Meet Ferkauf’s Up-and-Coming Neuropsychologists

Dr. Roee Holtzer, professor at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and in the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is also director of the Ph.D. Program in Clinical Psychology/Health Emphasis. In his lab, his students focus on discovering the predictors and mechanisms of age- and disease-related impairments in cognition and functional abilities that are of clinical and public health import. “Specifically, our research centers on the intersection of the brain, cognitive, psychological, and physical health,” said Dr. Holtzer. “For instance, walking performance, a robust proxy of health, as well as falls, which represent a failure in mobility adaptation, both serve as primary and secondary outcomes on numerous clinical trials. Hence, our research efforts aim to identify potentially modifiable cognitive and brain predictors of gait performance and decline as well as more broadly defined measures of mobility impairments and disability in aging and disease populations.”  (Read a more detailed profile of the work that the lab is doing.)

Dr. Holtzer also provides his students with guidance and inspiration to develop, carry out and ultimately publish in mainstream peer-reviewed journals empirical pre-doctoral and dissertation research projects. “To accomplish these objectives,” said Dr. Holtzer, “students are trained in all clinical and experimental procedures used in the lab. They are fully integrated, as key personnel, into our studies and are given access to databases of both completed and ongoing research studies. Research projects in the lab have been continuously funded by a number of agencies, primarily NIH, during the last 15 years.”

Meet seven of Dr. Holtzer’s students who have recently published and learn more about the important work they are doing: Hannah Pakray Darwazah, Daliah Ross, Jennifer Lee, Sydney Jacobs, Rebecca Kraut, Catherine O’Brien and Giulia Mercuri.


Hannah Pakray Darwazah

Hannah Pakray Darwazah

Graduation Year: 2022
Pakray, H, Seng, E, Izzetoglu, M, Holtzer, R. (2021). The Effects of Perceived Pain in the Past Month on Prefrontal Cortex Activation Patterns Assessed During Cognitive and Motor Performances in Older Adults. Pain Med 2021;22:303-14. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnaa404   [Epub ahead of print]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33621331/

 

Hannah Pakray Darwazah grew up in Miami, Florida, before moving north to earn a bachelor’s in international studies at American University in Washington, D.C., and master’s in psychology at New York University. Her clinical training and education have been at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York University Langone Medical Center, Columbia University Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center, among other locations. She has done nine posters and presentations at conferences, one of which was done in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursing your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)? 

My paternal grandfather inspired me to pursue a career in studying the mechanisms of healthy aging. During my college years, I watched him struggle to cope with the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease. Before the Parkinson’s, he had already showcased resiliency through his graceful adjustment to the mild aches and pains of getting older, and watching him helped me develop a profound appreciation for the strength and adaptability needed to navigate older adulthood. Later, when he became ill, he did his best to adapt to those changes as well, which only reinforced my desire to become involved in geriatric research and to understand the correlates of healthy aging.

Talk about how your experience in the lab connects to your published article.

My experiences in lab were invaluable in helping me publish my independent study. Being heavily involved in study data collection helped me understand the methodology of the parent study as well as the data that I was using. I also watched how other members of the lab pursue manuscript publication, which helped prepare me for the rigors of the process. In working with my research mentor, I had the opportunity to get internal edits of my manuscript before finalizing a draft for submission to a journal. This helped me to concisely express my project as well as its findings and clinical implications.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

My research efforts directly inform my clinical practice in many ways. Studying the impact of perceived pain in healthy aging has helped me conceptualize the cognitive effects of pain in the patients that I see, and this research has helped prepare me for future work with this population.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

Professionally, I envision myself working as a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist within an academic medical center. This career would involve a balancing of my clinical and research interests – a role which I have already prepared for throughout my graduate training. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to build a career based upon my own interests which, in turn, can only have positive implications for my well-being and quality of life.

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Daliah Ross

Daliah Ross

Graduation Year: 2024 (with Clinical Neuropsychology Minor)
Ross D, Wagshul ME, Izzetoglu M, Holtzer R. (2021). Prefrontal cortex activation during dual-task walking in older adults is moderated by thickness of several cortical regions. Geroscience. doi: 10.1007/s11357-021-00379-1[Epub ahead of print]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34165696/

 

A native of Greenlawn, New York, on Long Island, Daliah Ross earned a B.S. in Neural Science at New York University before continuing her studies at Ferkauf. Her clinical education and training have been done at Lenox Hill Hospital, Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Northport VA Medical Center. Her prior research experience was at Weill Cornell Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NYU Langone Medical Center and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She has two publications, including the one listed above, and seven presentations.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursing your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)?

Even as a child, I spent a lot of time asking “why?” and “how?”, and this led to a natural interest in science, which was my favorite subject throughout middle and high school; in fact, and my first job in high school was in a DNA laboratory. When I was introduced to the brain and nervous system in high school biology, I was captivated. I went on to obtain my bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and then found my home in neuropsychology and never looked back.

Talk about how your experience in the lab connects to your published article.

I have been working in Dr. Roee Holtzer’s lab since August 2018, when I began Ferkauf’s program. My recently published article is based on my predoctoral research project for my masters-en-route. For this study, I conducted secondary data analysis of Dr. Holtzer’s recently completed NIH-funded cohort study, Central Control of Mobility and Aging. To conduct my project, I learned how to process and analyze neuroimaging data with additional support from Dr. Mark Wagshul at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. We are currently collecting data for a new NIH-funded study, which includes similar procedures. For this ongoing study, I am conducting psychological and motor assessments, completing neuropsychological batteries, and leading participants through multimodal neuroimaging protocols.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

Clinically, I am interested in the neuropsychological assessment of neurological illness, injury and neurodegeneration; my training has focused on diagnosing cognitive and behavioral disorders that impact older adults, especially dementia and movement disorders. My research interests include clarifying neural substrates of cognitive ability and decline, particularly with use of neuroimaging tools. In both aspects of my training, I use neuropsychological assessments, evaluate behavioral and cognitive symptoms, and consider the contributions of a patient’s medical, psychological, and social history. My clinical and research training and work directly inform each other and engaging in both make me a better neuropsychologist.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

My future goal is to work as a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist and academic researcher. I envision myself working in an academic medical center where I can engage in clinical and research work that complement each other. I am also passionate about service and the advancement of our field, and plan to be involved in professional neuropsychology organizations, trainee mentorship and community engagement.

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Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee

Graduation Year: 2021
Lee J., & Holtzer, R.  (2020). Independent associations of apathy and depressive symptoms with perceived social support in healthy older adults. Aging Ment Health. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2020.1768217 [Epub ahead of print]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32426992/

 

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Lee attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (in visual arts) and Adelphi University (in psychology with a minor in Spanish) before attending Ferkauf. She has received clinical education and training at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Northwell-Staten Island University Medical Center, New York University Langone Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center, among other locations. She also has international experience as well, having worked in the Ecuador Professional Preparation Program, part of the Subcentro de Salud clinic in Santa Clara de San Millan, Quito, Ecuador, and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province, China. She has another publication in addition to her recent article and has done two poster publications.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursing your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)?

My interest in the relationship between physical and mental health initially began in my childhood. I grew up with my grandmother, who required extensive medical care, so I was able to observe firsthand how medical diseases clearly demonstrated the interconnectedness between physical mental, and cognitive wellness, and the psychological and cognitive changes that I observed initiated my interest in older adults and apathy. As I progressed in my training, my research interest naturally grew to include one’s cognitive/functional ability such as walking and the role of the brain.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

Dr. Roee Holtzer has pushed me to publish my research, which has only led to positive experiences and advancement in my training. I believe this experience has brought the lab mates closer together, supporting each other’s success and exchanging intelligent conversations to help further advance our training. I also know that my research interests will continue to expand and change as my education at Ferkauf has engrained in me the scientist-practitioner model, rooted as it is in a bidirectional relationship of my research and clinical practice.

One known area of professional development stems from my own intersectionality as a neuropsychology trainee who is a female and a person of color. Recent societal events have reinforced this awareness, and it is not only always present in my clinical interaction/conceptualization but has also led me to seek out professional organizations to give support to other trainees and neuropsychologists of color.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

I plan to be a clinical neuropsychologist collaborating with other health care providers to bring a more holistic understanding to interdisciplinary clinical work. Furthermore, I hope to supervise trainees to support future neuropsychologists just as my supervisors have supported me.

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Sydney Jacobs

Sydney Jacobs

Graduation Year: 2022
Jacobs, S., Mercuri, G., & Holtzer R.  (2020). Assessing Within-Task Verbal Fluency Performance: The Utility of Individual Time Intervals in Predicting Incident Mild Cognitive Impairment.  Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, 1-15.

 

Jacobs grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and prior to her attendance at Ferkauf, she worked as a research assistant at Mount Sinai Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As a graduate student, she received training in neuropsychology at Weill Cornell Medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and Montefiore Medical Center. She has done nine posters and presentations at conferences around the country and has three publications to her credit, in addition to her most recent article. This July, she began her internship year in the Pediatric Neuropsychology track at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursing your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)?

I grew up in a family of artists and have always had a strong appreciation for creative pursuits. I value the role of creativity in my academic work and find that it influences my research interests in various ways, whether its indirectly through a new way of approaching a research question or directly, as in the case of my recent dissertation research examining the relationship between music and neural efficiency in healthy older adults.

Talk about how your experience in the lab connects to your published article.

This article was an extension of a previous project I contributed to in the lab examining the relationship between intra-individual variability in verbal fluency performance and mild cognitive impairment. Through Dr. Holtzer’s guidance, this new research question was formed with the goal of identifying discrete measures of performance that could predict conversion to mild cognitive impairment, including examining potential differences between letter and semantic fluencies which are linked to differing neuroanatomical correlates.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

I have always been interested in successful interventions to protect against cognitive decline and extend the quality of life for older adults. To this end, I am also curious about measures that be sensitive to identifying individuals who are at-risk for cognitive decline. I frequently find that my clinical practice and research interests complement and inform one another.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

I plan to become board-certified and hope to work as a lifespan neuropsychologist in an academic medical center. While I am most passionate about my clinical work, I hope to maintain consistent involvement in research and am particularly interested in continuing my dissertation research that explores the role of music in late life as well as extending this research into other populations, such as children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

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Rebecca Kraut

Rebecca Kraut

Graduation Year: 2023
Kraut, R., & Holtzer, R. (2021). Recurrent but not single report of fear of falling predicts cognitive decline in community-residing older adults. Aging & mental health, 1–7. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2021.1916878 [Epub ahead of print]. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13607863.2021.1916878?journalCode=camh20

 

Baltimore, Maryland, is home base for Rebecca Kraut, and after receiving a B.A. in Psychology with a neuroscience minor at the University of Maryland, she went on to receive her M.A. in Psychology from Ferkauf, where she continued in the Ph.D. program. She has received clinical training and education from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Weill Cornell Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, among other locations. She has four publications, including her most recent article, and has done seven presentations at conferences around the country.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursing your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)?

A high school neuroscience elective course at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore. It was the first time I felt driven to learn more about an academic subject outside the classroom. I went on to study psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, where I was introduced to using different behavioral techniques to understand brain function–the same model used in neuropsychology. I wanted to work within a clinical capacity, and neuropsychology gave me the intellectual challenge of devising and testing cognitive models with the reward and relevance of working with patient populations.

Talk about how your experience in the lab connects to your published article.

When I first started working in Dr. Holtzer’s lab, I thought I wanted to get involved with the neuroimaging used in our studies. However, developing research project ideas for my master’s thesis reminded me of my appreciation for using behavioral techniques to understand brain function. Around this time, Dr. Holtzer was examining relationships between fear of falling in our study cohort and their task learning trajectories over trials and invited me to collaborate on the project. I became interested in the literature on fear of falls in older adults (which can be a marker for functional decline) and decided to expand on Dr. Holtzer’s work for my master’s thesis (the published article) and now in a separate project for my dissertation.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

Graduate training has increased my proficiency in searching for, interpreting, and applying findings of relevant literature to my clinical cases. As a result of working with Dr. Holtzer, I have become familiar with the research on relationships between gait, falls, fear of falling and cognition in older adults, which in turn has helped me develop a more holistic understanding of some of my older adult patients. My enhanced research literacy has also served me more broadly in my clinical work, especially during diagnostic formulation, when I need to integrate different aspects of a patient’s medical and psychosocial history with their neuropsychological performance.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

My goal is to primarily work as a clinical neuropsychologist, which generally involves assessment-based work, but I also want to develop specialized knowledge about health psychology interventions for select groups of patients such as those with chronic pain, sleep disorders or autoimmune diseases. I want to be the rare practitioner who knows how a patient’s medical condition, neuropsychological performance, and treatment can impact each other.

Regarding my personal life, work-life balance is important to me, and I intend to live out my truth a little better once my graduate training is complete! Part of that would be family and involvement in my community. Part of that would be mentorship so that I can guide those students in interested in neuropsychology, and part would be advocacy within the field of psychology, seeking out opportunities to affect change through state and federal policy.

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Catherine O’Brien

Catherine O’Brien

Graduation Year: 2024
O’Brien C., Holtzer R. (2021). Cognitive Reserve Moderates Associations Between Walking Performance Under Single and Dual-Task Conditions and Incident Mobility Impairment in Older Adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. doi:10.1093/gerona/glab178 [Epub ahead of print]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34153107/

 

Born and raised in Huntington, New York, on Long Island, she earned a bachelor’s in psychology at Union College in Schenectady, then her master’s in psychology at New York University. She has engaged in clinical education and training at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center and Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, among other institutions. In addition to her publication, she has done presentations at seven conferences.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursing your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)?

I have always been interested in the brain-body connection. My parents always encouraged me to move and exercise as a means of improving my mood, stimulating creativity, and clarifying my thinking.  In this way, I gained firsthand experience in how our physical and cognitive functions are inextricably linked long before I pursued this as an area of research. At New York University, in Dr. Wendy Suzuki’s lab, I studied how short- and long-term exercise interventions affected cognitive functions, and I continue investigating the brain-body connection in clinical populations as I pursue my Ph.D. Dr. Holtzer’s extensive research in the field of mobility and cognition in aging is a natural fit.

Talk about how your experience in the lab connects to your published article.

In the lab, we are studying the brain predictors of mobility and falls in healthy older adults and older adults with neurodegenerative conditions. My personal research interests focus on the cognitive factors that influence people’s ability to maintain physical functioning as they age. My article highlights the moderating role of cognitive reserve on the relationship between simple and complex walking as they predict incident mobility impairment. Unlike cognitive functions such as processing speed and executive functioning, cognitive reserve is considered to be fairly stable over time and is less vulnerable to age-related decline. Examining cognitive reserve as it related to physical functioning, specifically incident mobility impairment, is a unique and relevant opportunity.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

The clinical diagnostic case conferences we conduct as well as the evaluation of the multiple data points we collect through our research have helped me hone my analytical abilities by challenging me to always consider the constellation of variables and symptoms rather than looking at select scores in a vacuum.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

In the next two years I plan to complete and defend my dissertation and apply for internship placement. I want to gain more experience with the brain imaging data we have been collecting, and I am interested in looking at the relationship between measures of brain structure (e.g., white matter integrity, cortical thickness) and changes in functional physical abilities over time.

After completing an APA accredited internship, I hope to pursue a post-doctoral neuropsychology fellowship that will allow me to interface with other disciplines (i.e., neurology, psychiatry), as I have enjoyed working in interdisciplinary settings.

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Giulia Mercuri

Giulia Mercuri

Graduation Year: 2022
Mercuri G., & Holtzer R.  (2020). Engagement in Cognitively Stimulating Activities Mediates the Relationship Between Openness and Attention/Executive Functions, but Not Memory in Older Adults. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. DOI: 10.1093/arclin/acaa066 [Epub ahead of print].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32853359/

 

While Giulia acknowledges Scotch Plains, New Jersey, as her hometown, she has a special feeling for Le Marche, the region in central Italy where her parents hailed from. She earned her bachelor’s in psychology and Spanish at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, then moved on to New York University for her Master’s in psychology. Her clinical training and education have been at Rush University Medical Center, North Shore University Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center and Montefiore Medical Center, among other locations. She has two publications, including the one above, and 15 conference presentations, including the Sanità Annual Conference in Florence, Italy.

Was there anything in your growing up that led you to pursue your current research interests at Ferkauf (e.g., favorite teacher, a science-minded aunt)?

One of my first clinical experiences in neuropsychology was through a summer internship at an Alzheimer’s Day Hospital in Italy. Throughout their appointments, patients would frequently ask for suggestions of how to protect their cognitive functioning as they continued to get older. From that moment, I became interested in researching how to provide patients with recommendations and strategies that would make positive changes in their daily lives as well as be widely accessible.

Talk about how your experience in the lab connects to your published article.

In Dr. Holtzer’s lab, I gained valuable experience about how to work in a multidisciplinary team, which in turn allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the various biopsychosocial factors that impact the aging trajectory.

How do your research efforts and clinical practice complement each other in your training as a neuropsychologist?

Research involvement is critical as it helps guide clinical practice. My research experiences have been valuable in my clinical work in neuropsychology because they have furthered my understanding of how neuromedical and psychological comorbidities can impact cognitive functioning.

What future do you see for yourself academically and personally?

In the future, I am hoping to be a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist working within an academic medical center on an interdisciplinary team. I am also hoping to supervise doctoral students who are working towards a neuropsychology career since I believe that my own supervision experiences throughout my training have been instrumental in my growth as a future clinician.

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