People of I-LABS
Vibrant, super-smart and caring: these are just a few of the qualities that describe the dozens of interdisciplinary researchers at I-LABS. Their innovative ideas and technological savviness help drive the Institute’s reputation as a world leader in child development and brain science.
And their kindness, professionalism and sense of humor greet all of the hundreds of families that volunteer each year for studies at I-LABS.
In the “People of I-LABS” series, we get to know the research scientists, post-doctoral fellows and other researchers who make up the elite team at I-LABS
Please tell us a little about yourself. Where do you come from? What are you doing at I-LABS?
I am South American by origin. Technically born in the US but raised in Medellin, Colombia for the first 13 years of my life. My dad and mom are Colombian too, so I have strong cultural ties there.
At I-LABS I conduct research on the involvement of striatal dopamine systems in executive functions and cognitive control mechanisms. I study how both linguistic and non-linguistic cognitive processes are shaped by striatal control mechanisms. My core interests revolve around understanding how the brain, given its information processing constraints, achieves complex cognition and behavior.
Why did you decide to become a researcher?
I’ve been broadly interested in the cognitive (neuro)sciences since high school, when I began to read works by Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom. However, I did not decide to become a researcher until a “Language in the Brain” course in undergrad, where I was exposed to the study of second language acquisition. This topic absolutely captivated me, and led me to volunteering at the University of Florida Brain and Language Lab.
What research questions are you working on now?
My current work focuses on understanding the involvement of the frontostriatal network in semantic ambiguity resolution. Specifically, I am interested in how individual differences in the direct and indirect pathways of the basal ganglia contribute to resolving moments of ambiguity during language comprehension.
What inspired you to study this topic?
While studying for my general exams I was exposed to a breadth of research that suggested a critical involvement of the basal ganglia in linguistic processes. What was most shocking to me was that this system is generally disregarded in most accounts of the neurobiology of language. This basically set me on a path to better understand how this system contributes to human linguistic abilities.
What’s your most significant career accomplishment so far?
I’d say my National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship!
What’s your favorite part of working at I-LABS?
I really love how interdisciplinary our work is here at I-LABS. It’s wonderful to see people from so many different backgrounds working together to solve some of the toughest problems in science. It truly is inspiring!
What is your most exciting memory from being in the lab?
Conference trips with my lab! I think our trip to Hawaii for OHBM 2015 tops the “most exciting memories” chart. I’m particularly fond of memories from the time we spent swimming with sea turtles in Hanauma Bay after the conference wrapped. That’s also the day I got the worst sunburn to date…
How can people use your discoveries in their own lives?
Here at the Cognition and Cortical Dynamics Lab (CCDL), I’ve been trained using an Individual Differences framework. I hope that my continued use of this method in the study of executive functions and cognitive control provides us with deep knowledge on how to improve such executive functions for individuals with deficits in executive abilities. Ultimately, my goal is for this knowledge to be used in a translational context and applied in clinical settings.
What’s something we might not know about you? (something fun! Secret talents? Cool travels? Adorable pets?)
I am a photography enthusiast! Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve fallen in love with landscape photography. Check out some of my stuff on Instagram (@josetakesatrip)! I also have two fluffy dogs who keep me entertained all the time 🙂 Abu, a tiny little Yorkie, and Pascal, a silly Bernedoodle!