Valerie Carr

Valerie CarrAssistant Professor, Psychology

valerie.carr@sjsu.edu
408-924-5630

Current Research Activities

The overarching goal of my research program is to understand biological and psychological factors that influence learning and memory across the lifespan. These interests can be broken down as follows: (1) international research partnerships that involve neuroimaging methods, (2) behavioral research performed by students in my lab, and (3) pedagogical research conducted with SJSU colleagues. The neuroimaging arm of my research program involves two main partnerships. First, with colleagues at Stanford, we are examining how individual differences in brain structure and function among older adults relate to differences in memory abilities. Second, in collaboration with colleagues from around the world, we are developing a unified method for anatomically defining subfields of the human hippocampus, a brain region known to be critically important for memory. Here at SJSU, I lead the Carr Lab Investigating Memory and the Brain (CLIMB), where I work with student researchers on projects relating to physical fitness and memory, caffeine and memory, technology use and memory, and meta-analyses of functional MRI data. Finally, I am actively engaged in pedagogical research performed in collaboration with faculty from the Colleges of Social Sciences, Engineering, and Education, as well as the Center for Faculty Development. Our interdisciplinary team examines factors that influence the success of students in a new minor degree program: Applied Computing for Behavioral and Social Sciences.

What contributed to your research interests?

I. I was drawn towards the sciences as a child, inspired by grandparents who grew up on farms in rural Alabama and who worked incredibly hard to not only attend college, but to earn graduate degrees in physics and chemistry, respectively. I myself developed a love of biology in high school, and I planned to major in it once I reached college. However, an AP psychology course introduced me to the fantastically interesting world of neuroscience, and I decided to pursue an interdisciplinary minor in biological psychology, instead. In college, a transformative research experience the summer before my senior year (via an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program) led me to the research approach that I have now pursued for 20 years: neuroimaging. Although I can’t pinpoint a specific incident that contributed to my interest in the neuroscience of learning and memory, my many years as student made me curious about the best ways to learn and retain information, how knowledge is stored in the brain, and why memory declines as we age.

II.  As an undergraduate student I took many challenging technical courses (calculus, organic chemistry, neurophysiology, etc.), yet I didn’t take a computer programming course, namely because it never occurred to me that programming could be relevant to my interests. I soon learned otherwise, when I began a position as a research assistant in a neuroimaging lab after graduating college. Having to learn programming in my spare time was an incredibly stressful experience, and one that I had to repeat when I got to graduate school and needed to learn a different language in my new lab. These experiences played an enormous role in motivating me to help develop and conduct research regarding the Applied Computing minor.

How does your research relate to current issues?

I. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related memory disorders is expected to rise sharply as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age and beyond. This increased incidence will put a heavy strain on the American healthcare system as well as families and caregivers, to which end research on age-related brain and cognitive changes is of great importance. My research on biological and psychological factors that influence learning and memory across the lifespan aims to address this very need.

II.  A large number of students major in social sciences disciplines here at SJSU and across the US, yet social science majors have among the highest unemployment rates of all college graduates. In creating the Applied Computing minor, my colleagues and I aim to provide social science students with computing education that will expand their career opportunities and increase their income. In turn, we hope to address the national need for a diverse, technically-skilled workforce as the digital economy continues to grow. In collaboration with colleagues across the university, I am conducting research to optimize the success of this program, with the ultimate aim of making computing education more accessible to a broader segment of SJSU students, including those who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM.


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