Many undergraduates at UC Merced’s Cognitive Science program engage in extensive research opportunities, and with these opportunities they bring many exciting accomplishments (for example, see here, and here). Just recently, undergraduate student Charlesice Hawkins, who has been working in Dr. David Noelle’s laboratory for several years, has just received an award from the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP). Of over 200 applicants, she was one of 16 successful awardees during this annual cycle. The award includes up to $20,000 of support during the academic year, a paid research internship at the NIH during the Summer, and one year of guaranteed employment at the NIH after graduation (which may be deferred until after graduate school or medical school). This exciting award will support Charlesice as she pursues several research interests, including a project with Dr. Noelle on perceptual category learning under time pressure. When asked about the origin of her projects, Charlesice notes:

“I chose to attend the University of California, Merced because of its undergraduate research opportunities. I did not waste time waiting to take advantage of those opportunities either. During my first year at UCM, I emailed a multitude of cognitive science researchers on campus. Dr. Noelle was one of the instructors who replied. He seemed impressed by my excitement and allowed me to help one of his graduate students collect data in his computational cognitive neuroscience laboratory. Eventually, he asked me if I would like to start an independent project. Together we designed a mouse tracking experiment to study categorization based on both explicit and implicit rules. We also included auditory stimuli to see if increased tempo would mimic the effects of a time pressure. I learned a great deal about cognitive science research through this project, but I felt that something was missing. This was true for my courses as well. I found myself very frustrated when psychology or cognitive science would brush over the biological basis of the different phenomena we discussed. I wanted to know how and why all of these things were happening.”

The upshot of these sentiments, about behavioral experimentation and cognitive science, has led her to a double major in Cognitive Science and Human Biology. This has allowed her to dip into two deep interests — the nature of human mental processing, and its biological basis. When asked about her future interests, Charlesice notes:

“I hope to contribute to the understanding of different mechanisms behind neurologic disorders to help identify therapeutic targets for them. I am currently exploring a variety of approaches that encompass cognitive, molecular, and imaging techniques. Taking these different perspectives into account and integrating them into my biomedical research will help me study neurologic disorders more holistically. I have not yet chosen a particular set of disorders to study, but I have found myself interested in mental illness and dementias.”

When Charlesice interviewed for this award, she highlighted the importance of basic research in approaching deep and important questions about both clinical and cognitive issues. Congratulations to Charlesice for successfully securing such a prestigious award!