Get Ready to GO! (Assess)- 1st week

Pankhuri Jha '13 is a member of the EXP program and is doing research at the University of Pennsylvania this summer.

The above is exactly what my PI Dr. Calkins and my junior PI Cat Conroy told me on my first day (with the dramatic pause and exclamation point). It was a Monday morning and frankly I had no idea what they initially meant. Later on I finally realized what GO Assess was, especially after I read 50+ articles and research papers about it during the fall and spring term. It was one of the several techniques that I would use to interview people potentially at risk for developing schizophrenia. It was also one of the first things I learned in the lab and with that, my EXP adventure began!

This week was a lot of observation and training for me, if anything else. Because I am dealing with human subjects, I had to read a lot of packets and complete a seemingly never ending CITI course about patient confidentiality. I learned that I can be fined up to $250,000 if I discussed any PHI (protected health information) about a subject. Since then, I have been insanely cautious about revealing secret personal information, scared that some agent might jump out of nowhere and arrest me or something. So, I can generalize race, sex and age about subjects for research purposes, but that is it. My lab currently works on a few projects, NAYA (adolescent studies), GO 1 and GO 2 (more adolescent and kid studies), and 22q (entirely kid based). I will focus on all of these.

On the first day, I was taken on a tour around Penn and received my own Penn ID to get into and out of buildings where  I work. The CITI course took about 2 days to complete because after every section, there was a quiz (and yes, it was graded). Luckily enough, when I finished that, I was permitted to attend the case conference, which is like the end of the cycle in my lab (first step is to interview the patient..). At the case conference, I must admit I was really lost. Acronyms were flying across the room as the doctors and clinical assessors discussed the subjects they had seen that week. These conferences are about 2 hours, but it is really fun to sit it and hear about what "consensus diagnosis" the doctors create (basically what degree of schizophrenia does the person have). When they discuss the subject, they really get specific and take everything into consideration. I'm talking everything from personality, to how they talk, appearance and my favorite if they sniff around a lot (schizophrenics have a hard time smelling things).

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were really exciting days for me because I finally got to sit on interviews conducted by clinical assessors for possible schizophrenics. But before, I received the chance to sit in on a coordinators meeting, where the various subjects who are scheduled to come in are discussed ( their symptoms etc). Even the subjects have a secret code number and are only talked about by their initials.The interviews are extremely long (4-5 hours), and consists of an actual interview and CNB tests (computerized neurocognitive battery) such as word memory, finger tapping, facial memory test, logical reasoning etc. that test the domains of the brain. Each of the three subjects had a different degree of the disorder, so it was interesting to see the varying responses. I guess it is one thing to read about it, but to actually see that people believe in hallucinations/delusions and think they get laughed at by society is a completely different thing.

More is to come next week! My PI told me that I can see an MRI on the brain (while the subject takes the CNB to see which parts of their brain work-you know all the fun color stuff!), learn how to enter data, and even conduct my own interview! The grad students and post-docs in my lab, Ashton, Niki, Cat, Zack, Nathan and Eli are really sweet and helpful and made this a great first week!