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A Path Through Research

Psychology student Jordan Becker finds a niche, and his future, in the lab

When Jordan Becker started college, he had no idea what he wanted to study. Or where.

A Washington, D.C. native, Becker always wanted to go to college. He has family in Bonners Ferry, who introduced him to the University of Idaho.

“I never had a specific college in mind, but when I visited for Vandal Friday, U of I seemed like a great place to be. It’s way different in terms of scenery and population and diversity from where I grew up but I don’t mind,” he said.

Becker found his niche in U of I’s Department of Psychology and Communication Studies.

“I took a class with Professor Rajal Cohen. I didn’t go into that class thinking I wanted to study psychology, but I asked to join her lab and it’s been great starting point,” he said.

Becker works with Cohen, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, in the Mind in Movement lab, which focuses its research on posture and movement.

“I just kept taking on tasks and before I knew it, I’m doing a decent amount of work and am really involved,” he said. “All the research directed me right into my career path now.”

Jordan Becker (right) collaborating with Professor Rajal Cohen

A Path Through Research

Cohen was unsure when Becker asked to join her lab.

“When he took his first class with me, he didn’t have the highest GPA, but it was the beginning of a turnaround for him,” she said. “He has had great grades since then and is the most curious and motivated student I have encountered since I started mentoring undergraduates in 2002.”

Becker is interested in pain and neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's and Huntington’s. Pain has biological, emotional and psychological effects.

In spring 2017, he received a $1,000 grant from U of I’s Office of Undergraduate Research to study chronic neck pain not caused by an injury. The grant provided money to pay 10 subjects who had chronic neck pain to participate in a study.

“We tested them before and after intervention to see if any of the variables changed and they experienced less pain,” he said. “We used a different approach, focusing on creating better habits. We tried to combat those negative tendencies that cause neck pain.”

Becker used aspects of biomedical engineering, like measuring muscle activity on the surface of the skin, to measure the subjects’ pain.

“We tested them before and after intervention,” he said. “I did more of the measurements and Dr. Copeland worked with subjects on the Alexander Technique.”

The Alexander Technique teaches people to reduce unnecessary muscle strain by retraining movement.

“It started out as an interest because of a grant we earned, and now it’s an interest because we don’t know about this subject and it’s incredibly interesting to me,” he said.

Expanding His Work

In addition to working in the Mind in Movement Laboratory, Becker also spent time with Nathan Schiele, assistant professor of biological engineering, working on tendon mechanics.

“I love engineering and finding new ways to tackle problems,” he said.

After graduating this spring, Becker will move back to D.C. to participate in the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) post-baccalaureate research program for biomedical engineering. The program provides recent college graduates a chance to work side-by-side with leading scientists in biomedical research. Applicants are hand-picked by individual scientists to work in their lab.

Becker’s research will focus on mapping circuits in the body, and studying how cells receive signals in real time.

“After that, I’ll apply to grad school in neuroscience or biomedical engineering. I’m not sure which I really want to do yet, but my research work at NIH will help me make that decision,” he said.

Becker said U of I gave him the opportunity to explore a variety of interests.

“U of I helped me figure out what I wanted to do and what makes me happy,” he said. “That’s the purpose of college. You don’t have to have it figured out, but it should be a place and a time where you can try new things. That was the most important thing to me and it’s true at U of I.”

By Tess Fox, University Communications and Marketing
Published April 2018

Jordan Becker researching pain control using the Alexander Technique.

Psychology & Communication

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