Lab Alumni

UNE’s Cognition Lab is focused on creating opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved in the research process. When first applying to the research assistant positions, we ask students what they hope to gain from their time working in the lab. After they graduate, we reach out to see what they chose to do after graduating from UNE and ask the following questions:

  • What are you doing now? Where?
  • How did working in the research lab help you after you left UNE?
  • What advice would you give to current/future research assistants?

See their answers below and if you are a RCC Lab Alumn interested in being featured on our page please email!

Reading Comprehension & Cognition Lab Research Assistant Alumni:

Courtney Parent – Class of 2019

Lab Alumni Courtney Parent (19′)

“After graduation, I moved back home to “The County” where I worked both on my family’s potato farm and at a local hospital. I plan on taking a gap year to work and focus on graduate school applications. In graduate school, I hope to obtain my Master’s degree and PhD in developmental psychology so that I may work as a professor and conduct research on infants and young children who are diagnosed with congenital heart disease.

Working under Dr. Stiegler-Balfour in the lab has been a truly incredible experience that I will forever be thankful for. Since working in the lab, I have had so many opportunities that I would not have received anywhere else. Attending and presenting at conferences has allowed me to improve on public speaking skills; writing a literature review has pushed me to think more critically and write more scientifically; and running participants, collecting and helping to analyze data, helping to design a new study, and programming survey software has furthered my knowledge about conducting research. These skills, among many others, will carry with me and further develop as I continue along my career path. Additionally, Dr. Stiegler-Balfour goes above and beyond to ensure that we (lab members) are prepared for life after undergrad. She prepares us well for job and graduate school applications and interviews by helping us to optimize our CVs, resumes, and cover letters such that our lab experiences and skills are well articulated. Dr. Stiegler-Balfour is a tremendous mentor, and I am grateful and humbled to have been part of her amazing lab.

To current and future research assistants, make the most out of every experience. Your time in the lab is valuable and should be a priority, so do not waste it. Stay true to yourself while keeping an open mind when approached with something new or challenging; you will grow from overcoming these new challenges. There will be some opportunities that come flying towards you and some that you may have to work a little bit harder for; take advantage of every one of those opportunities because they will lead to something greater than you have ever imagined. Most importantly, work hard, work diligently, and never give up.”

Ellie Leighton – Class of 2018

Lab Alumni Ellie Leighton (18′) and Dr. Stiegler-Balfour

“I moved back to Bangor, ME, after graduating UNE in December 2018, and worked for 6 months at an early childhood intervention program. Currently, I am a first year graduate student in the School Counseling program at Husson University. I work at the University in the Center for Student Success and at a local seafood market. I hope to be a certified school counselor and work with elementary levels upon graduation. 

Having spent 3 years in the RCC Lab at UNE, I learned many things. Through the development of my public speaking skills, understanding of the research process, progression of my writing ability, and my intellectual growth, having the opportunity to join an undergraduate research lab under the mentorship of Dr. Stiegler-Balfour was the most influential experience of my 3.5 years at UNE. She guided me through each step of the process which has allow me to excel above my peers in areas of my graduate level program. She also encouraged me to challenge myself, making me a better student and person. I am thankful I had a patient and dedicated mentor to guide me through the early stages of my higher education.

My advice to you is simple. Enjoy each moment in the lab: immerse yourself into the literature, ask questions, learn more about the processes, and go above and beyond what is expected. Dr. Stiegler-Balfour is a brilliant professor and mentor, and it is not often that she is recognized for her impact on students. So at the end, don’t forget to thank the person that helped shape you and gave you the chance to have this journey. If you have fully experienced the research lab, it will be a memory and learning experience that is carried with you and applied throughout your life.”

Sarah Hendrix – Class of 2018

Lab Alumni Sarah Hendrix (’18)

“Currently, I am employed at Sweetser where I am working as a Crisis Stabilization Counselor with both adults and children in residential units. My plan is to take a gap year (in which I will be working full-time), before I apply to UNE’s college of Social Work. My goal is to obtain my Masters in Social Work, and eventually get licensed in order to become a LCSW. I would like to continue to work for Sweetser as either a case manager and/or a clinician, where I would be working with either adults or children with mental illness.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant in the RCC Lab. My time in the Lab has honed many skills necessary for professional development, (i.e., communication skills, multi-tasking, time efficiency, as well as professional etiquette). Additionally, I was able to learn how professional research is conducted, from the early stages of running participants and collecting data to presenting our work at symposia and conferences. In addition to working on current lab projects, I also became familiar with other research in the field by conducting an extensive literature review over the course of the year. I am so grateful to have had this experience, I know that I will use all of the skills I have learned in my future endeavors. Thank you to all the labbies and Dr. Stiegler-Balfour for allowing me to be a part of the RCC Lab.”

Ben Katz – Class of 2017

Lab Alumni Ben Katz (’17)

After graduating from UNE, I moved back to my home state of Connecticut, where I began working full-time as a research assistant at the Anxiety Disorders Center, an outpatient clinic on the Institute of Living’s campus, located in Hartford. I currently serve as the primary research assistant on two federally funded grants from the National Institute of Mental Health. One is an R01 randomized clinical trial examining the neural mechanisms of cognitive-behavioral therapy response for individuals with hoarding disorder. The second aims to examine the mechanisms of hyperventilation among patients with anxiety disorders. I have been trained by experts at Yale University on proper data acquisition procedures for the collection of electroencephalogram (EEG) data. I have also been involved in the acquisition and analysis of peripheral physiological indices, including electromyogram, electrodermal activity, heart-rate variability, respiratory sinus arrthymia, and end-tidal CO2, all hypothesized as potential biomarkers of anxiety and related disorders. I am currently applying to clinical psychology Ph.D. programs. I hope become a clinical psychologist and continue to advance our understanding of the etiology of psychopathology and how to best treat it.

I can say with absolute certainty that I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Dr. Stiegler-Balfour and her willingness to take me on as a research assistant during the beginning of my freshman year at UNE. My experience in the Reading Comprehension and Cognition lab fueled my passion for empiricism and scientific inquiry. The mentorship that I received from her during my tenure in her lab has made a tremendous impact on me as a scientist and person. Finally, the relationships I built in the Department of Psychology were paramount to my passion for and success in the field of psychology.

To current research assistants: “Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone; let yourselves become vulnerable. Take extra time to struggle through advanced statistics or research designs. Submit an abstract for an oral presentation over a conference presentation, even if you hate public speaking. Go above and beyond because it will only help you grow as a scientist, student, and person.”

To future research assistants: “Your experience as a research assistant is, without a doubt, what you make of it. You can choose to take action and make the most of your research assistantship, or not. Seek guidance and mentorship from your professors; they want to see you succeed just as much as you do.”

Abby LaChance – Class of 2017

Lab Alumni Abby LaChance (’17)

Abby is currently working towards her Master’s in Justice Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She hopes to pursue a career doing research and working with victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Besides learning laboratory tasks such as analyzing data, running participants, researching articles, and writing/proofreading manuscripts in APA format, Abby has learned many life and career skills throughout her time in the RCC lab. Dr. SB is an incredible resource when it comes to writing cover letters and updating your resume. She is also incredibly knowledgeable of graduate school programs as well as career opportunities. The RCC lab has also helped improve skills such as time management, perseverance, flexibility, self-reflection and taking initiative.

“To current/future research assistants I would advise that you take every opportunity that comes to you. Apply for that conference, because you can never have enough practice presenting research. Go to the events the psychology department hosts, because you never know what kinds of connections you will make. Push yourself to learn each time you enter the lab, because the knowledge you will gain will be worth it. Last but not least, ask for help, because you don’t need to know everything right away but resources are there to help you succeed. Trust me, you will cherish the memories, friendships, and knowledge you gain in the RCC lab!”

Emily Vasseur – Class of 2017

Lab Alumni Emily Vasseur (’17)

Emily is currently attending Johns Hopkins University for a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. There she has become a member and a board representative for Chi Sigma Iota, a counselor honor society. She is also currently doing an internship at a private practice where she gets the opportunity to counsel clients with a range of diagnoses including depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder, trauma related diagnoses, and conduct disorders. She is currently employed at a non-profit company that houses refugee children (ages 9-17) who have been separated from their families after traveling to the United States from places like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and India in search of a safer and better life. There she assists these children with intakes, learning, acclimation, mental health care, life-skills,  and many other important lessons.

“When I was offered a position doing research at the University of New England with Dr. Stiegler-Balfour in the Reading Comprehension and Cognition lab, I had no idea how much it was going to help me succeed in my studies. I was learning valuable concepts in the classroom and when I got to lab, I was able to apply my new knowledge. Additionally, as an undergraduate research assistant, I wasn’t expecting to do anything other than run participants. Dr. Stiegler-Balfour made sure that we were involved in all aspects of research ranging from designing experiments, analyzing data, presenting finding, and following some of our own interested topics. I even got to propose a research topic, conduct the study, and present the findings are various conferences. All gave me valuable experiences and helped me gain many key skills in the research field. In both my profession and my graduate assistant position, I will be able to utilize everything that I have learned through my experiences in lab.”

“To future research assistants: First, be as dedicated and involved as possible. You can learn so many things in lab so be present, work as hard as you can, ask all of your questions, and follow your passions. Your fellow research assistants and principle investigators are just one of the many resources you can use within the psychology labs at University of New England. Second, attend presentations and conferences. Once you get to share your research findings at various different conferences, you become much more involved in your research and can also ignite a passion that you may not have known about prior. Being able to share your ideas and also discuss your findings with others is so exciting and can really benefit you in the future.”

Zoe Roberts – Class of 2017

Lab Alumni Zoe Roberts (’17)

Zoe is attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studying to get her PhD in School Psychology. After her previous experience in schools in Biddeford, she decided she would like to pursue a career in the educational system, as a school psychologist.

While working in the research lab, Zoe gained experience with every part of the research process with the help of Dr. Stiegler-Balfour. Overall, working in the RCC Lab made her a better student, a good researcher, and helped her gain self confidence and motivation. She plans to use all these skills throughout the rest of her life, especially in her next chapter at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Take advantage of every opportunity, even if you’re not sure it’s right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. And lastly, work hard and never give up!”

Lauren Hayden – Class of 2016

After graduation from UNE, I moved back to Virginia – my home state – to be closer to family, begin my career, and further my education.  This past May, I graduated from the University of Lynchburg with my Master’s of Education in Educational Leadership with a focus on Higher Education.  For the last two years, I have also been an assistant coach with the University of Lynchburg women’s basketball program, and will continue to coach this upcoming year.  Throughout the next year, I will be looking to find a doctoral program in either the psychology or education field and begin working towards a PhD.

Working in the research lab at UNE gave me experiences that not every student has access to at other institutions.  The RCC Lab provided me an opportunity to not only sharpen my research skills, develop and assist research projects, and interact with participants and professionals in the field, but also to grow and enhance my individual skills as a student and a professional.  The RCC Lab was a family atmosphere, working together towards a common goal of bettering our field and was an experience I am so thankful to have had.

To current and future research assistants: take advantage of the opportunities UNE provides.  Not every institution has the ability to offer undergraduate students research assistant positions and this will set you apart from others.  Dr. SB is a phenomenal supervisor, professor, and mentor who was very willing to work with my busy schedule as a student-athlete to help make the most of my time in the Lab and at UNE.  Your time in college is what you make it, and being part of the RCC Lab is certainly a worthwhile investment.

Jessica Hering – Class of 2015

Jessi is currently studying and prepping for her National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy boards, which is schedule for the end of summer. She currently lives in Portland, ME and is seeking employment while not studying. She hopes to work within a hospital or rehabilitation setting, working with adults and older adults. In the meantime, she is pursuing observation time at the local hospital, within the acute care, older-adult psychiatry and brain injury units. She hopes to eventually work with adults and older adult with brain injury/ stroke.

Within the few years Jessi spent within the research lab, she learned various tasks such as gathering/analyzing data, reading data, analyzing research articles, running participants and more. All of these tasks prepared Jessi for graduate school at UNE as she has two research courses. Participating in the Alzheimer’s study attributed to the passion Jessi has for Gerontology, as well as the studying completed with individuals who have dementia which was conducted this past spring (2017). Jessi’s growing interest in cognition plays a huge role in occupational therapy, as well as the process of learning and memory which was gained from working with Dr. SB and within the research lab itself. Additional skills gained from the experience in working with the research lab includes time management, flexibility and public speaking.

Advice for current/ future students: “My first piece of advice would be advice Dr SB told me once, which is to invest in your education. Taking advantage of all the opportunities that arise throughout your time in the research lab such as participating in various studies and attending conferences are a learning tool that attribute to your education more than you think. The atmosphere at the various conferences are amazing, and speaking at them in general is a proud moment. You will also become more involved in your research and may even discover some of your personal passions within the psychology world. Any career path you take you will take with skills learned in this lab, and that is something I am grateful.”

Andrea Taatjes – Class of 2013

“After graduating from UNE in 2013 I earned my Master’s Degree in Forensic and Counseling at William James College in Newton, MA. I recently submitted my application to obtain my LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Clinician) and should be fully licensed in the upcoming months.  Immediately after graduating with my masters I worked full time as a mobile crisis clinician for 2 years. Here I evaluated individuals in psychological crisis and determined appropriate levels of care, helped facilitate placement in community/hospital mental health treatment, and worked with insurance companies to get the level of care approved. In April 2017 I accepted a job as a clinician working for the Department of Youth Services in Dorchester, MA. I work on a locked juvenile detention unit with 15 adolescent boys ages 15-19. I am responsible for 5 adolescents on the unit which involves behavior management while on the unit, dealing with past trauma, addressing their committing charges, substance abuse, and preparing them to be successful members of the community once they return home.

During my time at the RCC lab, I learned not only about running participants and analyzing data, but how to translate that information into workable knowledge. Dr. SB allowed me the opportunity to be a part of a team and to be published in a journal. I was not only asked, but encouraged to be involved in every step of the process.  Before becoming involved in the RCC lab, I had not thought about being involved in research. However, I quickly learned to appreciate the process and even developed my own research project for my senior thesis. My advice to current/future research assistants would be to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. The more things you involve yourself in, the more knowledge and experience you will gain. You may learn you have a passion for something you never thought before. Take the opportunity to present your research because not only is it a good experience, but it is something you can look back on and be proud of. Lastly, ask Dr. SB for help when you need it. She is an amazing resource and not only a wonderful professor but a great person who goes above and beyond to help all of her students!”

Hadleigh Smith – Class of 2013

“After graduating from UNE, I moved to Colorado and now live in Denver with my fiance and our dog.  In August 2017, I started my fourth year teaching 5th grade at a charter school in Brighton, Colorado.  I now lead my team of three 5th grade teachers and recently stepped into an additional role as a math content leader, delivering professional development related to developing numeracy and reasoning skills in 3rd-5th grade students. My job also entails a lot of creative emoji use, cheesy jokes, and wondering how we keep going through sticky notes so quickly in my classroom.

I found that in a relatively competitive job market, research experience in cognition and reading comprehension was something that enabled me to stand out.  My involvement with Dr. Stiegler-Balfour’s projects showed potential employers that I had an understanding of how our brains develop automatically at complex cognitive skills, as well as the ability to reference and learn from peer-reviewed scholarly texts.  I discovered a few years into my teaching career that building math confidence in my students is one of the most personally rewarding aspects of my job, but my time working with and learning from Dr. Stiegler-Balfour was still incredibly meaningful in helping me glean insight into some of the multi-faceted and universally relevant cognitive processes involved in learning and memory. With Dr. Stiegler-Balfour’s guidance, this type of research became much more approachable and transparent for me, and I think my ability to seek out and learn from peer-reviewed research is something that really benefits my students.

On a more practical note, balancing my time between classes, the lab, student-teaching, and summer commitments was not a skill I had immediately mastered.  I learned not to overextend myself, and how much I prefer the feeling of doing my best at a few important commitments rather than scrambling to grab at every small opportunity that was presented.  I’m so thankful to have learned this important skill during my college years so that I could put it into practice during my adult life.

Working in Dr. Stiegler-Balfour’s lab is truly a fantastic opportunity! I’d suggest making your time in the lab a priority, and working to build an understanding of how the current research aims relate to your career goals and areas of interest.  Dr. Stiegler-Balfour is an wonderful resource, and I think anybody would benefit from working with her!”