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 Alumni interested in being featured on our page please email sbcoglab@gmail.com!

Reading Comprehension & Cognition Lab Research Assistant Alumni:

Grace Bernatchez – Class of 2021

Lab Alumni Grace Bernatchez (’21)

After graduation from UNE, I went back to my hometown, the one and only Manchester, NH.  Due to my indecisive nature during my senior year at UNE, I decided after graduation I wanted to take a year off to determine what to do with my life.  I took some time in hopes of making some decisions regarding my future profession, and to take a breather, travel, and make some money before going back to graduate school.  Since graduation, I have been waitressing, substitute teaching, travelling (internationally and domestically), and will be moving to Hawaii for four months in February with two of my best friends.  During this busy time, I have also been looking into the graduate schools I’m interested in and will be applying to very soon, in hopes of attending next fall.   

Concerning my decision on what I wish to pursue, I think I would like to pursue a master’s degree in Social Psychology, with the end goal of becoming a professor at a college or university.  This is the plan as of now. However, I’ve come to realize that life is extremely fluid, and anything can happen!  

Working with Dr. SB and my fellow labbies in the Reading Comprehension and Cognition lab helped me in several areas.  I never realized how much of an impact the research lab would have on me and in my everyday life.  Conducting research taught me just how important it is to be a responsible receiver of information and, more importantly, when, and how to use objective data.  Further, I became cognizant of what to look for in research papers. I became familiarized with what components made a good and trustworthy research study.  I learned that I had a love for doing research and presenting the findings.  Working in the research lab helped me grow personally, too.  This opportunity taught me what I do and don’t like, how to come up with informed, objectively driven opinions, and allowed me to work with extremely bright peers and an inspirational professor.   

To the current and future research assistants, my advice to you is work hard.  The harder you work, the more you will accomplish, and the more connections you will establish.  Most importantly, have fun.  When working with your peers and PI (Dr. SB) don’t forget to laugh, even when things are stressful.  At the end of the day, yes, this is extremely important work that you are doing but you want to enjoy it, as well.  I always found a way to laugh through the stress and enjoy my time with my labbies and Dr. SB.  Soak up every moment because trust me… it goes by way too fast. 

Nicole Martin – Class of 2021

Lab Alumni Nicole Martin (’21)

I still live in Biddeford and I am currently working at Spring Harbor Hospital on the Developmental Disorders Unit (DDU).  Spring Harbor is an inpatient psychiatric hospital and is one of 9 programs in the country that has a unit specifically for kids with developmental disabilities.  I work both as a research assistant and providing direct care for patients as a behavior tech on the unit. 

I would not have my job as a research assistant at Spring Harbor without the RCC Lab! I started with the DDU research team when I was a junior at UNE.  I volunteered for about a year before completing my psych required internship with them my senior year and was the hired onto the team upon graduating in May.  My experience in the RCC Lab was critical to all three of these experiences and multiple times I was told I would not have been considered for being a volunteer or being hired with out the intensive research experience I had at UNE.  My skills in survey development, experience in data management and strong understanding general research procedures has allowed me to gain more and contribute more to my current role as an RA.

Additionally, and one of the most important things for me, was how the RCC helped me grow in my abilities of public speaking, communication, and leadership.  These skills have played a critical role in my ability to advocate for my patients, self and coworkers. As someone who provides direct care, the ability to advocate clearly and professionally is so important to me and I am so grateful the lab helped me develop those skills so I could better care for my patients. 

The best advice for future RAs is to be humble, curious, and forgiving, but also proud.  No matter where you are in your career, whether you are a first year RA or a senior, you have so so much to learn and the RCC lab is the perfect place to accomplish all of this!  Be curious to learn everything that you don’t even know you haven’t learned yet.  Be forgiving of yourself and others when mistakes happen- they happen to the best of us.  But don’t forget to stop and be proud of all you have accomplished, you deserve it.  These are the most important lessons that I have learned in the RCC lab and what I will hold with me for the rest of my life. 

Genna Companatico – Class of 2020

Lab Alumni Genna Companatico (20′)

After graduating from UNE, I started my graduate program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Rhode Island College. I am also working as a Case Manager for The Providence Center. I hope to become a certified CMHC and work in a college counseling center!


Working in Dr. Stiegler-Balfour’s lab was an experience I will forever be grateful for. I learned many skills that I am able to transfer towards my graduate studies, as well as my current work in the field. These professional skills such as time management, organization, public speaking, and collaboration are going to help me as I continue in my studies. During my time at UNE, I had the most supportive labbies and memories that will never be forgotten. Also, with the guidance of Dr. Stiegler-Balfour, I gained a newfound confidence in my academic abilities, and was the necessary push I needed to apply to graduate school. I thank Dr. Stiegler-Balfour so much for believing in me, and allowing me to be a part of the RCC team.


Current and future research students: embrace every moment and be easy on yourself. Your time in the lab and at UNE in general is going to fly by, so enjoy every second of it! Also, this is a learning experience. There are going to be bumps in the road, or times when you are overwhelmed. However, do not forget that you have the support of Dr. Stiegler-Balfour and many wonderful labbies. Best of luck!

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. Currently, I reside in South Portland, Maine where I am remotely working towards my Master’s in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Upon graduation in the spring of 2022, I plan on working towards my PhD in the same field 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′)

“I currently live in the Bangor area with my partner and my dog. We just bought a fixer upper and spend all of our free time working on it! I am a second year graduate student in the School Counseling program at Husson University and I work at the University in the Center for Student Success. I aspire to be a certified school counselor and work with elementary levels upon graduation in 2022. 

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 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 recently received her Master’s in Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire. At present, she is working on applications for law school and intends to pursue a career in law.

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 obtained my LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Clinician) in January 2019.  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 worked on a locked juvenile detention unit with 15 adolescent boys ages 15-19 providing individual and group counseling. I worked there for about 3 years, up until I accepted a new position as the Assistant Program Director for a Community Based Mental Health Program in January 2020. I am responsible for providing supervision to both Bachelors and Masters level Clinicians in the Home Based Program (In Home Therapy and Therapeutic Mentoring) and Community Service Agency (Intensive Care Coordinators and Family Partners), which provides community and home based services to children, adolescents and their families. In addition to providing supervision, I assist with diagnosing children and adolescents who enter the program without a diagnosis, completing Mental Status Exams and managing the day to day operations of two programs. This position has allowed me the opportunity to gain valuable supervisory experience as well as understanding the multiple intricacies of running a community mental health program

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!”