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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research

Student Q&A: Aneesha Nilakantan, Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program

Aneesha Nilakantan

Aneesha Nilakantan, a third-year student in the Northwestern University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience (NUIN) program, studies the changes in cognition that occur in the aging brain in the laboratories of Marsel Mesulam, MD, director, Mesulam Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (Mesulam CNADC) and Joel Voss, PhD, assistant professor in Medical Social Sciences.

Nilakantan earned an undergraduate degree in Molecular Cellular Biology and Cognitive Science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Where is your hometown?
I grew up in Cupertino, California. It is located south of San Francisco in the Bay Area. It’s a small city within Silicon Valley that is best known as the location of Apple headquarters. 

What are your research interests?

I was introduced to academic research when I was an undergraduate research assistant in a lab studying human attention in healthy aging — and it has captivated me (or held me captive) ever since. I’m interested in studying changes in cognition that occur in the aging brain. I’m lucky to be a part of two labs that allow me to follow this passion. The laboratory of human neuroscience, directed by Joel Voss, studies the organization of human memory. The Mesulam CNADC, directed by Dr. Mesulam, studies aging and neurodegenerative disease. Together, we are studying the interaction of memory and language in aging. 

What exciting projects are you working on?

I’m currently working on a project that uses Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to study networks subserving human memory. We have used this method to target the hippocampus and the cortical structures it interacts with, to enhance associative memory.  We are also currently developing studies that explore this same technique in healthy older adults and individuals with memory impairments due to neurodegenerative disease.

What attracted you to the PhD program? 

NUIN, as an interdisciplinary program, has diverse faculty and expertise. I knew that I would have the opportunity to learn a lot about neuroscience, regardless of which lab I joined. I’ve also never lived in a metropolitan city, and Chicago seemed like a great place to explore. I consider the weather one of those “learning experiences.”

What do you do in your free time?

Once a week, I volunteer tutor a third-grader through the Tutoring Chicago Program. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the learning involved in lab and class in graduate school, and so helping someone with their weekly spelling and multiplication tables centers me. While I’d like to say that I’m the one teaching her, she has taught me a lot, too. Mostly, that coloring is a great post-homework reward. 

I’m also hopelessly addicted to new television series and constantly looking for new restaurants and cuisines to try. I’ll take recommendations for either, any time.