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Behavioral Research and Assessment in Neuropsychology (BRAIN) Lab

Dr. Rayna Hirst Email:

Openings: 2-3 new members to join the lab annually.

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Topics:  This lab focuses on research in neuropsychology and clinical assessment. Current research topics include the influence of chronic marijuana use on cognition, the neuropsychological effects of sport-related concussion, and factors that influence the valid and reliable neuropsychological assessment of patients. Dr. Hirst’s research has focused on factors that can impact the legitimacy of clinical neuropsychological assessment, such as the examinee’s motivation to perform well; she has identified motivational statements that can enhance cognitive performance in chronic marijuana users. Her research also identified that most people can guess, at levels significantly greater than chance, whether a photograph is of a cannabis user or a non-user, simply based on appearance – a phenomenon she refers to as the “jay-dar”. As Dr. Hirst is interested in all topics related to neuropsychological performance (e.g., memory impairment, executive dysfunction), as well as the clinical process of neuropsychological assessment (e.g., standards of practice in using validity testing during assessment), she is also open to exploring diverse research ideas with students in her research lab. 

These research projects allow students to gain a significant amount of neuropsychological assessment experience and training hours, as well as develop research skills in writing literature reviews, designing a study, recruiting subjects and administering tests, entering data, conducting statistical analyses, presenting at professional conferences, and writing manuscripts. Students will be encouraged to conduct their own research projects and compete for student awards and grants. Co- and eventual first-authorship on manuscripts is encouraged. This training is aimed to help students become a more independent researcher, with the goal of conducting original research and data collection for their dissertation projects.  Please see Dr. Hirst's publications for an example of the types of research studies/manuscripts that students can contribute to.  

Members of this lab are expected to have strong conscientiousness, excellent communication with lab supervisor and members, and a high degree of responsibility and accountability. Mentorship support is strong and lab goals are flexible to meet the student’s needs.


How to Apply:

Admission to the lab is dependent upon goodness of fit of the applicant’s research interests with the lab’s ongoing research, academic merit of the applicant, and professionalism of the applicant. Interested PAU students are asked to submit the following items to Dr. Hirst by the PAU Research Lab Application due date:

  • One or two page cover letter describing past research experience, how and why the student became interested in neuropsychology/assessment, a description of specific current ongoing projects in this lab that the student would like to contribute to, and a description of additional specific research or clinical interests in neuropsychology and assessment 
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Unofficial transcript
  • A writing sample (e.g., a paper submitted for a graduate-level course) 
Notification: Students accepted into the lab will be notified by email at the PAU Research Lab Notification date and time.

Admitted 2017:

Naomi Kaswan ( - Naomi graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors of Science in Biopsychology, and a minor in Applied Psychology. She is currently a sixth-year PhD student pursuing an emphasis in neuropsychology. Naomi’s interests include neuropsychological assessment and neurorehabilitation. Naomi is primarily involved in the Sport’s Concussion research produced by the BRAIN Lab and serves as the Sport Concussion Lab Manager. Her most recent work has been focused on embedded measures of effort in a youth sports concussion population. Additionally, she is in the process of producing her dissertation, which examines the clinical utility of various embedded validity indicators in pediatric populations.

Admitted 2018:

Ryan Thompson ( - Ryan graduated from The College of William & Mary with a Master of Education in Counseling and Wake Forest University with Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. He is a fifth-year PhD candidate in clinical psychology, completing a major area of study in neuropsychology. His dissertation focuses on evaluating the use of pre-established cutoff scores for embedded validity indicators derived from commonly used neuropsychological assessment within a sample of healthy youth athletes. Additionally, he aims to develop a composite validity factor score and investigate the role of current intellectual functioning on pass/fail performance for commonly administered standalone performance validity tests and embedded validity indicators. Within the BRAIN Lab, he has primarily worked on the longitudinal pediatric sport-related concussion research program, but he has also contributed a smaller portion of time to the lab’s projects that study the cognitive effects of chronic cannabis use in adults. He has co-authored several manuscripts on topics ranging from normative intra-individual test score variability, selection criteria for competitive neuropsychology-oriented internship applicants, and the impact of COVID on these selection criteria, in addition to other manuscripts related to traumatic brain injury and cultural neuropsychology. He has presented research on expectancy effects related to neurocognitive performance in chronic cannabis users, the neurocognitive effects of early-onset use of cannabis, and the efficacy of various embedded validity indicators with youth athletes. Currently, he is an extern at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, supervised by Drs. Joel Kramer and Melanie Stephens, and the Stanford Cognitive Systems and Neuroscience Lab, supervised by Dr. Stacie Warren. He has completed previous externship rotations at the La Clínica Latina and VA Palo Alto Health Care System in the Neuropsychological Assessment and Intervention Clinic. He is an adjunct faculty instructor at PAU and is the current Co-Chair of the National Academy of Neuropsychology’s Student and Postdoctoral Residency Committee and the Student Notebook Editor for the Association for Psychological Science’s Student Caucus. He plans to pursue a career as a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, researcher, and training director in an academic medical center.

Sana Arastu ( - Sana graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz in 2016 with a Bachelors of Science in Cognitive Science and a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology. She is currently a fifth-year clinical psychology PhD student at Palo Alto University with an emphasis on neuropsychology. Sana is primarily involved in the cannabis use studies at the BRAIN lab, studying the neurocognitive effects of cannabis use. Sana's other research interests include studying how cultural factors, such as ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic background, may relate to neuropsychological performances in minority and underserved populations. Her dissertation is focused on understanding cultural factors among Asian Indian immigrants in the U.S that may impact performances on a commonly used cognitive screener. Sana is currently receiving clinical training at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s Hospital Acute Rehabilitation, providing interventions and brief neuropsychological evaluations in their inpatient rehabilitation units. She previously received clinical training at the Palo Alto VA Memory Clinic, Stanford Neurocognitive Assessment clinic, and at Hume Center’s South Asian Community Health Promotions Center. Her long-term career goals involve becoming a board certified neuropsychologist, clinically specializing in neuropsychological rehabilitation, lecturing as an adjunct faculty member, and engaging in advocacy work for improvements in neuropsychological training and practices with minoritized populations. 

Sara Markuson ( - Sara graduated from the University of Montana, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology- Research Emphasis and in Communicative Sciences and Disorders. She is a fifth-year PhD doctoral candidate who completed the Neuropsychology emphasis. Her research and clinical interests are in pediatric populations who experience complex medical issues and psychological diagnoses. She is a practicum student at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital of Oakland 5585/Consultation & Liaison Team, the UCSF in the Pediatric Brain Centers General Pediatric Neuropsychology track, and the UCSF Neurodevelopmental Assessment and Imaging Lab. In the BRAIN Lab, Sara primarily contributes to the youth sport concussion study, but also assists on the neurocognitive effects of cannabis study. Sara loves the outdoors and spends her free time with her dog, partner, and friends exploring the outdoors. She plans to achieve board certification as a pediatric neuropsychologist while working in an academic medical center.

Admitted 2019:

Aubrey Deneen ( - Aubrey graduated from the University of Puget Sound in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and an emphasis in Neuroscience. She is currently a fourth-year Clinical Psychology PhD student in the Neuropsychology Area of Emphasis. Aubrey is primarily involved in the lab’s pediatric sport concussion study. Her clinical experience includes both outpatient and inpatient neuropsychological assessment and cognitive rehabilitation. Currently, she is training at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Acute Rehab track working with individuals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, or burn injury. Aubrey is also interested in working with the athlete population. As an undergraduate, she participated in competitive snow-ski racing and experienced first-hand the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional toll that head injuries can have on athletes. As for career goals, she plans to continue inpatient acute rehabilitation work and ideally work with any NCAA and/or professional sports leagues conducting neuropsychological testing for sport-related concussions.

Yelena Markiv ( - Yelena received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology, emphasizing in Neuropsychology. Within the BRAIN Lab, Yelena is primarily involved in the pediatric sports concussion study. Her clinical interests include neurorehabilitation and neuropsychological assessment across the life span. Yelena is currently a practicum student at the UCSF Neurodevelopmental Assessment and Imaging Laboratory and a supplemental practicum student at the CIBSR for the BGAP Study at Stanford University. Outside of the lab, Yelena is part of a Ukrainian folk dance group performing throughout California. As for her career goals, she aspires to become a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who conducts assessments and provides treatment to individuals (lifespan) in a hospital setting.

Admitted 2020:

Rachel Murley
( – Rachel graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in Research Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Rachel also obtained a Master of Science in Psychology from PAU’s online master’s program before transferring to the Ph.D. program. She is currently a third-year doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Her current practicum is with the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) and she  is doing a supplemental practicum at the CIBSR for the DIBS Study at Stanford University. Rachel’s primary focus in the BRAIN lab is with the pediatric sports concussion database, but has contributed to other projects as well. She is also interested in conducting research and doing clinical work with pediatric populations that have neurodevelopmental disorders. For her long-term goals, Rachel hopes to pursue a career as a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in pediatrics while working in either a hospital setting in the rehabilitation and trauma unit and/or an academic medical center.

Jakob Hopper ( - Jakob graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He is a third-year student Ph.D. student at Palo Alto University. He was a student therapist at The Sexual and Gender Identities Clinic, a specialty clinic at The Gronowski Center that offers affordable and affirming psychological services for LGBTQ+ individuals. Currently for practicum, he is a college counselor at De Anza Community college. He is on the generalist track at PAU because he is pursuing a clinical practice focused on a blend of community mental health and private practice. However, Jakob’s research interests are neuropsychology-focused. Within the BRAIN lab, Jakob’s involvement centers around the lab’s cannabis research; additionally, he assists elsewhere when possible to broaden his research experience.

Haig Pilavjian ( - Haig Pilavjian graduated from the University of California San Diego and received his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2015. He received his Master’s degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University in 2017. Prior to attending Palo Alto University, Haig has acted as a research assistant at the San Diego VA’s Military Sexual Trauma clinic, volunteer on a national suicide crisis line, and as a psychometrist/psychological assistant for the forensic-neuropsychological Sports Concussion Institute and Nexus Clinical Solutions. Haig is currently a third-year clinical psychology PhD student within the neuropsychology emphasis. He presently is working on a collaborative project involving members of the Palo Alto VA and the BRAIN lab involving item-level analysis of neuropsychological assessments. Haig has also contributed to various BRAIN lab projects investigating the neuropsychological effects of cannabis use, and surveys which assessed for changes to the selection criteria for competitive neuropsychology internship applicants after the COVID-19 pandemic. Haig’s major focus has consistently been on the veteran population. He hopes to advance research on areas which would benefit the veteran population such as substance use/abuse and traumatic brain injury. He also hopes to use his training in neuropsychology to support the veteran community as an aspiring neuropsychologist. 

Admitted 2021:

Julius Flowers ( Julius graduated from the City University of New York (CUNY), Silbermann School of Social Work, with a Master of Social Work and the CUNY, Lehman College with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work with a minor in Psychology. Additionally, he is a licensed Social Worker.  He is currently a second-year PhD student at Palo Alto University with an emphasis in Neuropsychology. His current practicum is at the Gronowski Center. Julius’s primary research focus in the BRAIN lab has
been in an ADHD study, involvement in the sports concussion data base, and the impact of COVID-19 on graduate education. Julius is interested in studying neurological pathology and neurodiversity in adults in the areas of mTBI, ADHD, and Autism Specturm Disorder. Julius plans on becoming a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who primarily conducts research and provides assessments and psychotherapy in a minimal capacity. In his personal life, he mediates daily and enjoys traveling.

Bradley Forbes ( Bradley received his Bachelor degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan. He is currently a second-year PhD student at Palo Alto University pursuing an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Bradley’s primary research focus in the BRAIN has been in the successful marijuana use study, measuring the functionality of chronic marijuana users. Bradley is also interested in studying the neurological and psychological outcomes of COVID-19 and the impact that the pandemic has on neuropsychology. Bradley is clinically interested in working in an inpatient setting with traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders across the lifespan. Outside of the lab, Bradley is an avid cyclist and enjoys reading.

Ashlynn Steinbaugh ( - Ashlynn graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Biology. She is currently a second-year doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology pursuing an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Her current practicum is at the Gronowski Center and is doing a supplemental practicum at UCSF BrainLENS. Ashlynn’s primary research involvement in the BRAIN lab has been with the pediatric sports concussion database and she assists with other projects in the lab to broaden her experience. She is also interested in examining alcohol knowledge in children enrolled in the Sport Concussion Clinical Research program. Ashlynn aspired to become a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who conducts assessments and works with individuals across the lifespan with neurological conditions. Outside the lab, Ashlynn loves working out and spending time with her friends and family.

Admitted 2022:

Talamahe’a (Tarah) Tupou ( - Tarah graduated from University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Tarah received her Master of Science degree at Palo Alto University before transferring into the doctoral program. She is now a second-year doctoral student at Palo Alto University -pursuing the emphasis in neuropsychology- with her current practicum at the Gronowski Center. Tarah’s main involvement in the BRAIN lab include collaborations on topics such as cross-cultural neuropsychology and the pediatric sports concussion database. Additionally, Tarah’s research interests lie in neurodegenerative disease, geropsychology more broadly, and advancing knowledge and research for indigenous peoples and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (NHPI) populations. Tarah aspires to be a board-certified neuropsychologist conducting assessments and doing research with adults. In her spare time, Tarah enjoys playing volleyball, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.

Michael (Mickey) Ellis-Stockley ( - Mickey earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Central Michigan University and a master’s in clinical psychology from the University of Detroit. Prior to attending PAU, Mickey worked as a registered psychology associate in the Brain Injury Clinical Research Center at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD. There he coordinated a large research study examining concussion recovery in youth athletes. He is currently a second year PhD student in clinical psychology and is in the neuropsychology area of emphasis. Mickey is completing a psychotherapy practicum at the Gronowski Center, as well as a supplemental neuropsychological assessment practicum at Stanford University School of Medicine. In the BRAIN lab, he is primarily involved in the sport concussion study; trained to administer and score the assessment battery, and utilizes the existing data to generate professional presentations. Mickey aspires to be a board-certified neuropsychologist specializing in diagnostic evaluations and brain injury management. He hopes to work with high level (competitive) athletes, across the lifespan, who have experienced sport-related head and/or musculoskeletal injury.

Daniel Baldini ( - Daniel earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno in Psychology with a research emphasis. He is currently a second-year student at PAU. Prior to attending PAU, Daniel worked in several different research labs. At UNR, Daniel worked under the Nevada State Undergraduate Research award in Dr. Yueran Yang’s lab to write and publish a first author mansucript in social psychology research. After graduating, he worked as a volunteer in the BRAIN lab, as well as an externship student in the Attention, Impulsivity and Regulation lab at the University of California, Davis and a graduate student volunteer in the Adamson lab at Stanford/Palo Alto VA. In all labs he has worked at, he has been able to help assist in publishing, with a heavy focus on training in clinical research protocol. Daniel’s main career goal is to become a forensic neuropsychologist and work as an expert witness in civil injury cases. In the BRAIN lab, Daniel’s primary research interest, across all studiesd in the lab, is to research ways to improve the field of neuropsychology’s interpretation of performanc validity testing, which he hopes to spend his career doing.


Admitted 2018:
Jennifer Adler ( - Jen graduated from University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and a double minor in Sociology and Health. Jen completed the Neuropsychology Emphasis at Palo Alto University’s Clinical Psychology PhD Program and will graduate with her PhD in June of 2022. As part of the BRAIN lab, Jen worked on the Sport Concussion Study and completed her dissertation looking at the test-retest reliability of neuropsychological assessments in non-injured youth athletes. Jen is currently completing her internship at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego in their Neuropsychology Track and will be starting a clinical research  post-doctoral fellowship at UCSD/San Diego VA CESAMH investigating the interplay of TBI and neurodegenerative disease processes.

Admitted 2017:
Felipe Granados ( - Felipe graduated from California State University, Stanislaus, with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He worked as a PhD student pursuing an emphasis in neuropsychology. As part of the BRAIN lab, Felipe worked on posters from a successful cannabis use database. Additionally, he has also reviewed manuscripts submitted for peer review before publication. Ultimately, Felipe is interested in being a bilingual, Spanish-speaking clinical neuropsychologist, working with elderly Latinx patients suffering from neurodegenerative disorders.

Admitted 2016:
Colin Brown ( Colin is a fifth-year PhD student and has completed the neuropsychology emphasis. He is interested in working with veterans, athletes, and individuals who have sustained traumatic brain injuries. Colin is currently working on a project examining parents’ and coaches’ knowledge and attitudes pertaining to sport related concussions. His dissertation research is investigating failure rates of common performance validity tests in pediatric populations.

Rachel Santiago ( - Rachel is a fifth-year student in the neuropsychology emphasis. She is interested in working with the older adult population, Veterans, and individuals with brain injuries. Rachel is primarily involved in the Sport Concussion study and is currently working on a case study manuscript examining cognitive performance subsequent to multiple concussions.

Jessica Watson ( - Jessica has completed the Neuropsychology area of emphasis and has published published manuscripts on neuropsychologist’s beliefs regarding the cognitive effects of cannabis, as well as examiner expectancy effects. Her current research involves the lab’s pediatric sport concussion program, examining the frequency of “abnormal” (i.e., low) scores in baseline tests of healthy youth to differentiate between statistical and clinical significance. Her research also assesses parents’ and coaches’ knowledge and attitudes of sport related concussion management. She is working towards completing her dissertation, examining the level of agreement across pediatric neuropsychologists regarding assessment practices. She has represented the lab both in the US and abroad, and in 2018 she was awarded the Edith Kaplan Scholarship, presented by The National Academy of Neuropsychology’s Women in Leadership Committee.

Dylan Vaughn ( – Dylan graduated from the PhD Clinical Psychology program at PAU, Neuropsychology Area of Emphasis. Currently, he is a first-year postdoctoral fellow under the neuropsychology program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. He provides inpatient and outpatient assessment services for patients living with a variety of psychiatric and neurological/complex medical conditions. He completed his internship under the adult neuropsychology track at the California Pacific Medical Center/Sutter Health in San Francisco, California. He worked on two projects within the BRAIN Lab: the neurocognitive effects of cannabis use and the long-term effects of sport-related concussions in child/adolescent populations. He has published research on neurocognitive differences by sex in cannabis users (also his dissertation topic), expectancy effects as it relates to performance on neuropsychological evaluations in cannabis users, methodological implications and sampling bias in cannabis research, and neuropsychologists ability to discriminate cannabis users versus non-users. He is currently working on multiple research projects affiliated with McMaster University including the longitudinal effects of cannabis use on cognitive functioning, concurrent head injury rates for those presenting with substance use, and a case study evaluating advanced neuroimaging techniques for a  patient with bilateral hippocampal dysfunction. When he is not working, you can find Dylan in the Canadian wilderness foraging and birding with his girlfriend and dog.

Admitted 2015:
Casey Conaboy ( Casey was a fourth-year student in the Clinical Psychology PhD program at PAU and completed the Neuropsychology Area of Emphasis. Casey was primarily involved in the Sport Concussion Study and interested in the influence that different identities (e.g., socioeconomic status) may have on risk levels regarding concussion and recovery.

Admitted 2014:
Alexis Rosen ( – Alexis graduated from the PhD Clinical Psychology program at PAU, Neuropsychology Area of Emphasis. She is now a licensed psychologist in California and Texas. She is currently the lead neuropsychologist at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation - Dallas where she provides evaluation and treatment services for patients with stroke, TBI, SCI, and/or complex medical conditions. Alexis completed her internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center in the Neuropsychology Major Area of Study and a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neuropsychology at the Department of State Hospitals - Patton.

Zoe Quittner (

Admitted 2013:
(Lauren) Taighlor Whittington (

Richard Enriquez ( - Richard completed his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Palo Alto University with an emphasis in Diversity and Community Mental health (DCMH). He completed his predoctoral internship at San Jose State University, postdoctoral residency at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), and is currently working as a full-time staff psychologist at UCSC. Richard’s clinical interests include alcohol and other drug use, religion and spirituality, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders. He has experience with a wide range of populations and settings, including ethnically diverse populations, adult populations (ages 18-61), LGBTQ-identified clients, residential substance treatment, community mental health, and college counseling.  His research interests include investigating raters’ accuracy to assess cannabis use status, observer-expectancy effects in cannabis user population, and protective factors related to the initiation and problematic use of cannabis. His dissertation was “Childhood Religious Affiliation Type as Predictor of Initiation and Stability of Cannabis Use.”

Cecilia Han ( - Cecilia obtained board certification in clinical neuropsychology in 2022.  She graduated from PAU in 2018 and currently practices in Virginia State. She completed her fellowship at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital and internship at NYU Rusk Rehabilitation. Her clinical interests include adult neuropsychology and rehabilitation psychology, with a research interest in cognitive rehabilitation following acquired brain injuries.

Anna Teague, PhD ( - Dr. Teague graduated from PAU in 2018. She is currently a Clinical Neuropsychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor (Affiliated) in the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford Health Care. In her clinical role, she conducts outpatient neuropsychological evaluations with adults with a wide variety of neurological and neurosurgical conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, cerebrovascular pathology, epilepsy, concussion and TBI, autoimmune and demyelinating disorders, and CNS and non-CNS cancers. She also assists with clinical trials through the Neurosurgery Department and training neurology residents. Dr. Teague completed her pre-doctoral internship at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, and her post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia.

Julie Gretler ( - Julie completed her predoctoral internship, as well as her postdoctoral fellowship in neuropsychology at the University of Missouri. Her clinical and research interests include neurorehabilitation and neuropsychological assessment.

Admitted 2012:

Stephanie Gade (

Laura Rathke

Louise Sodos, PhD ( - Louise graduated from PAU in 2016. Her dissertation was “Enhancement of Cognitive Performance in Chronic Cannabis Users: Temporary versus Isolated Effects of a Motivational Statement.” She completed her pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship in clinical/military psychology at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC). She is now an active duty U.S. Army licensed clinical psychologist.