Ana Restrepo Lachman is a research assistant at the Manhattan office of the Healthy Brain Network. She’s one of the original crew that launched the flagship Staten Island office back in 2015, when she was hired as one of the project’s first MRI participant navigators. We sat down with her to learn more about what it’s like to be working directly with participants and their families every day, what keeps her going during long days administering assessments, and what’s next on her radar.
Healthy Brain Network: When you were applying for jobs, why did you choose to get involved in a non-profit, community-based research study?
Ana Restrepo Lachman: I have two degrees, one in psychology and one in neuroscience. I came across this role with the MRI portion of the study, which was more neuroscience-based but still encompassed all the clinical aspects. I was looking for that longshot that allowed me to combine my two true loves — neuroscience and psychology — and this job just seemed perfect in that regard.
HBN: What is the most rewarding part of working directly with children?
ARL: The impact we have on families. Sometimes I read the responses in the satisfaction surveys we collect, and families say this helped me get X and Y services, and my child got all of this out of it, and now he is doing really well in school. It’s really rewarding to hear that. We see many families who are going through a lot of tough situations with their child. During the interviews they may cry or share all of their struggles and it reminds me why we are doing this. We are touching peoples’ lives — directly.
“Sometimes I read the responses in the satisfaction surveys we collect, and families say this helped me get X and Y services, and my child got all of this out of it, and now he is doing really well in school. It’s really rewarding to hear that.”
HBN: What about at the day-to-day level — what are some of the most stressful and most rewarding parts of an average day?
ARL: We pack a lot into the visits to try to deliver the most value to the families we see. We work very hard to make them run as efficiently as possible — we try to plan everything down to the minute — but that doesn’t leave a lot of room for things that are out of the ordinary that might come up. And you can imagine that things frequently don’t go as planned — even something as basic as figuring out how to motivate kids to do what we ask them to do is not as simple as it seems. But it’s worth it — seeing the families and being able to connect with them. You may get a great family and think to yourself, “Wow, I’m so grateful I met these people and so happy I get to have a hand in helping them.”
“I’d also reassure them that they are not alone — the challenges they are facing in their family, they are not the only ones struggling with those. There are millions of people going through the same things with their children.”
HBN: If you could tell a parent who is considering enrolling in the study one thing, what would it be?
ARL: I would say not only will they benefit from this study, but so will the larger pediatric and adolescent community, and the scientific community — for generations to come. I’d also reassure them that they are not alone — the challenges they are facing in their family, they are not the only ones struggling with those. There are millions of people going through the same things with their children. This research is going to improve the science, so we can have solutions at hand for future generations.
HBN: In terms of your plans for the future, are you thinking you will continue working in the field of psychology?
ARL: I definitely want to continue my work in psychology. I am applying to PhD programs this year and hope to be accepted for next fall. From there I’d like to get into research and become a clinical psychologist.
HBN: How has your time at HBN guided your decisions about career choices? Could you talk a bit about how working for a research study might be different from working in a strictly clinical environment?
ARL: Working for a research study not only has helped me to get a feel for what it’s like to work in a clinical environment, it’s given me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and start looking for answers to the questions I have. Senior staff members mentor us and provide guidance about how to approach our research questions, or how to look at the data statistically, so I can even have my own mini project before I go to grad school. I’m interested in depression. That is what I plan to focus on during my graduate studies. Right now, I am doing some peripheral work around that — using HBN data to look at internet addiction and how that affects different diagnoses. We are seeing a strong effect with depression and are in the middle of taking a more comprehensive look into that, so it will be interesting to explore that further.
HBN: Finally, what are you most proud about when it comes to your work here?
ARL: My first publication just came out and was presented as a poster at the ACNP (American College of Neuropsychopharmacology) meeting in December! (See this issue’s scientific section for more details).