Jamie Barstein, a second-year PhD student in Northwestern University’s Clinical Psychology Program, studies neurobiological and behavioral factors that influence neurodevelopmental disabilities under Molly Losh, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
Barstein’s interest in working with individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders began at a young age and continued through a combination of career opportunities and education and eventually inspired her to pursue a PhD degree. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin before enrolling at Northwestern.
Where is your hometown?
I grew up in a very tight-knit community in Birmingham, Alabama. I love traveling back there to be with my family any chance I can get. As much as I love living in Chicago, I miss the slow paced lifestyle of my hometown—it was the kind of place where your family and closest friends happen to also be your neighbors.
What are your research interests?
I’m fascinated by the breadth and complexity of neurobiological and behavioral factors that influence neurodevelopmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome. In particular, I am intrigued by the subtle sociocognitive and language differences documented in family members (e.g., parents) of individuals affected by these disorders. Additionally I am interested in utilizing a family genetic model to understand the heritability of these features as well as identifying links between behavioral and genetic expressions.
What exciting projects are you working on?
My masters project focuses on examining pragmatic (social) language in children with a range of disabilities, including Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder in the laboratory of Molly Losh, PhD. More specifically, I’m looking at differences in the strategies utilized to repair a breakdown in conversation. In other words, when a listener indicates that they don’t understand a message, what does the child do to repair this message? I also recently began an additional project after being awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in the spring of 2014 to examine the tie between sensorimotor and language development. This project will involve investigating sensorimotor functioning in parents of individuals with autism spectrum disorder as well as carriers of the gene associated with fragile X syndrome. I plan to relate these findings to previously collected measures of cognition and functional language in order to understand how genes influence sensory and language deficiencies.
What attracted you to the PhD program?
I was first introduced to neurodevelopmental disabilities in the first grade, when I befriended a child in my class with Rett Syndrome. As my friend and I grew up, I became aware of the underlying condition affecting her abilities and resolved to learn more about her disorder. Many clinical and research experiences along the road led me to my ultimate decision to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology. With this degree, I am able to combine my interest in treating individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders with a basic research component that targets the underlying influences affecting such disorders. I was thrilled when I received an acceptance at Feinberg and the opportunity to work with current adviser Dr. Molly Losh – the program offers excellent training both in child clinical work as well as the strong research experience I’m gaining through my lab.
What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
The people at Northwestern have largely contributed to my positive experience in the program. Whether it’s time spent with families, my classmates, or other students and staff members in my lab, I am constantly surrounded by individuals who challenge me intellectually and encourage me to be my best self.
How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
I always say that we are very fortunate to have such supportive faculty at Feinberg. Each faculty member that I have interacted with is equally invested in the success of his or her students, which I think is an invaluable component to my program. There is also a strong sense of collaboration amongst faculty that makes for a fantastic learning environment as a graduate student.
What do you do in your free time?
What free time?? Just kidding! I’m a huge advocate for maintaining a work-life balance and try to make an effort to get together with friends regularly. I also try to get outside any chance that I can. If the sun is shining, you can probably find me running along the lakefront or exploring Chicago’s many parks and frequent festivals. I am also somewhat of a “foodie” when it comes to trying new restaurants.
What are your plans for after graduation?
Immediately after graduation, I plan to continue to build my skills as both a clinician and a scientist, focusing on the study and treatment of children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Long term, I hope to build a “one stop shop” for families affected by neurodevelopmental disorders where they could receive both neuropsychological assessments and a systematic review of behavioral and medical issues associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, all in the context of a research-focused facility. I’m excited to see where life takes me!tt