Aazam Najeebi ’19 is one of eight students from UMass Amherst honored with the Rising Researcher Award in recognition of their demonstrated leadership and impact in their chosen field of study.
What makes some people better learners than others? Commonwealth Honors College student Aazam Najeebi intends to find out. The psychological and brain sciences major has been working in Professor Rebecca Spencer’s lab on a project using MRI to understand how sleep changes memory representations and how this changes with aging. He became interested in what was unique about those participants who learn more quickly than others, young or old.
“This project has a lot of technology to learn, data to manage and background science to learn. Aazam began ‘hanging around’ the lab more than required and truly immersed himself in learning. He caught on to complicated analysis streams for the MR data. Not only did he learn the scripts we use, but he developed his own as he followed his curiosities,” says Spencer.
“My project, as well as the MRI-SRT project that I have worked on for the past 8 months, has had a profound impact on my education at UMass, ignited my passion for neuroscience, and inspired me to pursue a PhD in neuroscience with the eventual goal of becoming a neuropathologist. Before I joined the Spencer lab and began working on this project I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated,” says Najeebi.
In just over a year of working in the lab, Najeebi has presented his research at a half-dozen research symposia and conferences. He’s also been a Summer Research Intensive Program Mentor, mentoring three high-school students by helping them to build scientific skills such as lab research techniques, hypothesis testing and formulation, and presentation skills.
“Through the elucidation of the structures essential for superior motor learning and consolidation, we can paint a picture of what truly makes people better learners than others. Once identified, these structures could be targeted with specialized neurocognitive optimization therapies designed to exercise the brain to stimulate neuroplasticity mechanisms. This could one day lead to enhancements in the motor learning ability of those who are either average or below average learners,” says Najeebi.