May 2019

Job opportunity: full-time research assistant (University of Potsdam, Germany)

I am seeking to hire a research assistant for work on language in aging, with a focus on morphology. The key responsibility will be to conduct behavioral experiments on participants across the adult lifespan, including recruitment, testing, data preprocessing, and statistical analyses.  

The applicant should hold (at most) a Masters degree. However, individuals with a Bachelors degree, if combined with relevant experience conducting behavioral experiments, are also welcome to apply. 

The position, which is pending final funding, is at the University of Potsdam in Germany, at the Potsdam Research Institute for Multilingualism (PRIM). This is a full-time position (40 h/week) and will be paid according to the German salary scale 12 TV-L (Tarifgebiet Ost). 

Starting date: 1 November 2019 (for one year, with the possibility of contract renewal for another two years) 

Essential qualities/qualifications:
- Bachelors degree in Psychology, Linguistics, Cognitive Science, or a related field
- experience conducting psychological/psycholinguistic experiments
- flexibility to work outside regular office hours, to accommodate participants’ schedules 
- a creative mind, with the ability to work highly independently and to think quickly on one’s feet 
- basic experience with stimulus presentation software (e.g., E-Prime, DMDX, Presentation)
- basic level of experience with statistical software packages (e.g., R)
- fluent command of (spoken) German (participants will be German native speakers)
- good command of English 

Desired (non-essential) qualities/qualifications:
- Masters degree in a related field
- experience with less-commonly-studied populations (including older people)
- experience with E-Prime
- advanced experience with statistical analyses of behavioral data 

The University of Potsdam is an equal opportunities employer. The goal is to enhance the percentage of women in areas where they are underrepresented. Women, therefore, are particularly encouraged to apply. Handicapped applicants will be given preference in case of equal suitability.

Please send any informal inquiries, as well as your application (cover letter, CV, and if possible the names of two potential references), to Dr. Jana Reifegerste: Even if you feel that you might not fully qualify, please do not hesitate to contact me. We would be happy to hire an enthusiastic hard worker whom we could train further.  

Applications submitted prior to 15 June 2019 will receive full consideration.


November 2018

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While most of my work focuses on language processing in healthy aging, I have recently started dabbling in the field of language (and cognition in general) in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. We just got word that the first paper from a really neat project on Lexicon and Grammar in native speakers of Farsi was accepted for publication in the journal Neuropsychology. In this paper, we link right-side hypokinesia (which reflects the degeneration of the left basal-ganglia, which causes the motor deficits associated with Parkinson’s Disease) to specific difficulties with regular (but not irregular) verb morphology. Interestingly, this effect was much stronger for men than for women (who might be able to compensate for deficits with regular inflection with the help of their (usually) better memory). Congrats to my co-authors Karim Johari (University of South Carolina & Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Tehran), Matt Walenski (Northwestern), Farzad Ashrafi (Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran), and Michael Ullman (Georgetown).

Here is the abstract:
Objective: Parkinson’s disease (PD), which involves the degeneration of dopaminergic basal-ganglia neurons, appears to affect language. We investigated which aspects of language are impaired in PD, and what moderates these impairments. Our predictions were based on the declarative/procedural model of language, which links grammar, including in regular inflection, to procedural memory and left-lateralized basal-ganglia dopaminergic circuits, but links lexical memory, including irregulars, to declarative memory. Since females tend to show declarative memory advantages as compared to males, the model predicts that females rely more on this system for regulars, which can be stored as chunks.
Methods: We probed regular/irregular Farsi past-tense production in 40 Farsi-speaking patients with moderate-to-severe non-demented PD (half female) and 40 normal controls (half female).
Results: Consistent with our predictions, we found that male but not female PD patients showed greater deficits at regular than irregular past-tense production. The females’ impairment was mildest for regulars, likely from compensatory storage, as revealed by regular past-tense frequency effects only in females. Right-side hypokinesia (linked to left basal-ganglia degeneration), correlated negatively with accuracy of regulars but not irregulars. Similarly, the levodopa equivalent dose of patients’ last medication correlated only with regulars.
Conclusions: The results suggest that language is impaired in PD, but the impairments are moderated by multiple factors, including the type of linguistic knowledge, the degree of left basal-ganglia degeneration, dopamine, and sex. The findings underscore the impact of sex on the neurocognition of language, and the roles of left basal ganglia dopaminergic circuits in aspects of rule-governed grammar.


August 2018

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We were awarded a Partners in Research grant from the Dean of Research at Georgetown University Medical Center: "How does aging affect our ability to remember words?". We live in a rapidly aging society, so the impact of age-related problems is increasing dramatically. Word finding and word learning (e.g., the names of medications to be taken) appear to be the greatest language problems in older adults. This study is designed to reveal just what specific aspects of word use and word learning decline during aging and why such declines take place. The highly interdisciplinary project uses a rigorous behavioral and brain experimental approach, and tests the innovative novel hypothesis that the word problems experienced by older people can be at least partly explained by underlying declines in declarative memory, a general-purpose learning and memory system rooted in the hippocampus. The findings should advance our understanding of word difficulties in aging, and may lead to therapeutic approaches for these problems in healthy aging as well as in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. I am one of the co-investigator on this project, with Michael Ullman as the principal investigator, and Peter Turkeltaub and Gheorghe Luta at Georgetown as fellow co-investigators. Collaborators David Balota (Washington University in St. Louis), Marcus Meinzer (University of Queensland, Brisbane), Loraine Obler (City University of New York), and Michael Rugg (UT Dallas) will also contribute to the project.