W&J junior conducts autism research in Yale laboratory

Created: September 26, 2018  |  Last Updated: January 13, 2020  |  Category:   |  Tagged: ,

WASHINGTON, PA (Sept. 26, 2018)–Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) junior Kevin Bergen ’20 spent his summer assisting with autism research at the Chawarska Lab at Yale University.  

Kevin, a first-generation college student from Stroudsburg, Pa., knew he wanted to research autism, but didn’t have connections in the field and wasn’t sure how to begin. He contacted several labs, at first receiving no response. Then he realized that being a W&J student gave him a major advantage: he had access to the College’s many research scholarships, which meant he wouldn’t have to depend on the labs for funding. 

“I mentioned [W&J’s] Merck Excellence in Science Award and the Maxwell Internship Award, and that if I’m accepted, I most likely will not need funding [from the lab],” Kevin said. “The one lab I really wanted was this one at Yale because they are one of the top autism research labs in the country. They emailed me back and they were the first lab to accept me out of all of them.”  

He ultimately applied for and received funding from the Maxwell Internship Award, which funded his experience. Best of all? He got to study exactly what he wanted. 

The lab examined temperament in children with autism ranging from toddlers to 15-year-olds through trials that are indicative of behaviors that would cause joy, anger, and fear. The lab focused on behaviors displayed by the children.  

Kevin used both his psychology and computing information studies (CIS) majors to contribute to the lab by timecoding videos from the experiment, and aiding with a literature review to help other members of the study write a chapter for a textbook. Most of the researchers were postbaccalaureate students, and Kevin was the only lab member not studying at Yale, but he wasn’t intimidated.  

My [W&J] professors definitely prepared me. The psychology department has so many talented professors and I went in to work that was [comparable to that of] a first-year master’s student, and I was able to hold my own with the education I have here,” Kevin said. “I have really supportive advisors who built me up before I went. Dr. Hallenbeck in the CIS department as well as Dr. McDonald and Dr. Bennett in the psychology department helped me through the whole process.” 

Kevin also is currently interning for a second consecutive year in an auditory neuroscience lab at Carnegie Mellon, using the knowledge gained from his CIS major to complete coding for the lab. His experiences have helped him to uncover what he’d like to do as a future career that fits with his personality.  

“It helped me realize that I don’t want to stray away from lab work, but I do want to find a medium that is more social and I did,” Kevin said.   

Kevin plans to attend graduate school upon his graduation from W&J and one day live and work in Manhattan, New York. 

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.