Shawn Rhoads is a Georgetown University Ph.D. candidate who works in the Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience, studying psychology and lifespan cognitive neurosciences. The Office of Graduate Fellowships & Awards spoke with Shawn about his work in the field, and his experience as a recent recipient of the Mistletoe Research Fellowship. The interview is transcribed below. It has been lightly edited for length.
What is your current research focus?
I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience under the mentorship of Abigail Marsh. I use functional magnetic resonance imaging, computational models, and behavioral experiments to study individuals’ perceptions of others and their shared emotional experiences with others. And also, to elucidate how these phenomenons interact to promote certain social preferences and decisions.
How did you learn about the Mistletoe Research Fellowship?
My answer to this is pretty simple: I learned about it a few years ago when they were piloting the program. And then, just from an email blast. That was when I was an early graduate student. Then one of my friends in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience became a fellow. So, knowing him, I’d have to say that was a huge influence on me applying.
What made you decide to apply?
After reading about the Momental Foundation’s values and goals, in addition to learning about my friend’s experience, I thought that this fellowship would be a perfect opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary work and learn from other fellows or industry professionals from different backgrounds. And then, also applying my existing skills to solve problems in new contexts.
How do you hope the Mistletoe Scholarship will positively impact your studies or future career?
I think in two ways it’s going to help me with my research. First is this unfettered research grant, which is really opening a new window of opportunity for me to begin a new research project. I’ve already begun thinking about ideas using neuro-imaging to advance my own research. The other prong is we partner with startups, so I’m excited to find a startup with similar goals as mine, like solving social and humanitarian challenges that may be at the junction of the computational neurobiological and social sciences. So, I think that’s how I foresee this fellowship will impact my scientific career.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to any prospective applicants?
Think about how your research tells a story. For example, my research integrates empirical evidence across multiple scales of analysis. From societal outcomes, behavior, to neurobiology. So that’s how I framed my application, by discussing these different scales of granularity. But also, outside laboratories — think about your experiences both inside and outside of the laboratory and how they align with the Momental Foundation’s core values and provide examples. I’d say that might give them a more well-rounded view on how you’ll contribute and thrive in their program.
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