Alumni

Many wonderful people have worked in our lab over the years, and we only have pictures of a few of them here. If you worked with us during your time at UCI, please get in touch-- we'd love to know how you're doing!

PhD students

Ashley J. Thomas

I am a PhD student in the Sarnecka Cognitive Development Lab in the Cognitive Sciences Department at the University of California, Irvine. My research focuses on two areas: the first is social & moral cognition in babies and preschoolers. My current work explores how children understand social hierarchies and how this affects their behavior. The second explores how people’s moral intuitions affect how they perceive and assess risk (and vice versa). I am particularly interested in whether these two factors encourage new moral norms. I am a strong supporter of open science, including non-commercial open access journals.

Email: ashleyjt@uci.edu; ashleyjothomas@gmail.com

Phone: eight zero five, seven zero one, five two seven six

Website: Ashley's website



Emily Slusser

Emily began the PhD program in 2005 and graduated in 2010. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Development at San Jose State University. She teaches courses on cognitive and language development as well as quantitative analysis. She has established a research program that explores children's early cognitive representations of number and the later development of symbolic math concepts, and is currently building a fully interdisciplinary research program exploring best practices in early education and intervention.

Email: emily.slusser@sjsu.edu

Website: http://www.sjsu.edu/people/emily.slusser/

James Negen

James started in the lab as a Research Assistant in 2007. He started the PhD program in 2008 and graduated in 2014. James is currently studying the development of spatial cognition using virtual reality methods at Durham University as a Research Associate. He describes his work this way:

"In terms of navigation, what's the difference between a 3 year old and an adult? Do children just gradually add more attention, better memory, and better executive function - or is there a jump where they start being able to think about the space around them in a fundamentally new way? We are hoping to find out by using virtual reality to gently 'teleport' young children to new viewpoints and ask them to identify remembered locations."

Email: jnegen@gmail.com

Meghan Goldman

Meghan joined our lab as a grad student in 2009 and graduated with her PhD in 2014. She currently lives in Irvine with her family.

Lab Managers

Alex Bower

Alex was our lab manager in 2014-2015. He is currently a graduate student in the Department of Cognitive Sciences. His current research explores the cognitive mechanisms behind insight problem solving. Alex also studies cultural and computational models of humor, such as through Cultural Consensus Theory.

Helen Braithwaite

Helen was our Lab Manager from 2008-2009. She is currently a Research Specialist and Associate Director at the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at UC Irvine. Her research interests include the evaluation of prisoner reentry programs and parole supervision policies, working in collaboration with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). She also works with the California Department of State Hospitals (DSH) on bed utilization and staffing practices, with the aim of improving services for mentally ill patients receiving treatment at state psychiatric hospitals.

Email: helen.b@uci.edu

Website: http://ucicorrections.seweb.uci.edu

Tanya Anaya

Tanya was our lab manager from 2011 to 2014, and before that worked for us as an undergraduate research assistant. She went on to earn a Master’s degree and a teaching credential in bilingual education from UCI, and is now teaching 1st grade at Ralph A. Gates Elementary School in Lake Forest, CA. She credits the work that she did with the Sarnecka Lab as the reason why she chose to pursue a teaching career. During her time in the lab, Tanya discovered the importance of developing languages and having a strong academic foundation.

Research Assistants

This is only a tiny subset of the wonderful RAs we've worked with over the years! If you were an RA in our lab, please send a photo and update-- we'd love to hear from you and (with your permission) to post your info here.

Adrian R.

Adrian is a Public Health Policy major with a minor in Psychology and Social Behavior who joined the lab in Fall 2017. Adrian joined the lab to obtain research experience and to learn more about the cognitive development and abilities of children. In the future he plans to go to graduate school to earn his Masters Degree in Public Health, and to work in the medical field for under served children. During his free time he likes to relax, play video games, and exercise.

Alejandro I.

Alejandro was a research assistant in the lab in 2013-2014. He says, "My experience in the Sarnecka Lab was very valuable to me because it allowed me to gain experience working with children in a school setting. Working in the lab also provided opportunities for me to practice my Spanish skills, which has helped me communicate with parents at the school where I currently work. I am a special education para-educator for Environmental Charter Middle School."

Amy G.

Amy is a third year Biological Sciences major who joined the lab in Winter 2016. She joined not only because she was curious about research and would like to get hands-on experience, but also because she thinks children are funny, tiny people. In her free time, she plays Tetris, listens to kpop, does arts and crafts, and eats lots of food.

Anna C.

Anna joined the Sarnecka Cognitive Development Lab as an undergraduate research assistant in the Spring of 2015. She is pursuing a degree in Psychology and Social Behavior, with a minor in Criminology, Law and Society. Anna's favorite thing about working in the lab is knowing that she is in some way contributing to the advancement of psychology as a field. She plans to go to graduate school to further study race, language and socioeconomic status as they relate to the American school system. In her free time, Anna enjoys trying new foods, karaoke, and reading the works of Isabel Allende and Stephen King.

Anne B.

Anne is a third year Cognitive Psychology major who joined the lab in Winter 2018. She joined the lab to gain hands-on experience in the field. She is interested in how quickly babies and small children develop at a cognitive level. She is also interested in how different levels of brain functioning influence one’s behavior. She plans to pursue a PhD in Psychology, and specialize in Child Development. Her goal is to work with special needs children, and to grasp a better understanding of how cognitive functioning is connected with behavioral patterns.

Christian J.

Christian was an RA in the lab in 2011-2012. He is currently working as the director of human resources at Carousel School, a school for developmentally disabled students.

Christina R.

Christina worked in the lab in 2013-2014. "My experience in the lab was invaluable. It was my first experience with research, and inspired my current passion in doing research, especially to serve underserved populations that are at increased risk for a variety of factors. It also taught me many valuable parts of the research process, including opportunities to present research from the lab. I am now in a Clinical Psychology M.S. program at Cal State Fullerton. I'm planning on going on to get my PhD in Clinical Psychology when I finish from this program."

Connie L.

Connie was an undergraduate research assistant who joined the lab in September 2014. Connie was a fourth year Cognitive Science Psychology major. She joined the lab to gain more research experience as well as to work with children. In her spare time, she likes to watch movies and Korean dramas, nap and eat good food. She also enjoys spending time with her friends and family.

Cristina G.

Cristina worked in the lab in 2014-2015. She is currently working as an independent contractor for a home decor company. She is planning on applying to a Masters program in Spanish.

Denise Giardina

Denise is a fourth-year Psychology major who joined our lab in Spring 2018. She is eager to gain first-hand experience in the research process and explore all aspects of life in a cognitive science lab. After graduating from UCI, she plans to continue her education by obtaining a master’s degree with the end goal of becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Denise has a deep awe and respect for children, and she appreciates their passion for life and eagerness to explore new things. In her spare time, you will find Denise out and about with her family, in the garden at home, or hiking on a trail.

Eden H.

Eden is a third year Neurobiology major who joined the lab in Summer 2016. Eden joined the lab because she is eager to gain a better understanding of what life as a graduate student would look like and because she loves learning more about what happens as the brain develops. After she graduates, she plans to attend graduate school and ultimately study Alzheimer's Disease. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, hiking, swimming, and listening to music.

Edgar P.

Edgar worked in the lab as an undergraduate research assistant from 2013 to 2014. After graduating, Edgar worked as a behavioral interventionist and discovered the field of occupational therapy. As of September 2017, Edgar was studying for the GRE and preparing to apply to master’s programs in occupational therapy.

Edward C.

Ed joined the lab in Fall 2014 to gain research experience for graduate school. His undergraduate majors were Cognitive Science and Education. After graduating, Ed entered the PhD program in education at UCI, working with Prof. Drew Bailey. In his spare time, Ed likes to practice martial arts, bake with friends, draw, read, and play board games.

Elisa C.

Elisa is a Cognitive Psychology major with a minor in Education who joined the lab in Winter 2017. She is interested in how language and knowledge acquisition works in the brain. Elisa believes every child should have the opportunity and resources to succeed in life so she looks forward to researching in Cognitive Development as well as developing efficient interventions to help children with learning disabilities. She joined the lab to gain hands on experience in research as she wants to be well prepared in order to pursue a PhD in School and Educational Psychology. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching movies and doing yoga and meditation.

Gabby L.

Gabby is a Cognitive Sciences major that joined the lab in Fall 2014. She joined the lab to gain research experience and to develop her interest in cognitive development, particularly in dual-language learners. After graduation, Gabby plans on going to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology or Cognitive Neuroscience. She hopes to eventually become a university professor.

Ghadeer A.

Ghadeer is a Post Baccalaureate student in the Psychology and Social Behavior department. She graduated in summer 2016 from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with a Bachelors degree in Neuroscience. During her senior year she worked at U of M’s School of Public Health as a research assistant to investigate the effectiveness of administering pneumococcal vaccines to children on the incidence of pneumococcal disease. After graduation, she took a year off to stay with her now two-year-old daughter and explore different future options including Medical School, a PhD in Neuroscience or Biopsychology, or a Masters in Public Health. She finds herself interested in developmental psychology and she truly believes that the experiences we have as children shape who we are as adults. She joined the lab in order to immerse herself more in the field of developmental psychology and acquire more research skills.

Hasmik Mehrabyan

Hasmik is a fourth year Psychology major who joined the lab in Summer 2018. Hasmik joined the lab to gain research experience and learn more about cognitive development in children. She is fascinated by the amount of information the brain is capable of acquiring at a very young age, and how the timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape the brain. She plans to pursue a PhD in Neuropsychology to gain a deeper understanding on how disorders within the brain and nervous system impact behavior and cognitive functions. In her free time she enjoys watching many television shows, sketching, and spending time with family and friends.


Hillary R.

Hillary worked in our lab as an undergraduate research assistant in 2014-2015 during her third year at UCI. After graduating, she will be attending Stanbridge University in Fall 2017 to pursue her Masters in Occupational Therapy. She plans to continue research in the virtual-reality therapies and child development.

Hoang N.

Hoang is a fourth year Cognitive Sciences major with a concentration in Language Science. She joined the lab in Fall 2016 because she was interested in how children's minds gradually develop to make sense of the world around them. Her long-term career goal is to become a speech-language pathologist who works extensively with children. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis and ping-pong as well as traveling to new places with her family.

Jennifer A.

Jennifer worked in the lab during the 2013-2014 academic year. She writes, "Working in Dr. Sarnecka's lab was extremely valuable for a number of reasons. I was able to gain research experience, take advantage of being bilingual, and explore various research topics. It also gave me the confidence to approach professors and communicate with them on a deeper level than during lecture. Lastly, it confirmed my passion to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology. After graduation, I traveled for a month in Europe and worked as a researcher for Survey Research Management once returning back to the US. Once this study with SRM ended, I began working at my current job as a behavior therapist with autistic children. Working with children in Dr. Sarnecka's lab helped me acquire my research position at SRM and my current behavior therapy position and for that I am grateful! Currently, I am applying to graduate school in the hopes of earning my PhD in Clinical Psychology and continuing my education."

Joanna A.

Joanna joined the lab as an RA in 2014, a double major in Sociology and Spanish. She joined the Sarnecka Cognitive Developmental Lab to gain research experience. Given her interest in child development, Joanna wants to contribute to cognitive developmental research. She is interested in dual language learners and passionate about helping children in low income communities. Upon graduation, Joanna plans to pursue her Masters in Child Development.

Judith G.

Judith is a fourth year double major in Psychology and Chicano/Latino Studies and a minor in Statistics who joined the lab in Spring 2016. Judith joined the lab to gain research experience as well as pursue her love for cognitive development. She hopes to obtain her Psy.D in pediatric neuropsychology in the near future. In her free time, Judith enjoys hiking, reading, and eating sushi.

Julia M.

Julia is an undergraduate Research Assistant who joined the lab during Summer 2016. She is a Cognitive Sciences major with a concentration in Neuroscience. She joined the lab to assist in research that involves younger children. After completing her bachelor’s she plans on attending graduate school to work towards a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Justine S.

Justine Skaar is a junior undergraduate Psychology major in the School of Social Sciences. She joined the lab in Winter 2017 in order to gain insight about cognitive development research and explore the responsibilities of a PhD student. Justine hopes to attend graduate school and become a clinical psychologist specialized in working with children. In her free time, Justine likes to travel, hike, paint, and practice yoga.

Kelly F.

Kelly is a second year Psychology and Sociology major who joined the lab in Summer 2017. She joined the lab to gain research experience and because she enjoys working with children. She also is interested in how the brain processes and develops. After she graduates, she wants to go into therapy because she wants to help people understand how they feel and how to improve their lives through the actions they can control. In her spare time, she enjoys documentaries, listening to music, the beach, and eating sushi.

Kelsy C.

Kelsy is a third year majoring in Psychology and Social Behavior who joined the lab in Fall 2017. Kelsy joined the lab because she is interested in gaining experience in the lab and working with children. She believes the study that the lab is currently working on would benefit the children not only on their cognitive development but also on social development and other areas. In her free times, she enjoys listening to podcast, doing Zumba and Cardio Hip Hop, and hanging out with friends.

Kimia A.

Kimia Akhavein is a current student in the Psychology and Social Behavior Post Baccalaureate program at the University of California, Irvine. She graduated from UC Irvine in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in Psychology and minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is most interested in parent-child interactions and how gender plays a role in the development of young children. After the post baccalaureate program, Kimia plans on attending graduate school. She wants to continue her education in hopes of bettering the lives of younger generations.

Ksenia Verches

Ksenia is a third year Psychology and Political Science double major who joined the lab in Winter 2019. After graduating, she plans of pursuing a Master’s Degree before attending law school to pursue a career in human rights law. She genuinely likes to work with children, especially in a hands-on environment. Outside of school, she enjoys going to concerts, curling up with a good book and going on hikes.

Linnea N.

Linnea is a senior finishing her Psychology undergrad who joined the lab in Spring Quarter 2018. For many years she has worked with children in various positions and has had a continuous interest in how children develop at a cognitive level. After graduating, she plans to further her education by getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Lucy E.

Lucy joined the lab as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in 2015. She majored in Psychology. Lucy joined the lab because she wanted to gain research experience and planned to attend graduate school after completing her degree. In her free time, she likes to go to the beach, read a good book, and go on hikes.

Luz D.

Luz joined the lab as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in Spring 2013 and quickly became indispensable. She majored in Psychology and Anthropology at UCI, and she joined the lab because she wanted to gain research experience as well as a sense of what it means to do research. What Luz likes the most about being a part of the lab is getting to meet new people who share similar interests. After graduating Luz plans on going to graduate school. In her spare time, Luz enjoys watching pro-wrestling on Monday and Friday nights (as time permits) as well as watching scary movies with her siblings.

Maria T.

Maria was a Psychology major with a minor in Anthropology when she joined the lab as an undergraduate research assistant in the fall of 2014. She joined with the hopes that she would be able to apply what she learned in her class to current research being investigated. She has a great interest in early childhood development. She plans on continuing her education at a Clinical Psychology program. On her spare time she likes to part take in out door activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and hiking.

Mayra A.

Mayra joined the lab in Fall 2015. She joined because she was interested in gaining research experience in the cognitive development psychology field. Mayra is a third year Chicano/Latino Studies major who hopes to soon switch into Psychology. She hopes that this lab will give her the necessary skills to more easily transition into the major. She hopes to pursue her undergraduate degree and continue into graduate school. In her free time, she likes spending time with her dogs, reading, and going to the beach.

Melanie V.

Melanie worked in our lab as an undergraduate research assistant during the 2014-2015 academic year. She is attending Pacific University in the Fall of 2017 to earn her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. She hopes to continue research in the field of occupational justice and disability advocacy.

Mikayla Hand

Mikayla is a first year Nursing major who joined the lab in Spring 2018. She seeks to gain long term research experience and have the privilege of working with young children in a hands-on environment while at UCI. She hopes to pursue a career in pediatric nursing after obtaining her undergraduate degree, with the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner in the future. Outside of school, Mikayla enjoys exercising, being outdoors, volunteering, and spending time with friends and family.


Pontea Doroudian

Pontea is a third year undergraduate who studies Biological Sciences and Anthropology. She joined the lab in Summer of 2018 because she wanted research experience and was interested in having an emphasis of Psychology and Childhood development in her academic career so she can prepare better for Medical School. After obtaining her undergraduate degree, Pontea plans on getting her Masters in Biomedicine before she receives her doctorate in either pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology. In her free time, she volunteers at hospitals, goes on spontaneous small travels, watches movies, and spends time with family and friends.


Sabrina N.

Sabrina is a second year Public Health Sciences major who plans to double major in Cognitive Sciences. She joined that lab in Winter of 2018 to learn more about brain functions and processes, she also loves to work with children. After her undergraduate career, she plans to apply to medical school and pursue a career in psychiatry. In her free time, she likes to spend time with family, go on hikes, and watch movies

Sarah P.

Sarah joined the lab as an undergraduate research assistant from 2008-2009 to gain research experience while working as a behavioral therapist for children with autism. After graduation, she worked in ophthamology and neurosciences clinical trials. She currently works as a research associate on the All of Us research program, which is part of the Precision Medicine Initiative at UCI. She credits the valuable work she did with the Sarnecka lab as sparking her interest and deep fascination with research.

Savanna M.

Savanna Malki is a third year Psychology and Public Health Policy double major. She joined this lab because she is interested in learning more about cognitive development, especially in children, and wanted to get involved in research so she thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do so. She loves working with children and currently works for Jumpstart, which is a national early education organization working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Jumpstart provides language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promote quality early learning for all children. She is also part of a program called Kids in Nutrition in which we go to various elementary schools for 10 weeks and teach about the importance of nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle. After graduating UCI, she plans on applying to a Didactic Program in Dietetics because her goal is to become a Pediatric Registered Dietitian as she is passionate about helping and encouraging healthy food choices for children of all ages and backgrounds. In her spare time she enjoys going to the beach, spending time with family and friends, and watching Friends.

Sharon T.

Sharon worked in the lab in 2014-2015. After graduation, she attended a graduate program in Occupational Therapy at NYU. After that, she planned to pursue her doctorate and a career in Clinical Autism Research.

Shixuan (Shirley) W.

Shixuan Shirley Wang was an undergraduate research assistant in the lab from Winter 2015 to Winter 2017. After graduation, Shixuan has been working as a Mandarin teacher at a local preschool while applying to graduate programs. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2018.

Stacie S.

Stacie worked in the lab in 2014-2015. She is currently a volunteer Research Assistant working in the Cognitive NeuroSystems Lab at UCI while applying to various Ph.D. programs with a concentration in adult/child clinical therapy and in cognitive neuroscience. Her research interests include virtual reality and virtual reality therapy, human-computer interaction, animal-assisted therapy, and child development.

Suttera S.

Suttera worked in the lab in 2015-2016. She was a Cognitive Science major with a Speech and Hearing Sciences minor. She joined the lab in order to gain research experience, as well as exploring her interest in child development. After graduating, Suttera plans on going to graduate school and hopes to pursue a career as a child speech pathologist. She is fond of trying new things, cooking, as well as spending time with family and friends. (Updated April 2017.)

Tina S.

Tina is a fourth year Psychology and Social Behavior major. She aspires to go to medical school and specialize in either Neurology or Psychiatry. She joined the lab because she wanted to get more experience researching about how cognitive development can effect behavior and decision-making. In her free time, she enjoys writing short stories, going to the beach, and trying out new things.

Vanoosheh Ferdousian

Vanoosheh Ferdousian is a fourth year Psychology major who joined in Summer 2018. Vanoosheh joined the lab for her love of cognition and children, and to obtain hands-on research experience. She plans to move on to get her PhD in Psychology and hopes to become a Professor and open her own practice. In her free time you will find her listening to music, going on hikes with family/friends, or watching The Office.


Vivian M.

Vivian Mitchell is a senior undergraduate studying psychology and social behavior. They joined the lab in Spring 2017 due to a passion in understanding the human cognition. Vivian hopes to attain their PhD in clinical psychology, and in their free time they like to write poetry, practice photography, and drink coffee.

Yasmin D.

Yasmin is a fourth year psychology major who joined the lab in Spring 2018. She joined the lab due to her passion toward cognitive sciences, as well as working with children. She enjoys learning about the biological research aspect of psychology such as the structure of the brain, its functionality, and how it interacts with cognition and behavior. She hopes to gain insight about cognitive research, as well as get more experience working as a researcher. After completing her Bachelors at UC Irvine, she plans on going onto graduate school, and getting her Ph.D. and doing research with pediatrics. In her free time, Yasmin enjoys traveling, music, riding horses, volunteering with animals, and being in nature.