Mentor: Dr. Gillian Einstein
Hormones like estrogens and testosterone can directly affect neurons, changing how well and what kinds of things we remember. In young cis women, estrogens have been implicated in improving memories for words, stories, and where objects are located in space. In older cis women, hormonal therapies are controversial — some research shows they are beneficial for cognition and other research shows they are detrimental (Yes. There is controversy in Science!) Many, perhaps most, transgender people use gender-affirming hormone treatments (GAHT), which cause changes in the body that lead to a physical appearance more similar to cisgender (i.e., not transgender) members of their identified gender. Improvements in mental health and wellbeing typically follow. For individuals who are assigned male at birth and identify as women or outside of the sexual binary, of the man/woman binary (trans women), GAHT primarily requires estrogens. What we haven’t even begun to understand is how this very same hormone when used for GHAT affects memory and sense of self as trans women age. This project is meant to begin to fill in this knowledge gap. To do this, you will help put computerized measures of cognition, questionnaires about sexual minority stress, and open-ended questions on feelings about memory and aging in a survey to be administered online. You will help recruit participants as well as analyze the data emerging. Through this project you will learn about estrogens’ effects on brain and behaviour as well as how to design an online study.
One of the most exciting things about science and lab work is that you are making knowledge and working in a team to do so. In order to facilitate this effort, everyone in the lab is a colleague – some colleagues know more than others, but we are all learning together and working toward the same goals. Within this context, I like to help students find their strengths and help them work from those strengths to build yet more. To help foster this development, I meet with students regularly and we have weekly lab meetings in which we discuss our research successes, challenges, what we’re pondering, and new research in the field. What will you take with you at the end of the summer?: I hope, an expanded love of science, an appreciation for teamwork, and some understanding of the role that hormones play in shaping our brains and behaviours.