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Phil N

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of Southern California (USC)


affective neuroscience; fear and decision making; development; clinical and computational perspectives


Hi--my name is Phil, and my research interests lie at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, human development, and clinical psychology. Since 2020, I have held research positions at the University of Maryland, College Park and the National Institutes of Health where I've leveraged a variety of methods (e.g., multimodal neuroimaging, psychophysiology, eye-tracking, digital phenotyping) to study threat anticipation, motivation, and decision conflict in children with mood and anxiety disorders. Currently, I am a first-year PhD student in clinical science at the University of Southern California. Here, I study the neurobiology of fear and social behaviors in new parents and their children. Outside of research, I'm a BIG sports fan and used to be a college athlete! I also enjoy practicing my piano skills in my free time (although I'm really not that good). Of late, I've been spending a lot of time participating in programs that provide resources for young students considering a career in research, reflecting my passion for mentorship.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Research Paper

While we have made significant progress with leveraging tools of neuroscience to study human behavior, cognition, and emotion, we are far from a true pathophysiological understanding of many mental health issues. This kind of advancement is key to developing improved treatment techniques and relies on well-designed biology-focused psychology studies. Here, students will complete a research project and write a full manuscript that reports their findings and discusses clinical impact. Students will gain experience conducting a literature review, forming a research question and falsifiable hypothesis, and generating a methodological and analytic plan. Then, students will submit an Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposal, conduct their experiment, analyze their data, and write a manuscript intended for publication.

Review Paper

The last decade has yielded critical advances from groups around the world using neuroscience to study mental health, from updating models of intergenerational trauma to the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for treating major depressive disorder (MDD). We are overdue for some good review papers! In this project, students will pick a psychological disorder, and write a review paper on recent advances in neuroscience that have improved our understanding of the disorder’s pathogenesis, maintenance, or treatment. For this project, I encourage students to not only focus on mechanism, but to also consider the broad impact of the work they review (i.e., why should people care?). Students will learn how to systematically conduct a thorough literature review and write a manuscript evaluating the existing literature on their chosen topic.

Science Blog

There has long been friction between media outlets that report on work from the scientific community and the scientific community itself, largely due to media’s tendency to sacrifice complete accuracy and transparency for a more captivating narrative. There must be a way to do both. In this project, students will pick a paper of interest and write a blog post that not only is captivating, but also accurately reports the findings of the manuscript. Here, students will not only learn to effectively communicate science to a lay audience but will also gain experience in thoroughly reading and understanding scientific literature.

Coding skills

R, Python (incl. PsychoPy), MATLAB (incl. LEDALAB), LINUX/UNIX

Teaching experience

I have held Teaching Assistantships at both St. Mary's College of Maryland and University of Maryland, College Park. In addition, I have mentored student-led research projects in social affective neuroscience, neuroeconomics, human development, and clinical psychology.


Work experience

National Institute of Mental Health (Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience) (2021 - 2023)
Postbaccalaureate Research Fellow
University of Maryland, College Park (Affective and Translational Neuroscience Lab) (2020 - 2021)
Graduate Research and Teaching Assisstant
Therapy Cafe (2016 - 2019)
Biofeedback Technician
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (Neuropathology Unit) (2016 - 2018)
Student Internship


St. Mary's College of Maryland
BS Bachelor of Science (2020)
University of Maryland
MPS Master of Professional Studies (2021)
Clinical Psychological Science
University of Southern California (USC)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Clinical Science

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