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'Becoming a Behavioral Scientist'

04/03/2013

He's in the final stages of completing his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Vermont (UVM), and starting in July, Evan Herrmann '07 will begin work as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

There he will work on two studies - including a clinical trial of a new medication that could be a treatment for marijuana dependency.

However, on Thursday, April 18, Herrmann will be back at MCLA - as the keynote speaker at this year's Annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC), to talk with MCLA students about "Becoming a Behavioral Scientist."

He will speak at 12:30 p.m. in the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium.

A double major in psychology and sociology from Sutton, Mass., who transferred to MCLA from Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Mass., Herrmann became interested in research after he began studying behavior pharmacology - how drugs affect behavior - with Dr. Thomas Byrne, during his sophomore year.

By the time he was a senior, Herrmann was conducting research on how cigarette smokers reacted to visual cues to determine how their dependence on nicotine influenced their behavior and the choices they made.

"That research got my feet wet. And, a lot of the papers I was reading while I was developing that project were reports on studies that had been done at UVM. I didn't know then how much that was going to help me," Herrmann said.

As an MCLA student, Herrmann participated in the URC. He presented research that examined relationships between alcohol and drug use, as well as measures of impulsivity among a sample of college students.

"A lot of the stuff I'm doing now is directly related to what I did at MCLA as an undergraduate," he said.

After graduating from MCLA, Herrmann took that first summer off from academics before he realized he wanted to continue to study science. At the suggestion of a Williams College professor with whom he had worked briefly during college, he began work with another scientist at UMASS-Amherst.

At UMASS-Amherst, Herrmann also worked with a second professor, and gained additional research experience. He began his graduate studies at UVM in the fall of 2008.

"Research experience is just as important as academic performance to graduate school admissions counselors," Herrmann said. "Program directors look for a student who is going to be a really good fit, and who is interested in science. Research experience is perhaps the best demonstration of those characteristics."

Ultimately, Herrmann would like to conduct research on infectious disease control among drug users.

"I'm very interested in working to develop interventions to enhance medication compliance among drug users who are co-infected with tuberculosis and HIV. There are thousands of such individuals in the United States, and they suffer from very high mortality rates - mostly because they have trouble taking their medications," which can be complicated.

For students who are also interested in a science career involving research, he advised, "Get involved in as much research as you can, early on."

Instead of taking "easy" classes as an undergraduate, Herrmann suggests that students take some of the more difficult math and science classes offered, including those in statistics and biology. Also, "Get some experience writing."

While some may not think attending a state university is the best route to a position in one of the most prestigious research universities in the world, Herrmann is proof to the contrary.

"MCLA's small class size is an advantage regarding preparation for graduate school," he said. "It results in ample opportunities for interested students to receive one-on-one mentoring from faculty members. That's really the bread and butter of a graduate education in the sciences."

Herrmann added, "What you're really doing is learning from your mentors, and you can start that process as an undergraduate at MCLA."