Fareshte Erani and Alex Silver: 2023 Doctoral Student Award Winners

Fareshte Erani

Q:  Introduce yourself! (School, graduation year, hometown, etc)

Hello! My name is  Fareshte  Erani – I’m originally from Anaheim, CA. I’m currently a 5th year Clinical PhD student at Drexel University and will be graduating in June 2024.

Q:   Please tell us about your area of research.

In my research, I study neuropsychological problems using tools from cognitive neuroscience. I am interested in applying these tools to understand clinical symptoms in individuals with neurological disorders. Throughout my graduate school research, my work has been testing an effort-reward based framework of cognitive fatigue for individuals with multiple sclerosis.

Q:  What inspired your interest in this topic?

My research interests are inspired my interactions with patients with neurological disease and their families. My interest in fatigue and MS specifically stemmed from a combination of my personal interests and the expertise of my mentors, Drs. John Medaglia and Maria Schultheis. In my first year of graduate school, Dr. Medaglia introduced me to cognitive control, reward, and fatigue. Simultaneously, I was spending time interacting with and learning about Dr. Schultheis’ studies and noticed that fatigue was commonly reported in her patients with MS. I became curious about and was drawn to the challenge of quantifying a complex clinical phenomenon that is highly prevalent in many neurological conditions, as well as the opportunity to approach the understanding of it by applying my neuroscience-based interests. Together, this has shaped my desire to conduct research aimed at better understanding cognitive processes affected by brain disease.

Q:   This award recognizes the broader impact of your work. What are the societal implications from your work?

I am excited about the capacity of my MS fatigue work to enhance our ability to detect and combat fatigue in neurological populations. The results of this work will contribute to our understanding of the causes of and the link between disease pathophysiology and fatigue. Ultimately, my long-term research goal is to inform and develop personalized therapies for poorly understood cognitive symptoms, such as fatigue, that impair functioning and negatively affect quality of life in individuals with neuropsychological disorders.

Q:     What are your next steps academically/professionally? 

Beginning this Summer 2023, I will be at the VA Boston completing the final year of my PhD on internship. After graduation, I plan to continue research and clinical work as a neuropsychologist on post-doc and beyond!

Q: If you are not studying, what are you most likely to be doing?

Spending time with friends/family, watching TV, watching my cat, playing board games, and/or baking!

Alex Silver

Q:  Introduce yourself! (School, graduation year, hometown, etc)

I am a PhD candidate in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh working with Dr. Melissa Libertus and am planning to graduate in Spring 2024. I am originally from Fort Washington, PA, and completed my BA in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to graduate school, I worked as the Lab Manager at the Lab for Child Development at Johns Hopkins.

Q:  Please tell us about your area of research.

My research focuses on understanding numerical cognition development in infants, toddlers and young children, examining how parental influences impact children’s developing math knowledge, and investigating how children’s own skills shape the benefit they receive from opportunities to learn math. My dissertation project tests whether linguistic cues help infants learn number words, a foundational math skill required for later math development, and will examine how parents’ support for infants’ math learning is associated with infants’ number word knowledge.

Q:     What inspired your interest in this topic?

My undergraduate research was all about the development of math skills in childhood, and I became really curious how social factors might influence this process (e.g., how do messages and input from other people influence children’s math performance?) I’ve gotten to explore these questions in graduate school studying toddlers and preschool-aged children, and my dissertation will take a closer look at these processes in a younger age range studying infants.

Q:   This award recognizes the broader impact of your work. What are the societal implications from your work?

Math ability is a predictor of academic, financial and health outcomes, yet math knowledge has been dropping at an alarming rate in the past few years, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating math achievement gaps between children from high- and low-SES backgrounds. This is really concerning, as variability in math is already present by the beginning of formal education and remains remarkably stable. Given the urgent need to improve math skills and promote early math learning environments prior to school entry, understanding the strongest predictors of infants’ number word knowledge will hopefully help us identify which targets will be most successful to support young children beginning to learn math and particularly those at risk of poor math achievement.

Q:   What are your next steps academically/professionally? 

I’m currently working on finishing my dissertation and then I will be applying for faculty positions and post-doctoral fellowships.

Q: If you are not studying, what are you most likely to be doing?

When I’m not working, I can usually be found outside hiking and eating ice cream with my family.