Nelson Laboratory | Postdoctoral Research Fellows

April Boin Choi
April Boin Choi (contact April Boin Choi) I received my Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University in 2019, under the mentorship of Dr. Charles Nelson. My dissertation work examined early behavioral and environmental factors (e.g., gestures, parent input) that predict language skills in infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After working as a doctoral student in Nelson lab for five years, I am excited to start as a postdoctoral fellow and continue my training in the lab. My primary research efforts will focus on two ongoing lines of research: 1) investigating factors associated with social communication and language in infants at risk for ASD; and 2) examining the effects of parent-mediated early intervention for children with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, a rare genetic disorder associated with ASD.

Laurel Gabard-DurnamLaurel Gabard-Durnam, PhD (contact Lauren Gabard-Durnam) I received my Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University in 2016 after completing my first 3 years of doctoral training in Developmental Psychology at UCLA. My doctoral work in Dr. Nim Tottenham’s lab (both at UCLA and Columbia) with functional magnetic resonance imaging sought to identify developmental sensitive periods when prefrontal cortex (PFC) circuit function is most robustly shaped by environmental input. I used functional connectivity approaches to examine how emotional stimuli like faces and music or prolonged experiences of early life stress become embedded in PFC circuit function across childhood and adolescence. I was delighted to return to the Nelson Lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016, having completed my undergraduate neurobiology thesis with Dr. Nelson. My current projects aim to quantify how experiences shape brain function by identifying electroencephalography (EEG)-based markers of sensitive period neuroplasticity in early sensory development. Through collaboration with Dr. Takao Hensch, I hope to translate neural markers of sensitive period plasticity from rodent to human visual and language development. I am investigating neuroplasticity dynamics in typically developing infants and also in several populations at risk for altered sensitive period neuroplasticity, including infants at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder, infants with specific genetic mutations in pathways regulating sensitive period neuroplasticity, and infants with exposures to general anesthesia drugs known to impact sensitive period progression. Through these projects, I hope to provide mechanistic accounts of both typical and atypical experience-dependent neurodevelopment.

Laura Pierce PhotoLara Pierce, Ph.D. (contact Lara Pierce) I received my Ph.D. in Psychology from McGill University in 2015. My dissertation work used neuroimaging tools (e.g., fMRI) to explore the influence of very early language experience on later language processing. I was delighted to join the LCN as a postdoctoral research fellow in August 2015. In the LCN I use a variety of tools (e.g., EEG, eye-tracking, behavioural measures) to understand how the nature and timing of early experiences influence brain and behavioral development. I currently oversee a project that aims to identify biological and bio-behavioral markers of early stress exposure in infants. I also work on projects examining the effects of early adverse experience (e.g., institutional rearing) on neurodevelopmental trajectories, and whether deviations in neural responses to learning can act as early markers of neurodevelopmental disorder.

Laura PirazzoliLaura Pirazzoli, Ph.D. (contact Laura PirazzoliI received my PhD in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD), Birkbeck College London, under the supervision of Prof. Mark H. Johnson, Dr. Teea Gliga and Dr. Sarah Lloyd-Fox. My dissertation work focused on the mechanisms involved in social touch processing in infancy. Specifically, I investigated cortical activation and autonomic responses to a particular type of social touch (slow velocity stroking) shown to activate a particular type of skin afferents and elicit affective responses. In my research I applied a variety of tools to answer my research question including fNIRS, EKG, eyetracking and behavioural measures. Given my extended fNIRS training at the CBCD and my interest in the development of this technology, I have been working with Gowerlabs since 2018 where I have been involved in their fNIRS courses and research support program. I joined the LCN in January 2019 as a postdoctoral research fellow to work on the Bangladesh Early Adversity Neuroimaging (BEAN) project. This project aims to investigate the impact that early biological and psychosocial adversities have on brain development, using multiple neuroimaging tools (EEG, fNIRS and fMRI). My focus will be on the fNIRS component of the project. My current research investigates how exposure to different forms of early adverse experiences may derail the development of brain regions that support social cognition, and I am also interested in identifying potential protective factors.

Hillary RichardsonHilary Richardson, PhD (contact Hilary Richardson) I received my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018, under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca Saxe. My dissertation research used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to characterize the development of social brain regions - brain regions that are recruited to reason about the beliefs, desires, and emotions of others. By using a naturalistic movie-viewing paradigm, my research characterized functional brain responses in children as young as three years of age. My dissertation research additionally investigated the effect of delayed access to language on the development of social brain regions As a postdoctoral research fellow in LCN, I will work on an ongoing longitudinal project examining neural correlates and predictors of emotion processing. I am interested in identifying reliable neural markers of individual differences in social cognition, and using these markers to study the effect of early experience on brain development. To learn more about Hilary, visit her personal website at http://hlrich.scripts.mit.edu/web/.

Rachel RomeoRachel Romeo, PhD, CCC-SLP (contact Rachel Romeo) I joined the LCN in 2018 as a fellow in the Translational Postdoctoral Training Program in Neurodevelopment. I received my PhD in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In my doctoral research with John Gabrieli at MIT, I used MRI and naturalistic home recording techniques to study the role of socioeconomic status and language exposure on structural and functional neuroanatomy, language development, and literacy acquisition. Before that, I studied children’s phonetic development at University of Pennsylvania and University College London. I am also a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist (MGH Institute of Health Professions), and I specialize clinically in the assessment/diagnosis and treatment of developmental language and literacy disorders. In the LCN, I use multiple neuroimaging techniques (EEG, eye-tracking, fNIRS, and behavioral measures) to investigate socioeconomic disparities in the neural and cognitive manifestation of neurodevelopmental disorders, most specifically autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I also work on projects examining the effects of early experience on language development in low-resource countries.

Carol Wilkinson, MD, PhD (contact Carol Wilkinson) I am a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in August 2017. I am interested in understanding how the neural mechanisms of learning and memory are impaired in children with neurodevelopment disorders, with the goal of diagnosing children earlier and developing more effective therapies. I completed my MD and PhD in Neuroscience at University of California San Francisco (UCSF). My graduate school work, under the mentorship of Steven Finkbeiner, MD, PhD, focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory through studying the function of activity-regulated-cytoskeletal-protein (Arc) in both primary neuronal culture and mouse models. After medical school, I completed my pediatric residency at UCSF and then came to Boston Children’s Hospital in 2014 to start my Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics Fellowship. I completed my fellowship in July 2017 and as a post-doctoral fellow in the LCN my project is focused on children with Fragile X Syndrome, a single-gene disorder associated with intellectual disability, language delays, and behavioral challenges including autism spectrum disorder. The project aims to use EEG to identify and characterize brain-based biomarkers that predict cognitive, language, and behavioral measures in children with Fragile X Syndrome.