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

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.

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."


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.



Lab Managers

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.

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.



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.

Eden Harder

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.

Shixuan (Shirley) Wang

Shirley is an Education major. She joined the lab in 2016 to gain research experience in children's psychological development. With the addition of Education, Shirley plans to double major in Psychology and Social Behavior. In her spare time, Shirley enjoys sports such as swimming and volleyball. She also really enjoys trying different kinds of food.

Gabby Lomeli

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.

Mayra Alaniz

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.

Jennifer Aceves

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."

Lucy Elena

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.

Joanna Baires Amaya

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.

Anna Chavez

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.

Edward Chen

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.

Luz Donato-Sandoval

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.

Cristina Garcia

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.

Alejandro Ibarra

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."

Christian Jimenez

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.

Connie Lieu

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.

Edgar Perez

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.

Hillary Ramos

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.

Christina Rowley

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."

Suttera Samonte

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.)

Stacie Sanchez

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.

Sharon Thomas

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.

Maria Trucios

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.

Melanie Velasquez

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.