Behavioral Research and Assessment in Neuropsychology (BRAIN) Lab

Image Graphic of Brain
Research Programs: PAU Sport Concussion Study
TopicsThis 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.

Instagram Handle: @PAUBrainLab
Openings: 2-3 new members to join the lab annually.
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. 
Current Members:
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 Pacific University with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology with an emphasis in neuroscience. He is a fourth-year PhD student pursuing an emphasis in neuropsychology. Currently, he is working 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 expectancy effects as it relates to performance on neuropsychological evaluations in cannabis users, methodological implications and sampling bias in cannabis research, neuropsychologists ability to discriminate cannabis users versus non-users, and plans to continue this line of research as well as other topics related to cannabis use in general. In addition, he is working on publishing a case study examining the neurocognitive effects of sustaining multiple concussions for a pediatric football player. Currently, he is working on his dissertation examining the role of gender on neurocognitive performance in cannabis users. His clinical interests in neuropsychology include working with patients diagnosed with epilepsy and neurodegenerative disease

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 fourth-year PhD student pursuing an emphasis in neuropsychology. Naomi’s interests include neuropsychological assessment and treatment trajectories in children with a variety of neurological presentations and brain injuries. Naomi is currently involved with both the sports concussion and cannabis research produced by the BRAIN Lab. 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.

Felipe Granados ( - Felipe graduated from California State University, Stanislaus, with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He is currently a fourth-year PhD student pursuing an emphasis in neuropsychology. Currently as part of the BRAIN lab, Felipe is working on posters from a successful cannabis use database. For his dissertation, Felipe will be looking at data collected from Latinx participants in the youth sport concussion study. 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 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 third-year PhD student in Clinical Psychology, specializing in Neuropsychology.  Currently, he is working on two projects with the BRAIN Lab: the long-term neurocognitive effects of sport-related concussion in children and adolescents as well as the neurocognitive effects of chronic cannabis use in adults. He has presented research on expectancy effects related to neurocognitive performance in chronic cannabis users; the neurocognitive effects of early-onset use of  cannabis; as well as the efficacy of various embedded validity indicators with youth athletes, including WASI-II Matrix Reasoning, WISC-IV Reliable Digit Span, Stroop Color and Word Test, and TOMMe10. Additionally, he contributed to the development of a manuscript focused on characterizing abnormal neurocognitive performance in baseline evaluations of healthy youth athletes and is assisting in the development of survey project on selection criteria for applicants to neuropsychologically focused APA-accredited internships. He is currently a practicum student at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in the Neuropsychological Assessment and Intervention Clinic supervises by Drs. Harriet Zeiner and John Wager and an adjunct Professor in the PAU Department of Counseling. He plans to pursue a career as a professor and clinical supervisor in an academic medical center.

Jennifer Adler ( - Jen graduated from University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and a double minor in Sociology and Health.  She is currently a third-year Clinical Psychology PhD student with an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Jen is interested in working with athletes, specifically youth athletes and college athletes, and individuals who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, specifically focusing on the cognitive effects as well as behavioral effects (depression and anxiety). Jen is also interested in neurodegenerative disease in older adults and neuropsychological assessment. She is currently working on a project evaluating embedded effort measures within the sport concussion neuropsychological battery to test for participants giving adequate effort and her primary focus is on the lab’s pediatric sport concussion study. Jen is also working on a manuscript exploring the connection between treating patients with eating disorders and professionals’ current eating behaviors and the role that resilience and executive function may play in the relationship. Jen is currently a practicum student at The Transitional Program, a community mental health site for individuals with serious mental illness and is also a psychometrist and student researcher at the Stanford Alzheimer’s Disease Research 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 third-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 expanding the neuropsychological research on South Asian populations in the U.S., by examining the effect of confounding variables in the testing setting (e.g., ethnicity of examiner) on cognitive performances of first and second-generation South Asians. She is currently working on two manuscripts. One of the manuscripts examines eating disordered behaviors, resilience, and executive functioning in professionals treating patients with eating disorders and the second is examining the sex differences in the cognitive effects of cannabis use. Sana is currently a neuropsychology practicum trainee at the Palo Alto VA Memory Clinic under Dr. Lisa Kinoshita working with geriatric veterans and is at external practicum at the Stanford Neurocognitive Assessment clinic under Dr. Tonita Wroolie, administering neuropsychological assessments with normal aging women in a research setting. Her long-term career goals involves becoming a board certified neuropsychologist and clinically specializing in neuropsychological rehabilitation, while also lecturing as an adjunct faculty member. 

Sara Markuson ( - Sara graduated from the University of Montana, Missoula, Montana with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology- Research Emphasis and in Communicative Sciences and Disorders. She is currently a third-year Ph.D. student pursuing an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Sara is primarily interested in research and clinical work in pediatric populations who experience complex medical issues and medical traumas. Her external practicum are at UCSF in the Pediatric Brain Centers General Pediatric Neuropsychology track and in the 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 teaching spin classes, hiking, and biking near the ocean. She plans to achieve board certification as neuropsychologist and to specialize in pediatrics 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 second-year Clinical Psychology PhD student in the Neuropsychology Area of Emphasis. Aubrey is primarily involved in the lab’s pediatric sport concussion study, but also aids in the recruitment efforts for the multiple studies exploring the effects of cannabis use on cognitive processing. 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. In general, Aubrey hopes to pursue a career in clinical neuropsychology and cognitive rehabilitation.    


Yelena Markiv ( - Yelena received her B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently a second-year Ph.D. Clinical Psychology student pursuing an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Within the BRAIN Lab, Yelena is involved in both the pediatric sports concussion study and cannabis research. Her clinical interests include neurorehabilitation and neuropsychological assessment across the life span. 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-Flint in 2017 with a B.S. in Research Psychology and a B.S. in Biology. Rachel also obtained anM.S. in Psychology from PAU’s online master’s program before transferring to the Ph.D. program. She is currently a second-year Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student pursuing an emphasis in Neuropsychology. Rachel’s primary focus in the BRAIN lab is with the pediatric sports concussion study. 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 working 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 second-year student Ph.D. student at Palo Alto University and is 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. He is on the generalist track at PAU because he is pursuing a clinical practice focused on community mental health and, eventually, 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 (

Past Members:

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 is a recent graduate of the PAU PhD Clinical Psychology program, Neuropsychology Area of Emphasis. Her primary area of research involves the effects of chronic cannabis use on cognitive functioning. She is also interested in validity testing and has investigated validity testing practices among a sample of national and international neuropsychologists. Alexis completed her internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center in the Neuropsychology Major Area of Study. More recently, she is completing a two-year postdoctoral fellowship, consistent with the Houston Conference Guidelines for specialty training in Clinical Neuropsychology.

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 graduated from PAU in 2018 and is a licensed clinical psychologist in Virginia State. She is currently completing her second year of postdoctoral fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. Her internship was 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 ( - Anna graduated from PAU in 2018. She is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia and is currently Chief Neuropsychology Fellow at the University of Virginia Health System. She works primarily with adults and specializes in epilepsy, concussion and TBI, autoimmune/infectious diseases, solid organ transplant, psychiatric disorders, cerebrovascular disease, and functional neurologic disorders.

Julie Gretler ( - Julie completed her predoctoral internship at the University of Missouri. Her clinical interests include neurorehabilitation and neuropsychological assessment across the life span. Her BRAIN lab involvement includes studies related to performance validity testing, chronic marijuana use, and cognition.
Admitted 2012:
Stephanie Gade (
Laura Rathke
Louise Sodos, Ph.D. ( - 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.


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