Alex Rich '21

Berry Lab, Department of Psychology
Brandeis University

Alex Rich

Fellow Reflection: Conducting Research During a Pandemic

The main challenge I faced was reevaluating my research project in order to make it possible to do remotely. My research was originally focused around neuropsychology testing on adults over the age of 65. When the pandemic hit, I knew that I was not going to be able to conduct the research I had originally started out to do. Thankfully, my PI had a lot of data and scans from her previous lab at the University of California, Berkeley that she hadn’t had the chance to work with yet. So, after a few conversations with her, we were able to come up with a completely new research project for me, more focused on data analysis, but still focusing on the overarching question of “why do some adults age better than others?” 

Another challenge then came when I began to draw regions of interest on the MRI scans. This was my first time working with this type of data and I did not have the luxury of face to face teaching. Luckily, my PI was very patient with me and walked me through step by step of how to perform the task over zoom. Still, with my laptop it was difficult to draw precisely with the trackpad, but with some research I was able to find a tool that would allow me to draw with a pen which made the task a lot easier.

Overall, a lot of the challenges I’ve faced have been focused around adapting my research to a home environment instead of being in the lab. Thankfully, I did not have to face these challenges on my own, my lab meets weekly and is a great source of support for any issues that I may face. My PI, Dr. Berry, has also been very supportive and understanding of the difficulties we are all facing during this unique time.

Giving Back

For my giving back initiative, I participated as an orientation leader for the third year in a row. While this usually occurs in August, we began orientation this year in June due to the pandemic. This entailed holding weekly meetings with a group of new students to prepare them for different aspects of college life. We held meetings on the topics of academics, social life, clubs, specific offices at Brandeis and whatever other questions the new students had. I had a great orientation leader my freshman year who really helped me adapt to college life. I love giving back to other at Brandeis what she gave to me: my first support system during college. I feel that this orientation is more important than most because of the current situation. It is hard enough to make friends during a normal semester, let alone when everyone is isolated. I hope to be someone that the first years feel comfortable reaching out to. It means a lot to me to be a preliminary support system and make the transition to college a little easier.