Cooper graduated recently with a PhD in Psychology with an emphasis in cognitive/behavioral neuroscience.
1. A brief explanation of your experience in Brigham Young University's Psychology Graduate Student Program:
Cooper: "I graduated recently with my PhD in Psychology with an emphasis in cognitive/behavioral neuroscience. I had sort of a unique experience in a number of ways-- I started off as a social psychology PhD student but due to evolving interests, I ended up switching into neuroscience and working under Dr. Brock Kirwan. This was a great experience for me, because I went to a small private university in Michigan (Andrews University) and hadn't had the opportunity to work within neuroscience before. While in the program, I learned MRI data collection and analysis, things I never could've done at my undergraduate institution. I also ended up collaborating pretty heavily with Dr. Elisabeth Wilde (a department alumni, formerly Dr. Bigler's student) at the University of Utah. She helped me get some domain specific experience within traumatic brain injury research, and also trained me in neuropsychological testing and structural MRI data collection and analysis. She was instrumental in getting me my dissertation data from a traumatic brain injury consortium (the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium). I ended up collaborating pretty heavily with other institutions due to my connection with Dr. Wilde and support from Dr. Kirwan at BYU. Dr. Wilde was the outside member on my PhD committee and Dr. Kirwan was my committee chair. "
2. What your post-graduation plans are/were/what are you currently doing:
Cooper: "I actually just moved to Richmond, Virginia, where I'll be starting as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University. I'll be working with a number of people here I met through Dr. Wilde. I'll be continuing my research within traumatic brain injury in the military and military veterans, but expanding a bit into addiction neuroscience as well (the neuroscience behind substance use addictions in military populations)."
3. What would be your advice for potential students:
Cooper: "My best advice I could possibly offer undergraduate students is to refine their research interests and find a faculty member in a graduate program that matches those interests closely. One of the reasons I was successful in my time in the program (besides the help of faculty members, peers, and collaborators) was because I sought out people who could help me pursue my research interests. I think it's difficult for a lot of people to narrow down what they're interested in, so they end up applying to programs and describing very broad interests (e.g., human consciousness rather than a specific aspect of that). This makes it difficult for prospective faculty mentors to gauge whether an applicant would be successful in their lab, and ends up in a lot of unsuccessful applications. The absolute best thing you can do as an undergraduate is explore your interests and find faculty members who share those interests and can give you the training to make you a successful researcher. A secondary piece of advice, if I could offer one, would be to take acute notice of your mental health during education. I personally have struggled a bit with separating my self worth from my identity as a researcher, and that can take a toll-- a lot of the time academic failures can feel like character flaws. It's important to keep in mind that this happens to absolutely everyone. Failure is not only a part of life, but an important part of academia. The best thing you can do for yourself is to realize that failures in academia aren't reflective of you as a person or your abilities as a researcher. You can always work to improve your academic work-- but you can't do that unless you realize it's not a part of your worth as a person. I personally applied to 10 schools and got accepted to 1-- BYU."