Join the lab!

The Pickens lab is recruiting a new graduate student for Fall 2018 (for work in both rats and humans).

Position description:

The position is specifically for project 4 on the “About the lab” tab. We are looking for a student to be in charge of a project examining long-term effects of alcohol, nicotine, and ADHD medications (Adderall, Ritalin, etc…) on learning and decision-making in both humans and rodents. We are finding several relationships between alcohol consumption and altered learning and decision-making in rodents, and we want to see if these relationships are also found in humans. These alcohol-learning relationships are our main focus, but we expect that many participants will also have exposure to nicotine or ADHD medications and we plan to include this in our analysis.

In our plan for the position, the graduate student will perform research in both rats and humans. As such, this would be an excellent opportunity for someone with a background in cognitive psychology research to extend into animal behavior and/or neuroscience research or an opportunity for someone with a background in animal behavior and/or neuroscience to extend into human research on learning. The tentative plan will be for the student to pursue one of the behavioral phenomena we have observed to be associated with alcohol consumption in rats (over-responding to rewarded cues, altered abilities to inhibit inappropriate responses, etc…) and attack the subject in two ways:

a) Examine the neurobiological basis of these changes in rodents. This may involve looking at neuronal activity with Fos, certain neuron types in rodents (such as inhibitory neurons that express parvalbumin), altered connections between brain areas, or other neurobiological markers.

b) Perform behavioral experiments (with modified versions of our rodent tasks) in undergraduates with differing history of exposure to alcohol (or nicotine or ADHD medications) to determine whether we see the same patterns in humans that we see in  rats.



We are looking for the best person possible (with the greatest potential to learn and achieve) and we are willing to train the right person.

The lab PI (Pickens) had no neuroscience or Psychology research experience before he went to graduate school (his undergraduate research was in biology and his research experience was in horticulture). Because of this, the lab fully believes it is better to get the best person possible and train them on the necessary skills rather than recruit people with pre-existing skills if this requires a trade-off in other areas. As such, we would prefer a person who meets all 3 qualifications below, but we are willing to consider people who does not meet these requirements as long as the person has some research experience (even in horticulture or molecular biology), and appears to have excellent potential for future growth.

a) Experience with animal research and neuroscience is preferred, but we are willing to teach the right person how to work with animals and how to perform our neuroscience assays.

b) Experience with human research and/or programming experiments (ex: E-Prime, Matlab, JavaScript, Python, PsyScope) is also preferred, but we are willing to teach the right person how to program the experiments and perform the behavioral testing. Our current experiments are programmed in E-Prime.

c) A bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology (although we would be willing to accept someone with a minor in psychology if the person’s degree was in a relevant field such as biology or computer science, and the person had taken at least a subset of: psychology research methods, biological psychology, cognitive psychology, sensation and perception, and animal learning/conditioning).

Contact us:

Please feel free to contact Dr. Pickens ( or one of the lab graduate students Hayley Fisher ( or Alisa Pajser ( for more information about this project or the lab in general.