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Current Lab Members

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

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.

Carly Leannah
Carly Leannah completed her PhD in Educational Neuroscience at Gallaudet University. Her PhD training focused on behavioral and electroencephalography (EEG) measures for investigating the experience of being deaf and using American Sign Language (ASL) on spatial perception and lifelong learning processes. She also researched how emerging educational technology can leverage embodied learning, including for STEM learners and ASL students. Dr. Leannah previously received her BS in Psychology and MS in Secondary Education for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) students from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She then taught DHH students for five years. As a postdoc researcher, Dr. Leannah’s work focuses on the impact of sign language acquisition on the underlying neural mechanisms of reading comprehension in DHH children and adolescents. She aims to expand upon current behavioral and neurocognitive translative research that supports language access and equity for DHH learners.

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.

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.

Johanna Hearn

Johanna Hearn is a PhD student in Hearing and Speech Sciences. She earned her Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Vanderbilt University and was a practicing speech-language pathologist in medical centers and public schools prior to returning to Vanderbilt for her doctoral studies. Her research interests include characterizing the psycho-linguistic skills of children with speech sound disorder and investigating the biological mechanisms that underly this disorder.

Jiuru Wang
Jiuru Wang is a PhD student in Psychological Science. He pursued his Masters degree in Statistics at Columbia University, and then worked as a research assistant in the Math Brain Lab at Georgetown University. His research interests include understanding the neural basis and cognitive processes involved in typical and atypical language development, reasoning and decision making. Additionally, Jiuru is interested in exploring computational techniques and quantitative methods in psychological and cognitive science research.

Master Students

Isaac Chen

Isaac received his undergraduate degree in Neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University. He then worked as a research assistant at Kennedy Krieger Institute with Dr. Stacy Suskauer and Dr. Beth Slomine to better characterize brain functioning in children recovering from brain injuries. He has a strong interest in how cognitive processes and brain networks develop over age and across populations. He is currently working towards a Masters in Cognitive Psychology in Context, with plans of pursuing a career as a physician scientist and apply what he learns to improve the quality of life of children with disabilities.

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.

Avery Vess

Avery received her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in Hearing and Speech Sciences. There, she completed an honors thesis investigating conversational impairments secondary to traumatic brain injury and was a lab coordinator for a lab investigating predictors of persistence/recovery for expressive language delays in children. She plans to use the skills she learns in the Brain Development Lab to pursue a clinical degree in speech-language pathology as well as a Ph.D

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.

Honors Thesis Students

Lily Mae Cochell
Lily Mae is an honors student in the Brain Development Lab studying language development. She is majoring in Psychology and Medicine, Health, and Society and minoring in Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University. Her honors project focuses on how language skill is related to the mechanisms for processing morphemes in the brain. Lily Mae hopes to apply the skills she learns through her honors research and one day pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.