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Biobehavioral Health
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Female student in a lab.

Students in Penn State’s Biobehavioral Health program have a truly unique opportunity to work with world-renowned researchers and faculty members in an active research environment.

As a BBH student, you’ll contribute greatly to our research mission while gaining firsthand experience in conducting groundbreaking research, working with participants, collecting data, conducting data analyses, publishing papers, and presenting your findings at academic conferences.

In keeping with our innovative and interdisciplinary mission in Biobehavioral Health, the research possibilities here are extensive and diverse, spanning domains such as behavioral neuroscience, behavioral endocrinology, psychoneuroimmunology, genetics, behavioral pharmacology, health promotion, health psychology, epidemiology, health and vulnerable populations, social psychology, socio-ethical dynamics, cognition — and much more.

Explore current BBH research initiatives.

Current Research Opportunities

Behavioral Neurogenetics Laboratory icon-olus-circle

The Behavioral Neurogenetics Lab is interested in how genes modulate complex behaviors.

Research in the lab focuses on the role of genetics in complex disorders. We examine if genetic variation influences behaviors and try to elucidate the biological mechanism through which this is occurring.

We investigate how genetic variation influences behaviors, by asking the questions:

  • Do genes modulate behaviors?
  • What is the biological mechanism through which this occurs?

Our lab utilizes a number of levels of analysis including preclinical models, cell culture models, and human genetics. Through integration of all these approaches we hope to better understand the biological basis of behavior.

Potential duties include aiding in primary data collection, conducting literature reviews, and data entering, checking, and basic analysis. Various tasks related to project start up and/or lab maintenance may also be assigned.

Campus(es): University Park

Mentor: Helen Kamens, Ph.D., hmk123@psu.edu

Qualifications:  We are looking for highly motivated, responsible students. Due to the intensive training required to become a research assistant in the Behavioral Neurogenetics lab, we require a minimum 2-semester commitment,  2 credit (6 hrs/week) /semester, and a cumulative GPA 3.5. Preference is given to non-senior students who are obtaining credit for their research experience.

Position Type(s): Credit, Possible Work Study

Credit - Research assistants will receive BBH494 credits for work in the laboratory. Generally, one hour of credit is given for every three hours of work per week, although actual hours worked may vary. 

There may be opportunities for work study if you are eligible. Additionally, honors options may be available that can become your honors thesis research.

Application Procedure: Please complete our application available on the lab website. (https://sites.psu.edu/helenkamens/opportunities/)

Last Updated: August 10, 2023

Gould Lab: Neurobiological Investigation of Learning and Addiction icon-olus-circle

Learning-related changes in the strength of neuronal connections in the brain not only underlie memory formation and storage but are also affected by drugs of abuse, such as nicotine or alcohol.

The goal of the NILA lab is to use genetic, pharmacological, behavioral, and molecular techniques to study the effects of these drugs on the neurobiology of learning and memory.

Campus(es): University Park

Mentor: Thomas J. Gould, Ph.D., Jean Phillips Sibley Professor of Biobehavioral Health, Department Head Department of Biobehavioral Health, tug70@psu.edu

Qualifications: Students are expected to be in good academic standing, must commit a minimum of 10 hours per week, and demonstrate professional and reliable behavior.  Students with potential for joining the lab for multiple semesters will receive higher preference.

Position Type(s): Credit, Paid

Credit - 1 credit = 3-4 works per week on average

Paid - If students have work study funds available, we are open to exploring supporting through that mechanism.

Application Procedure: Contact Dr. Gould at tug70@psu.edu 

Thank you for your interest in our work!

Last Updated: August 10, 2023

Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress, and Health (MESH) lab icon-olus-circle

The overall mission of the Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress, and Health (MESH) lab at Penn State University is to better understand the associations between psychological stress and stress responses with physical health and well-being.

A major emphasis is the role of emotion and related processes in the connection between stress and health, including:

  • affective tendencies related to negative and positive affect
  • emotional expression
  • emotion regulation, including emotional suppression
  • loneliness
  • rumination
  • meaning-making (making meaning from stressful experiences)

Drawing on the fields of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and health psychology, we study how stress and emotion are linked with numerous health-related outcomes, including:

  • Measures of inflammation (e.g., inflammatory cytokines, CRP)
  • Physical pain
  • CVD risk
  • Cognitive performance and cognitive aging
  • Self-reported health and well-being

We also study individual differences in how such phenomena are linked and use complex models that integrate behavior (such as sleep) and social/demographic factors. In such models we often test mechanistic pathways. We frequently ask questions about for whom and under what circumstances issues related to stress and emotional responses are relevant to health. In terms of individual differences, we often examine gender and age but also look at other factors, such as socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity, and other socio-cultural factors related to health and health disparities.

We are collecting both survey and biological samples from several projects, one that takes place in the Bronx, NY and one that takes place via home visits. We sometimes conduct studies locally, as well. RAs may have opportunities to help with various aspects of data collection and data processing. RAs also often help with literature searches to support these and other projects, or help in preparing research reports.

Campus(es): University Park

Mentor: Jennifer Graham-Engelandjeg32@psu.edu

Contact: Abbie Smithajs8854@psu.edu

Qualifications: 

  • GPA of 3.4 or higher preferred
  • coursework in BBH, psychology, statistics, immunology and/or other health related fields highly desirable
  • comfort with computers; good organizational & interpersonal skills
  • 6 or 9 hours a week commitment required

Opportunity Timeframe(s): On-going

Position Type(s): Credit, Volunteer (Spring 2023), Paid possible

Credit - 6 or 9 hours per week for BBH 494 (2 or 3 credits, correspondingly)

Paid - After RAs work for at least two semesters, paid positions are offered when they are available. RAs working in the summer are typically paid if they have been with the lab at least one full semester. Work-study positions also available for students who are eligible.

Application Procedure: Please see our website for additional information about our current projects and to apply.
https://sites.psu.edu/stresshealth/student-projects/ 

Last Updated: January 25, 2024

Prevention Research to Optimize (PRO) Health Lab icon-olus-circle

Welcome to the department of Biobehavioral Health’s joint collaboration with the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center‘s PRO Health Lab. We specialize in peer, parent, and feedback interventions to help reduce risky drinking and health related behaviors in adolescents, college students, and adults. The research conducted in our lab is considered to be at the forefront of both the alcohol and skin cancer fields, and our projects are funded by divisions of the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and National Cancer Institute), as well as private sources such as the American Cancer Society. Our undergraduate and graduate students have received distinguished awards, and nearly all of our students have gotten into prestigious graduate schools, or have moved on to highly sought after positions in the industry upon the completion of their training. For more information please go to: https://sites.psu.edu/prcprohealth/

Campus(es): University Park

Mentor: Dr. Rob Turrisi, Professor Biobehavioral Health and Prevention Researchrjt13@psu.edu

Qualifications:  Ideal candidates should be able to commit to the position for at least two semesters. We also have the ability to mentor students in the Schreyer Honors College on their undergraduate honors thesis.

Position Type(s): Credit, Paid, Volunteer

Credit - 3 hours of per week for each credit (e.g., 1 credit = 3 hours per week).

Paid - Paid research assistant positions available.  Priority tends to favor students that have worked in our lab for course credit.

Application Procedure: To apply for a Research Assistant position in the PRO Health Lab, please email the following two files to our lab project coordinator Sarah Ackerman at sdf5013@psu.edu.

https://sites.psu.edu/prcprohealth/student-research-opportunities/

You can visit our lab website to learn more about our projects and people: https://sites.psu.edu/prcprohealth/

You can chat with current undergraduate students about their experiences in our lab:
https://sites.psu.edu/prcprohealth/category/people/undergraduates/

You can chat with past students and alumni who have worked in our lab:
https://sites.psu.edu/prcprohealth/category/people/alumni/

Last Updated: August 10, 2023

The REPEAT Lab icon-olus-circle

The REPEAT lab directed by Dr. Emily Ansell, is dedicated to advancing our understanding of the intricate relationships between substance use behaviors and neurobehavioral impacts. Our current project The Stress and Co-Use Study focuses on understanding the differences in alcohol and/or cannabis cue-reactivity among frequent co-users, binge-drinkers, and cannabis users. Our lab employs a diverse range of research methodology including Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA), MRI (brain imaging), clinical and cognitive assessment to shed light on the nuances of substance use in various populations. This position will be ideal for undergraduates that are interested in getting research experience in neuroscience, addiction, substance use, and psychology.

Campus(es): University Park, World Campus

Mentor: Emily Ansell, Ph.D.eba108@psu.edu

Minimum Qualifications: No experience/previous coursework is necessary (you will be trained in all techniques needed). Ideal candidates will have strong interest and dedication to neuroscience or substance use research. We encourage highly motivated student who are willing to commit at least 3 hours a week to apply for this position.

Description of responsibilities: Students in our lab will have the opportunity to participate in multiple aspects of the research process including phone screening, participant recruitment, data collection, and data audit for quality assurance.

Position Type(s): Credit, Volunteer

Application Procedure: For more information, email us at Repeatlab@psu.edu and apply here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfE_sUDqaGU_Dt6af33FD-yUmgColdTiwbykVF4lAMnp3Bd4w/viewform

Last Updated: September 1, 2023

The Social and Cultural Neuroscience Laboratory icon-olus-circle

We combine theory and methodology from anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience to understand the complex relationships between culture, the brain, and health. Our current focus is understanding psychological and brain mechanisms underlying health disparities in pain. We use brain imaging, psychophysiology, survey methodology and advance cd computational methods in our research. 

Campus(es): University Park and World Campus

Mentor: Elizabeth Losin, erl5393@psu.edu

Qualifications: 

  • Minimum 3.5 GPA
  • 2 semesters, 10 hrs / week

Opportunity Timeframe(s): On-going

Position Type(s): Credit, Paid, Volunteer

Credit - Students can earn course credit at 10 hours per week minimum

Paid - Possible depending upon grant funding

Application Procedure: If interested in working with us, fill out this formhttps://forms.gle/o4AA82PeUDD5iUWc8 Please include a copy of your CV and transcript with the application form.

Last Updated: August 10, 2023

Stress and Immunity Lab icon-olus-circle

The Stress and Immunity Lab focuses on how stress, age, gender, and hormones affect immunity, inflammation, and health. The lab also explores the feasibility of various biomarkers for predicting health outcomes.

Research Interests:

  • Stress, inflammation, cognitive aging/decline, and dementia 
  • Sleep, inflammation, and cognition
  • Stress, inflammation, and cardiometabolic health
  • Inflammatory biomarkers and stress as predictors of preterm birth 
  • Inflammation and mental health (depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Hormonal regulation of dermal and mucosal tissue repair 
  • Salivary diagnostics

Campus(es): University Park

Mentor: Christopher Engeland, cge2@psu.edu

Contact: Abbie Smith, ajs8854@psu.edu

Qualifications:

  • Must be organized, and comfortable with computers
  • Must have a minimum GPA of 3.3
  • Must be available at least 6 hours a week
  • Must be hard working, enthusiastic, and professional
  • Background in Biobehavioral Health, Psychology, or a health-related field is preferred, but not necessary
  • Previous research experience or related coursework preferred, but not necessary
  • Previous experience working in a wet lab with biological samples is a plus, but not necessary

Opportunity Timeframe(s): On-going

Position Type(s): Credit, Volunteer, Paid possible

Credit - 3 or 6 hours per week for BBH 494 (1 or 2 credits, correspondingly)

Paid - After RAs work for at least two semesters, paid positions may be offered if available. RAs working in the summer are typically paid if they have been with the lab at least one full semester. 

Application Procedure: Please see the lab website for additional information about our current projects and to apply.

You can visit our lab website to learn more about our projects and people: https://sites.psu.edu/stressandimmunity/

Last updated: January 25, 2024