Undergraduate Research Assistants Needed for VCU Juvenile Anxiety Study

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J.A.S. Research Assistant Position Description

Program of Research: Research assistants will assist with an IRB-approved and NIMH grant-funded study titled, “A Twin Study of Negative Valence Emotional Constructs (Juvenile Anxiety Study – JAS).” This study is interested in investigating internalizing disorders. Internalizing disorders (ID), consisting of syndromes of anxiety and depression, represent common, debilitating negative emotional states whose etiology is not well understood. A growing body of basic research has suggested that these conditions share more of their risk factor domains and underlying neurobiology than would be predicted by clinical nosology alone. Thus, the NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project as part of their strategic plan to “develop new ways of classifying disorders based on dimensions of observable behaviors and brain functions.” RDoC aims to serve as a framework for new approaches to research on mental disorders using fundamental dimensions that cut across traditional disorder categories. The goal of this study is to examine various emotional indices using laboratory-based paradigms (e.g., CO2 hypersensitivity, stress responsivity) to gain a better understanding of the underlying etiology of ID.

Study Methodology: Child and adolescent participants will complete at least one lab session at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. During the visit, participants complete self-report measures, an IQ test, and computer tasks involving looking at faces. In addition, they provide a saliva sample and complete two physiological assessments: one in which they inhale 7.5% CO2 enriched air, and another that involves a fear potentiated startle paradigm. During these “physio.” tasks, research assistants affix several electrodes to the participants and these assistants are responsible for checking and maintaining reading levels (i.e., they monitor and correct for issues with incoming physiological data).

Activities: The student research assistants will be involved in all aspects of the study including independently running data collection sessions, entering data, cleaning data, and performing basic analyses. In addition to gaining laboratory experience, students will engage in academic work as part of her BIOL492 experience. Specifically, students will be encouraged to read an identified collection of articles that pertain to the carbon dioxide hypersensitivity, panic disorder, emotion recognition, fear-potentiated startle, and other related literature. In addition, students will meet weekly with the research team to review various aspects the research project, review progress, and discuss relevant articles/literature pertaining to the twin studies. Students also will be expected to write a research paper by the end of the semester on a topic agreed upon by the student and Dr. Hettema. The topic of the paper will relate to an aspect of the described study.

Hours per week:

Break down of how hours will be used each week (approximate):

Total: ~10 hours/week during the fall semester

Reading literature/working on paper:       1 hour/week (home)

Assisting with data collection:        5-6 hours/week (in lab)

Data entry/cleaning/analysis:         2-3 hours/week (in lab)

Attending weekly lab meetings/meeting with research team:   1 hour/week (in lab)

Dr. Hettema and the study coordinator, Andrea Molzhon, will be responsible for the overall supervision of the students’ progress on this project and will meet with them periodically. Moreover, Dr. Hettema and the study coordinator will be responsible for day-to-day supervision of the twin studies and for day-to-day supervision of all students working on the project.  Please contact Andrea Molzhon with any questions:

To apply, download the application and send as an attachment to: molzhonar@vcu.edu with “JAS RA Application” in the email subject.

Download position application here: VCU Research Assistant Application_ B