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Current Lab Members



James Booth

James R. Booth is the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. The overall goals of his research are to understand the brain mechanisms of the development of reading, math and scientific reasoning in typical and atypical populations. Prof. Booth has been continuously funded for close to two decades and has published extensively in diverse journals. He has served in various roles both within and outside of the university, such as departmental chairperson, review panel member and associate editor. Prof Booth aims to facilitate the interaction between the fields of cognition, neuroscience and education.

Post-doctoral research associates

Anna Banaszkiewicz

Anna Banaszkiewicz completed her PhD at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw, Poland, where she investigated functional and structural brain reorganization in hearing learners of sign language. After receiving her degree she continued the research of bimodal bilingualism and sign language processing in hearing and Deaf signers, focusing on the effects of age of language acquisition and proficiency. She is also interested in the cognitive aspects of signed communication and Deaf education. As a new post-doctoral member of the Brain Development Lab she hopes to contribute to better understanding of mechanisms underlying reading in Deaf and hard of hearing children.

Vanessa Rosales Cerda

Vanessa Rosales Cerda received her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research program incorporates both ERPs and fMRI to understand the neural basis of arithmetic processing in Spanish-English bilingual children and adults. Specifically, she is interested in understanding the relationship between the complex dynamics of a bilingual’s language background and how arithmetic is processed across languages. Her long-term research goal is to become a leader in the area of bilingual STEM cognition, spearheading advancements in bilingual education and neurocognitive development.

Avantika Mathur

Avantika Mathur is a senior research analyst interested in understanding the brain mechanisms that underlie the process of human reading, language and music perception ability. She completed her PhD at the National Brain Research Centre, India, where she investigated the emotions experienced during North Indian classical music listening using behavior and neuroimaging methods. Thereafter, she joined University of Nebraska, Lincoln as a postdoctoral research fellow, where she used advanced multivariate analysis on functional MRI data to understand the neural mechanisms of reading processes – phonological and semantic processing, in 5–7-year-old children. Thereafter, she joined the Center for Neurobehavioral Research in children at the Boys town National Research, Omaha, Nebraska, where she analyzed neuroimaging datasets using univariate and multivariate analysis methods to understand the dysfunction of neurocognitive systems in children with aggression and antisocial behavior. As a new member of Brain Development Lab, she will be studying the brain mechanisms underlying developmental language disorder. She plans to use advanced skills in neuroimaging data analysis (univariate and multivariate analysis, graph theory and connectomics), to better understand the brain basis of delayed language during preschool as compared to typical children.

Marjolein Mues

After completing her Master’s in Neurolinguistics at the University of Groningen, Marjolein Mues pursued her PhD at Ghent University in Belgium. During her PhD she studied neural and behavioral factors underlying language heterogeneity in autistic preschoolers. She is especially interested in combining neuroimaging research methods such as fMRI and DTI with behavioral methods to learn more about different pathways that shape language and literacy development, especially in atypical development. As a postdoc at the Brain Development Lab she will focus on the neurocognitive development of children with delayed spoken language.


Neelima Wagley

Neelima Wagley is a post-doctoral researcher studying language and reading development using multimodal neuroimaging methodologies such as fMRI, fNIRS, and MEG. She is interested in the cognitive and neural architecture of reading and the development of children’s word reading and reading comprehension abilities. Specifically, her program of research focuses on how early bilingual acquisition and varying language contexts influence children’s emerging literacy skills, brain development, and academic outcomes. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan.

Doctoral students

Alisha Compton

Alisha Compton is a doctoral student in the Brain Development Lab studying educational neuroscience. Her research focuses on investigating the brain and behavior mechanisms underlying reading skill and anxiety symptoms. She was previously a teacher and received her MS in Education from Johns Hopkins University.

Omair Khan

Omair Khan is a PhD student in Educational Neuroscience. He holds a masters degree in Applied Statistics from The Pennsylvania State University and had been practicing as a biostatistician for the past seven years at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His research interests include language, reading and numerical cognition, especially among neurodiverse populations. He is also strongly committed to reproducible research and open science.

Master students

Shaohan Li

Shaohan Li received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Wenzhou-Kean University and is working on her masters degree in Cognitive Psychology in Context. She has explored topics related to language usage and is involved in a project examining the reasoning in a second language.

Huijia Zheng

Huijia Zheng received her undergraduate degree from University of Michigan – Ann Arbor in Psychology, Cognitive Science and Computer Science, and is enrolled in the masters program in Cognitive Psychology in Context. She is currently working on a neuroimaging project of language processing. She aims to complete a PhD program in cognitive psychology.


Clara Plutzer

Clara received her undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in American Sign Language from New York University. There, she worked in a cognitive development lab and grew her interest in research by conducting an honors thesis. She hopes to continue to learn new skills in this lab, with the goal of attending graduate school.

Rachael Rice

Rachael Rice received her undergraduate degree from Bard College in Psychology and is working on her Masters in Early Education and Special Education. She is currently working on the project of Neurocognition of Literacy in Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She plans to apply her knowledge and skills gained from the Brain Development Lab to pursue a PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology.

Christiana Werner

Christiana Werner received her undergraduate degrees in Biology and Psychology with an emphasis in Neuroscience and Multicultural Studies from the University of Missouri. She is currently working on the Late Talker Project examining the brain basis of language development. She plans to apply her knowledge and skills gained from the Brain Development Lab to pursue a PhD in Educational Neuroscience.