Teaching Assistant and Cognitive Neuroscientist at Penn State University
For Courtney Gerver, a career as a psychology professor was not where she thought she would end up. Soon, upon arriving at St. Thomas Aquinas College, she was exposed to what would become her passion and eventual career path.
When it came time for Courtney to pick a school, what drew her to STAC was the smaller class sizes, the ability to get to know the professors, and the Honors Program. During her first semester, Courtney immediately found her passion when she took her Introduction to Psychology class.
“I first realized I wanted to pursue a career in academia in Dr. Ben Wagner’s class in the Fall semester of my freshman year. At that point, I had no idea it was possible to make a career out of teaching and conducting research in psychology. Dr. Wagner did a fantastic job introducing us to the field in a clear and enthusiastic manner.”
“STAC instilled a confidence in me I didn’t know was possible. My time there taught me that no opportunity should be wasted and to go for what you want! This school truly taught me that anyone can be a big fish in a small pond with the proper amount of drive.”
While at STAC, Courtney was not only a member of countless honor societies, she was also very involved in the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, was a LEAD Level 2 STAC Student Leadership Series Silver Award winner, was a “NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates” Scholar, and as a member of the Honors Program, had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study abroad at the University of Oxford. In addition, Courtney was also the Psychology and Neuroscience team advisor at the National Student Leadership Conference held at Harvard Medical School in 2016.
Among other clubs, Courtney was also the Vice President of the Psychology Club which proved to be valuable, since it led her to an internship opportunity, which later turned into a permanent position at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. While there, she investigated the longitudinal effects of aging using a cognitive battery, VO2 Max, and fMRI. She also assisted with the administration of an experimental protocol on participants aged 6-85 for several longitudinal studies and assisted with community outreach and recruitment.
Prior to leaving STAC, Courtney completed two Honors Theses. The first examined the link between trait narcissism and social media use. The second examined conscientiousness as a mediating variable between happiness and procrastination.
“From these opportunities, I gained first-hand experience conducting original research, presenting my findings at local and international conferences, and writing up these findings into a scientific manuscript. These experiences allowed me to go straight into a doctoral program from undergrad,” she says.
Courtney is currently a graduate student, a teaching assistant, and a cognitive neuroscientist at Penn State University. She is working on earning her doctorate in cognitive psychology to become a professor at a college/university.
“My primary duty is to conduct research examining memory and creativity in young and older adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), eye tracking, and computer-based tasks. I also serve as a teaching assistant for Basic Research Methods in Psychology where I lead my own lab section on how to conduct an experimental study effectively.”
Despite having a very busy schedule, Courtney still finds time to volunteer at her local animal shelter and participates in Brain Awareness Week. During this week, she and other professionals travel to local elementary and middle schools to share brain facts with children to make neuroscience fun and approachable. Also, as a memory researcher, Courtney volunteers annually at the local Alzheimer’s Walk and acts as a powerful advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness.
When she is not working, teaching, or studying, Courtney loves woodworking, baking, reading, going to the gym, and watching the New York Yankees!
Sharing words of wisdom, Courtney suggests, “Figure out what your priorities are and where they rank; put as much energy into them as they are worth. It is also important to never make your mental health your last priority, pursue only what will make you happy!”