CBN MA Alumni and NIH Employment


Mason offers an MA degree in psychology with five concentration paths for students to pick from. The concentration in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) focuses on studying biological substrates of behavior. Faculty study diverse areas such as neural control of behavioral development; animal models of learning, memory, and disorders; human brain systems involved in cognition; the relation of neural activity to human performance; and cognitive aging. The program also focuses on translational neuroscience-complementary study of neural systems in humans and animals, including application of animal research to human behavior.

After graduating, many students continue on to work towards a PhD with a CBN concentration, however not all do. Two alumni of Mason's CBN MA program, James Thompson and Pete Gochman, chose the career path and now work with the National Institutes of Health:

James Thompson

JamesDescribe your job title and duties at NIH.

As a contractor with Kelly Services, I am a Biologist/Lab Manager for the Chesler Lab at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). My responsibilities include maintenance of the transgenic murine colony, designing and executing behavioral experiments, performing anatomical and histological experiments, imaging, and development/recreation of experimental protocols, methods, and procedures.  Additionally, as the Lab Manager, I have administrative duties such as ordering day to day supplies, ensuring safety compliance, training new lab members on protocols and techniques, and arranging export/import of subjects and materials needed for research.

How do you feel the MA program prepared you for this position?

I feel very lucky to have been a part of Dr. Jane Flinn’s lab.  Dr. Flinn helped me understand the importance of participation in the lab. As an undergrad and graduate student, I had a hands on approach to the research process that was complemented with course work, exposure to the scientific community via research conferences (such as SFN), and open discussion lab meetings. These opportunities taught me how to produce meaningful scientific data and how to be a good researcher.

What career advice do you have for current MA students?

It’s important to find something that you’re passionate about, especially with the job market the way it is now.  I went back to school as an adult after working for 15 years, and so much had changed.  Not everything comes easy, and often you have to spend hours doing things you don’t like to reach the things you love. Volunteer in a lab or hospital, take some electives you are curious about, and use available resources. It’s up to the student to take the most advantage out of the education they are paying for.

What is the most important thing you took away from the program?

What stands out the most for me is the concept of practical knowledge. I would be in lecture or reading an article and think I can do this, then I would get in the lab and nothing would go the way it was written.  You can read something about Alzheimer’s, for example, but it is a completely different thing to look under a microscope having prepared the slide and see the physiology of neurodegeneration and disease pathophysiology. The program prepared me through the combination of coursework and hands-on lab work designing and executing my own experiments.  

What is your ultimate career goal?  

This is where I always saw myself working, and I really enjoy what I do.  I am constantly learning new things and able to incorporate this into my daily work. As far as my career, I’m pretty happy where it has gone so far!

Pete Gochman

peteExplain your job title and duties at NIH.

My title is Psychologist. I currently oversee data management at the Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch at NIMH where we study mood disorders using a wide range of technologies including cognitive, electrophysiological, biochemical and genetic testing, neuroimaging as well as medication development. In the past, I have worked on many tasks from neuropsychological testing and assessment, gathering subject bio-samples, tissue culture, to data management, and have authored/coauthored over 75 articles.  

How do you feel the MA program prepared you for this position?

In general, having a solid background in neurosciences/psychology has been important in allowing me to be a productive member of a fast paced, multi-disciplinary clinical research team.  Modern health research is tasked with bringing basic science research over to the clinical arena in an effort to improve patient outcomes, and this requires our research to cover broad domains of knowledge while quickly accommodating new scientific advances. 

What career advice do you have for current MA students?

I think the MA degree can be useful as a stepping stone to preparing for a PhD program, or as a way of starting to work within the research field.   Use the time while getting your MA to get hands-on research experience; get involved with a project that appeals to you to build up the skillsets required to successfully conduct meaningful research.   

What is the most important thing you took away from the program?

Working on my thesis took me out of the classroom/textbooks and into the reality of running a research project filled with limitations, setbacks, and practical considerations that must be overcome.  Playing with data at the end of a study in order to answer a question only comes after sound experimental design and lots of tedious hard work.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I have been lucky enough to work within a setting that conducts a wide range of research and people of many different academic backgrounds/training.  I have found a passion for the bioinformatics/data management side of research.  It is a bit of cliché, but big data is currently driving health research.  This is due in part to the rise of genetic analysis; routine collection of clinical data and the proliferation of multi-site collaborations needed to answer complex health questions.  My ultimate goal is to help our basic and clinical research translate to measureable improvement in patients within our healthcare system.

To learn more about our CBN MA program, visit the George Mason catalog.