Thanks to generous support from donors, college students Megan Lean, Neerul Gupta and Michelle Yang of Texas spent the summer working side-by-side with The Clinic’s world-class clinicians, researchers and educators as part of Menninger’s new Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
The program is designed to help undergraduates foster understanding and experience in clinical research. Over the eight-week paid fellowship held during June and July, students help collect and manage study data, shadow staff during patient interactions and even work on their own original research project with experienced staff available to guide and assist.
The summer research fellowship is one of the many educational and training programs at Menninger made possible through donor support. These programs play a critical role in Menninger's efforts to address the shortage of mental health professionals in our communities and the growing demand for mental health services.
This year's class of summer undergraduate research fellows (or SMURFs as they are affectionately nicknamed) share what made their time at Menninger so special:
Megan Lean is a senior at the University of Houston, studying psychology with a minor in biology, as well as a minor in medicine and society. After graduation, she hopes to go to medical school to pursue her interest in neuropsychiatry and to improve psychiatric access for underserved populations.
Currently, Megan works in UH's Social Neuroscience Lab leading a project on the colocalization of androgen receptors and gonadotropin-releasing hormone-expressing neurons.
As a Menninger research fellow, Megan studied the potential of wearable technology as a continuous monitoring system to improve patient safety.
“I think the highlight for me was just seeing that so many people were passionate about what they were doing and they were passionate to the point where they were so willing to go out of their way to help. There's typically kind of a hierarchy where undergrads will just be doing the more basic things and I didn't feel that at Menninger at all.”
Neerul Gupta is a junior at The University of Texas at Austin with majors in psychology and rhetoric and writing. At UT, she is working on an independent project studying the relationship between anxiety and intrusive thinking in working memory.
Involved in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, she enjoyed writing a post for Menninger's blog “Mind Matters,” covering the underrepresentation and necessity of racially diverse populations in research and treatment.
At Menninger, she studied the relationship between open-mindedness and treatment outcomes over time. She hopes to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology and treat underserved populations.
“During lunchtime our fellowship coordinator gathered up staff from all across Menninger — so we had nurses, people in administration, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers — and we just got to talk to them about their time at Menninger, their professional journey. I think it was really important … to get an idea of how the psychiatrist and social workers and nurses all fit into the picture that is psychiatric care.”
Michelle Yang is a senior at Rice University majoring in psychology with hopes of working with children and adolescents as a clinical psychologist in the future. Her previous work in the lab of Eric Storch, PhD, at Baylor College of Medicine centered around developing an internet-delivered, parent-led cognitive behavioral therapy treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder and comorbid anxiety.
This summer at Menninger, Michelle worked with Researcher Ramiro Salas, PhD, and post-doctoral fellow Macarena Aloi, PhD, in the Salas lab, using genetic, neuroimaging and clinical data to assess the relationship between early childhood trauma and differences in size of the brain’s globus pallidus in borderline personality disorder patients.
“I had known very little about borderline personality disorder before coming to Menninger this summer, so after getting involved in this project, I did my best to try and learn as much as I could about it. I realized that it's such a complicated disorder, and not enough research exists to help people with BPD. It gives me a lot of meaning in my own life to think that the research that I'm doing might someday be able to help other people find treatments that are even better tailored to their needs.”