My Experience Working with Underserved Communities at SALUD Lab!

By Elizabeth Breen, FCLC 2022

Hello! My name is Elizabeth Breen and I am a Junior Neuroscience/Theology major in the Honors Program at Fordham Lincoln Center. I was lucky enough to secure a research position at the beginning of Spring Semester my sophomore year, in January 2020, meaning that once Fordham shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of my lab and I were able to transition completely remote, which provided an opportunity to stay totally involved in the research process from my home in Illinois. 

The lab I joined is the SALUD laboratory, which is dually associated with Fordham University and Mount Sinai Hospital. We are led by Dr. Monica Rivera Mindt, a professor of Psychology and Latinx Studies here at Fordham. I actually learned of her work by taking a class, Biopsychology, for my major, and was so interested in her work that I asked to join her lab! Our work primarily focuses on investigating the effects of HIV, aging, substance use, and substance use treatment on the brain, functional outcomes, and health disparities – especially among U.S. Latina/o and Afro-Caribbean populations. I was particularly drawn to this lab by the combination of studying cognition and HIV’s effect on the brain from a scientific perspective with the strong social justice intent behind SALUD laboratory’s work in achieving equitable healthcare.

I have been working for SALUD laboratory for over a year now, so my responsibilities have grown immensely over the past months. On a typical day “in-lab”, I usually start out by responding to emails and setting up meetings for both myself and Dr. Rivera Mindt – there’s a lot of administrative work that goes into research! I also do things like source papers that may be relevant to our research and investigate opportunities that could lead to further outreach for our lab. The bulk of my time, however, is spent with participants. One of the things that initially drew me to SALUD laboratory was the potential opportunity to work directly with research participants as an undergraduate, and after COVID, the chance to start seeing participants over the phone along with the rest of the graduate students.

Today, I saw a participant for a neuropsychological interview. In this interview, we test participants using standardized psychological measures of thinking and memory that, when scored, will give us insight into different areas of the participant’s cognitive abilities. Administering these tests over the phone can be a bit tricky, but I really cherish the opportunity to interact with people over the phone, especially since so many of our participants, who are generally older adults, do not get the chance to go out due to the pandemic. I also saw another participant to finish up a questionnaire call, where I administered a variety of questionnaires to the participant to learn more about their demographics, education, language use, and many other sociocultural factors. These factors give us insight into why some participants do better on their neuropsychological tests than others. 

Overall, I enjoy my time in SALUD laboratory immensely. I’m so fulfilled by the opportunity to do outreach in underserved communities, especially given the pandemic situation and the fact that I’m only an undergraduate. The research we do isn’t just interesting, it has the potential to make a massive impact on how community-based research is done and how funding is distributed by the NIH. I am so excited to continue this kind of work in my future education and research opportunities!