual differences and corresponding fluctuations in hormones on these same cognitive functions. Using ERP and behavioral techniques, I am currently investigating the role of leptin, a hormone that varies by body fat and nutrition, on memory and executive function.
Kristin Shutts, Ph.D.
I joined the Nelson lab as a post-doctoral fellow in September 2006 after receiving my Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Harvard University in 2006. My main line of research concerns the development of social cognition, in particular how infants and children come to think of themselves and others members of different social categories ( e.g., gender, race, age), and how this changes over the course of development. To study these questions, I use a combination of behavioral, psychophysiological (e.g., heart rate), and neuroscience (e.g., ERP) methods.
Joseph McCleery, Ph.D.
I received a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers University, Camden, and both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. My primary research interest is to elucidate the neural and behavioral mechanisms that underlie both typical and atypical social-emotional and social-communicative development. Much of my research has focused on young children who have been diagnosed with autism, as well as infants who are at high risk for developing autism. One of the long-term goals of this research is to use the information gathered from a neuroscience perspective to develop interventions for infants and children who are at risk for social-emotional and social-communicative difficulties. I joined Dr. Nelson's laboratory in June of 2007, with support from the Cure Autism Now Foundation to conduct research on the relationship between atypical face processing and social-emotional functioning in young children with autism.
I received my bachelor's degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006 and am currently working as a research study assistant in Dr. Nelson's lab. My research will be focused on studying the role of early experience in face processing. More specifically, we will be examining the course of perceptual narrowing in infants and the effects of training and experience on development. Furthermore, we are interested in determining the breadth of the perceptual window by examining discrimination of various categories of faces such as species, gender, and age.
I am a doctoral student at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, and joined the lab to learn more about brain-based approaches to the study of cognitive development. I received a B.A. in Education (Human Development) from Brown University, and an M.A. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard's Education School. My research interests are in the development of social-cognitive skills, from infancy through the preschool years. Using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques, I am examining how non-verbal cues of agreement and disagreement (e.g., head nodding and shaking) shape the way children process information. Four-year-olds are eligible to participate in this study of the neural correlates of non-verbal cue processing.
Margaret Mouson Ph.D.
I had the privilege of spending four years in the Nelson lab as a graduate student, and received my PhD from the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota in August, 2007. I am currently a postdoctoral associate in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and continue to collaborate with Dr. Nelson and other lab members on a variety of projects. I am primarily interested in the development of social perception in infancy; much of my research focuses on the development of face perception and the role that early experiences play in shaping face processing skills over the course of development. I use both behavioral and electrophysiological (e.g., ERP) methods to investigate questions in this area.
Jenny Richmond Ph.D.
I am a post doc in the lab and joined the Nelson lab a year ago after graduating with my PhD in Psychology from the University of Otago in New Zealand. My research investigates how brain development contributes to memory development during infancy. Much of my thesis work focused on visual paired-comparison (VPC) performance in adults and the interpretation of novelty and null preferences. I am excited to continue this work on the McDonnell project, using ERPs and eye tracking to look at the neural basis of visual preferences in infants. In addition, I am interested in the neural basis of age-related changes in memory flexibility and the role that context plays in infants memory retrieval.