Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a postdoctoral researcher working on computational models of human learning and decision processes, with a special focus on how people search for and select from available information to build accurate representations of the world. My work aims to understand how human information-seeking processes contribute to our daily decisions, and what the disruption of these processes in psychiatric disorders such as OCD and schizophrenia can tell us about the underlying neurobiology of decision-making.
How did you become interested in your current work?
As a Brown Math undergraduate interested largely in number theory, I first jumped ship to the slightly more applied cognitive neuroscience field after taking a class on how brain damage impacts the mind. With initially no clue on how to bridge what I thought was a gap between math and the brain, I was lucky to find in the Psychology department mentors supportive of and enthusiastic about interdisciplinary approach to brain research, which gave me the opportunity to develop and use my computational skills in pursuit of questions about human and animal cognition. I went on to do a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Princeton with Jonathan Cohen and Yael Niv, and now, as a postdoc, I am thrilled to return to Brown to train in applying my skills to computational psychiatry.
Why did you choose to come back to Brown?
I benefit enormously from my advisor Michael Frank's expertise in computational and neural modelling, as well as from the breadth of his collaborations both within BIBS – as with Dr. Steve Rassmussen at Butler Hospital, one of the leading researchers in OCD – and external, such as the research center on schizophrenia at University of Maryland. Brown's cognitive neuroscience group offers me the chance to run my research in an open, collaborative and interdisciplinary environment, where I can develop and expand my skills. At the same time, I’m hoping to contribute to our program’s computational focus, through a series of workshops that Drew Linsley and I are developing as part of the Brown Computational Initiative. In Summer 2017, I taught the first one, a two-week computational modelling challenge, that brought together researchers from different departments across different levels, from undergraduate students to adjunct professors, who shared an interest in using computational models to answer questions about the brain, mind and behavior. This year’s challenge resulted in participants ultimately building their own models to explore a rich, novel dataset that combined learning, visual perception, memory and decision-making—and we hope to extend this next year, incorporating electrophysiological and neural data to showcase how computational models can be used to bridge the gap between behavior and the underlying physiological mechanisms.
Where are you from and what do you like to do other than research?
I am originally from Romania, where when I wasn’t playing with numbers I enjoyed ice-skating, learning new languages for fun, and hunting vampires. Woefully deprived of the latter, I now resort to chasing squirrels instead with my dog at Blackstone Park, but we never catch them.