Graduate Profile: A Journey from Undergraduate to Graduate Degree

Rochelle Sceats, first-year PhD student in Mason’s Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Program.
Rochelle Sceats, first-year PhD student in Mason’s Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Program.

Rochelle Sceats is a first-year PhD student in Mason’s cognitive and behavioral neuroscience program and a member of the Perception & Action Neuroscience Group (PANG) led by Dr. Jim Thompson. A graduate of the psychology department’s Bachelor of Science program, Sceats initially struggled with her options for graduate school, feeling pressured to find a program with a school other than Mason. However, when the time came to make a final decision, she chose to continue her studies at her alma mater.


“Being so close to DC has a lot of advantages that other institutions cannot compete with,” Sceats says of her choice to remain at Mason. “The psychology department here at GMU was very supportive to me while I was juggling running and research as an undergrad, and I am thrilled to be continuing to strengthen that relationship.”


Sceats came to Mason from New Zealand on an athletics scholarship in 2009, running track and field as well as cross-country. Although she only began running competitively at the end of her high school career, she found herself “very fortunate” to have the chance to run at a D1 university, despite her lack of experience. After entering the Honors program for psychology in her sophomore year, she realized her passion for research and began the journey that would draw her closer towards the path to a PhD.


“I would say that the majority of my undergraduate experience influenced me into pursuing my PhD,” she adds.

As for why she chose to pursue a degree in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, Sceats says that the methodical techniques for research within the field captured her interest.


“From functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to electroencephalogram (EEG) to functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), all of which we can do at Mason, there is still so much that we need to understand about human perceptual and cognitive processes. [The PANG lab is] interested in further understanding how we see and act with others as part of everyday life—more specifically, in conditions in which human movement recognition may be impaired, for example Autism.”


Currently, Sceats is in the midst of a study combining fMRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), where she investigates the neural basis of emotion recognition through biological motion. She also does work in the clinical department with Dr. Sarah Fischer’s Impulse Lab.


“I am privileged to be surrounded by like-minded people all the time, but our lab is very cohesive and everyone is always very giving with their time and resources. The department at Mason is fairly small and I really enjoy the fact that we all know each other and get along well. It makes for a happy working environment.”