Nicole Occidental is a professional when it comes to irritating mice. Her job at Massachusetts General Hospital is dedicated to studying what happens psychologically when mice steal snacks from each other.
“I really loved designing this experiment. It’s the first of its kind,” says Occidental, who recently received a full scholarship from the U.S. Fulbright Students Program to begin her master’s degree in cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University in the Netherlands next year.
But even though she’s passionate about her thieving mice, Occidental really wants to study the effects of virtual learning on children, a research topic she plans to delve into deeper during her graduate studies in the Netherlands.
“I feel like this topic melds all of the research I’ve done as an undergrad at co-ops and in labs that I’ve worked in,” says Occidental, who will graduate from Northeastern with a degree in behavioral neuroscience this spring.
Since her freshman year, Occidental has been working at Northeastern’s Center for Cognitive and Brain Health where she studies the neurological effects of exercise. She believes this work coupled with her research at MGH made her stand out among the pool of other students who applied for the prestigious Fulbright scholarship.
Her area of research—social neuroscience—is a relatively new discipline within the larger field of neuroscience. “Not many people are doing these types of experiments where they use animal subjects to model human cognition,” she says. “I think I stood out because I’m working on experiments that have never been done before.”
At Maastricht, Occidental hopes to gain the technical skills she knows she will need to pursue a doctorate of medicine and philosophy, which she plans to begin after completing her studies in the Netherlands.
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Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University.