The Cognitive Neuroscience Group (CNG) at the MGH Institute of Health Professions is a collaborative lab designed to examine the relationship between learning, language ability, and cognitive factors. But this kind of group collaboration didn’t really exist before the CNG came together in 2016. the IHP but instead was created by the three researchers who make up the CNG.
“We are mentoring students by integrating them into our rigorous research,” shared Yael Arbel, PhD, CCC-SLP. “What we're building is a community where we offer our students guidance, but we also collaborate as mentors. This was our vision and we built it from scratch.”
Led by Arbel, Lauryn Zipse, PhD, CCC-SLP, and Sofia Vallila Rohter, PhD, CCC-SLP as Principal Investigators, the group allows for symbiotic mentorship between students and researchers. Since its inception, over 80 students have worked within the CNG.
“A few years back, I tried to get a group going where students could come together and discuss research. While we did develop a small group, we didn’t have a community,” said Zipse. “With the CNG, we came together to pool resources, of course, but really to pool students and ideas to facilitate discussions around research.”
With each researcher targeting a different area – Zipse specializes in adult neurogenic communication disorders, Arbel focuses on typical and atypical learning and language development in children, while Vallila Rohter’s specialty is aphasia and implementation – the trio found a collective interest in their cumulative areas of expertise. While their work sometimes overlaps, it’s very different at its core. Each PI contributes her own experiences, methodologies, and literature to the group, benefiting the other PIs – and the students involved.
CNG alumni like Lucia Hong can’t speak highly enough of the impact this experience has had on their education and professional training.
Hong studied neurobiology and linguistics as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley but didn’t know how to apply her studies in a practical way until she began volunteering in clinical settings; it was this experience that exposed her to the work of speech therapists. Ultimately, she decided to pursue a graduate degree in Speech Language Pathology, but most programs she looked into didn’t put a spotlight on research, which is what she was looking for. The IHP, says Hong, “splashed research opportunities all over the website,” implying ‘this is what we’re all about.’
“I attribute a lot of my successes to having been part of the CNG,” notes Hong. “I truly didn’t know what I was capable of until I got my feet wet with the research I did in the group. I’ll be heading off to medical school soon, and this experience was critical in my growth to get to this point.”
Kristen Nunn, another student involved with the CNG, echoes the sentiment.
“I value the learning opportunities I’ve been given in the CNG,” shared Nunn. “The IHP has such a clinical focus and coming in, I wanted to better understand how the research we do could have clinical implications. This group has helped me discover that.”
Annika Canta enjoyed the IHP’s emphasis on medicine and connections to area hospitals but wanted research to be a key part of her graduate studies.
“When deciding where to go for my graduate degree, I investigated a variety of schools and labs, and the CNG stood out,” said Canta. “With an interest in neuroscience and specifically how it relates to speech-language pathology, the CNG was the perfect fit, and a nice continuation of the research, thesis, and discovery experiences I had as an undergrad.”
One of Canta’s goals is to use her research to inform improvements in CSD clinical practice, which directly aligns with one of the CNG’s major goals – to emphasize the importance of interprofessional practice and care in rehabilitation.
“The IHP is all about teams working together, across specialties,” said Vallila Rohter. “This collaborative environment eliminates common silos between professionals in different areas. It’s clear that what our students learn here is quite influential in the way they’ll go on to deliver their care.”
The faculty and students within the CNG say it’s not a one-way relationship – both benefit from the other.
“We, as researchers, pick up great ideas, develop new research questions, and expand our horizons in working together with our students, whether we realize it or not,” observed Arbel. “This community enriches us all. And while we know the impact of our own research, we know that we can make an even bigger impact when we work together.”