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Intern Spotlight - December 2021 -- Colin Johnson

The Grady Trauma Project team is excited to spotlight one of our AMAZING interns each month, and our very first feature is Colin Johnson. Colin will actually be joining the GTP team as a staff member very soon but has been working with our team for over a year. Colin has served as a star intern on the Neuroendocrine PTSD (E2) study working with our research coordinator Amy Murphy. Amy says, “Colin is a great asset to the E2 study, going above and beyond to help wherever he can. From making calls to adding to our spreadsheet to participant interaction, he is actively invested in the research.”

When he isn’t working with the GTP team, Colin really likes to be outside: whether it’s taking a walk or just admiring nature. He loves spending time with friends, whether they are on a Discord call or in person. He really likes listening to music and has been obsessed with a group called Fiji Blue lately (He HIGHLY recommends their music!). He enjoys working out, cooking, and watching sports. He also really likes watching animal videos on YouTube, saying, “I probably spend too much time doing that.”

Colin currently lives in Washington DC, where he was born and raised. He has family in Georgia and as a kid, used to travel between Atlanta and DC a lot. In the next month or so Colin will be relocating to Atlanta where he will work full-time with GTP. Colin has one brother who is two years younger. He’s currently an Account Executive at Salesforce. His dad works for the DC Government, Insurance and Banking and his mom works at Comcast as a supervisor.

When asked about his current life and career plans Colin told us: “I was working as an intern for GTP in the E2 Study, but now I’ll be working as a Research Specialist in the pregnancy team and I’m looking forward to that. The pregnancy team is trying to recruit 200 more women into the study. The purpose of the study is to study the effects of covid on racial discrimination on maternal health. I’m really looking forward to the phlebotomy training, CPR training, and startle study training. My future/career plans include ambitions of obtaining my PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience. I’m interested in understanding what causes repressed memories after stress exposure from a biological standpoint and how it leads to the progression, development, and changes in the severity of anxiety and depression in people. “

And lastly, we asked Colin how he found out about GTP. “I actually love telling this story but it can be pretty lengthy, so if you need to, grab popcorn:

I was working for a company called Interos Inc as a research assistant during the pandemic but unfortunately, I was laid off. On my last day, we all had a meeting about our hobbies and what we were interested in, etc. There was a person who mentioned they have an interest in neuroscience and ironically, I was interested in that as well. I decided to look into possible career paths centered around Neuroscience and found a video on YouTube called “what can you do with a neuroscience degree” (I’ll link the video here in case anyone is interested This is what changed everything for me. In the video, there was an academic administrator featuring, Dr. Alycia Mosley Austin who I decided to reach out to. In my introduction email, I let her know who I was, how I found out about her, that I was hoping to learn more about the possible career paths tailored around Neuroscience, what programs I’m interested in, as well as my overall interest in the field. At the time, my interest was in memory behavior as well as the effect Depression and Anxiety have on memory loss. Unfortunately, Dr. Mosely never responded, BUT when I was trying to find her email, I found out she was in a network called BlackinNeuro. BlackinNeuro is a network/community that highlights Black voices and Black Neuroscientists, which is something I found very appealing. Over the next few weeks, I went through their member directory, read through profiles and reached out to as many people as I could. Whether they had a mutual interest in the vast realm of neuroscience wasn’t important, I was just looking for insight in the field. I must’ve sent over 100 emails to these people. Through my efforts, I was able to have several zoom meetings and have ongoing back and forth email conversations. While going through the directory, I found out that most of the people featured on the website are professors at universities and I decided to look into school programs as well as professors to see if they shared a mutual interest in the field. I was recommended a few universities and colleges from some of the BlackinNeuro folks, and one of them was Emory University. I looked into their Psychology program and found Dr. Jennifer Stevens and reached out to her. Dr. Stevens was very communicative with me, sat me down and let me know what I needed to do to apply to programs. She let me know about her research lab (E2) and thought it’d be a good way for me to gain experience for PhD programs and I agreed whole-heartedly. A few days later, I was in contact with Rebecca Hinrichs (Becky), Madison McCullough, and Amy Murphy and started my intern training at GTP. Not the easiest route to get here, but nevertheless, I made it here.

What have I enjoyed most about the internship: What I enjoyed the most is how accepting everyone is at GTP and especially the E2 team. As someone who doesn’t originate from a neuroscience background, I was initially worried about how I would fit in. As I was getting trained, I slowly started to recognize that this wasn’t an issue at all. If I had any type of question (and oh man.. did I in the beginning), it was greeted with an amiable response and I greatly appreciated that. For the first time, I learned what it meant to be a part of a team, a working team where everyone’s efforts are appreciated. It’s like a form of moving gears. I also appreciate the friendships and rapport that I’ve made within the team.

What is the biggest take way for you professionally or personally?

The biggest take away, whether professional or personally, is patience and empathy. I believe I’m a pretty patient person in general, but if there’s one thing that has echoed, it’s trauma affects people in different ways. Learning to be patient not only for myself, but for the participants involved was something I learned along the way. The participants need to feel like they’re in a safe environment to talk about their experiences. It’s not something I can force. So, before I start the initial screening or ask questions and explained what the study is about, I took it upon myself to have a little small talk with the person. Ask how they’re doing, how their day is going, etc. I think that little back and forth conversation eases up the situation/environment a little, and you’re able to build rapport with the person. Talking about your trauma isn’t the easiest thing, but when it does happen, I want to show the person I’m engaged; I’m hearing their story and what they’re saying is important. I’m glad that I was able to develop and strengthen these qualities while moving onto my next steps.

Dr. Jennifer Stevens, GTP Co-Director has worked very closely with Colin over this time at GTP and has been extremely glad to have him on her team. “Colin came to GTP with a really interesting background, having worked in more political science type of roles at the Brookings Institute and RAINN. He is now pivoting to neuroscience, and would like to pursue his Neuro PhD in the future. He has worked on the E2 project as a STAR intern and has been a major galvanizing force on this team. He is particularly interested in how trauma can change memory-related functioning, and is exploring relationships between memory behavior and the PTSD symptoms of reexperiencing versus trauma-related amnesia.”

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