I am originally from upstate New York, and attended Vassar College, a small liberal arts school. Originally more inclined toward literature and philosophy than science, I have long been interested in rhetoric, belief, and the ways in which people find a sense of purpose in their lives (or struggle to do so). While at Vassar, I became enthralled with the field of Cognitive Science, which takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the mind. I did a thesis project on the cognitive underpinnings of persuasion, in which I sought an intertheoretic reduction of phenomena that explain how people come to be persuaded (or not) by various sorts of persuasive information. While in college, I also enjoyed reading books by Antonio Damasio, V.S. Ramachandran, Oliver Sacks, and others who, through their descriptions of patients with fascinating deficits, nicely illustrated the central role of specific brain processes in the construction of all aspects of the mental experience—including the seemingly more transcendent ones like a sense of self, free will, and even consciousness itself. I needed to learn more about the brain!
After college I spent two years in the lab of Leslie Ungerleider at NIMH, and worked on projects using fMRI to study how attention and awareness modulate neural processing of emotion-laden stimuli (e.g. a picture of a face with a fearful expression). I subsequently enrolled in the combined MD/PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh, and completed a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. My dissertation was on neural correlates of adolescent behavior, which used in vivo electrophysiology in rats to compare adolescent and adult processing of salient information during a reward-motivated behavior. Adolescence is a fascinating stage of normal development, is a critical period of vulnerability to addiction, and it typically coincides with the onset of many psychiatric illnesses.
I finished medical school in 2013 and was very excited to join the MGH/McLean Adult Psychiatry Residency Program. The clinical training is outstanding and rigorous. At the same time, the Research Concentration Program affords protected time and flexibility to develop research projects (especially during PGY-3 and PGY-4). There is also an enormous community of outstanding researchers. I have viewed residency (in addition to the clinical training) as an opportunity to become involved in clinical research and more clinically-oriented basic research. I am interested in both the pathophysiology and phenomenology of psychiatric illnesses and biomarkers that may be clinically useful for predicting treatment response, diagnostic clarification (e.g., distinguishing unipolar from bipolar depression), and to identify useful endophenotypes.
As a PGY-3, I have recently joined the lab of Diego Pizzagalli at McLean, which uses various approaches, including fMRI, EEG, and behavior to study mood disorders. My current project seeks to relate negative self-referential feelings in patients with depression to brain (e.g., with EEG) and behavioral markers that could ultimately shed light on treatment responsiveness. A common thread with all of my work is an interest in the brain processes that underlie complex experiential and behavioral phenomena. I remain interested in understanding how beliefs are formed and maintained and view the phenomenology of delusions and the cognitive distortions, seen especially in depressed and anxious patients, as among the most fascinating puzzles of psychiatry and philosophy of mind. I hope to incorporate this interest in future projects. This is a very exciting time to be in psychiatry, especially as a physician-scientist, as there are so many big questions that remain unanswered and our tools to address them continue to improve. I also find the clinical work itself to be extremely rewarding and strive to find an optimal balance of clinical work, research, teaching, and other pursuits.