Most 8-year olds care more about toys and video games than neuropsychology — but not Joy Stradford. She often went to work with her mother, a special education teacher in New Jersey, and was both concerned for and intrigued by the disabled children she met.

“I was really curious about the neurological issues I was seeing, so I went home and started researching different disorders,” Stradford recalled. “I knew early on that I wanted to do psychological research that would help make accommodations for people with disabilities.”

Stradford went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Howard University and soon will graduate with a Master of Science in Neuroimaging and Informatics from the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The program, which is led by the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, prepares students to make transformative contributions to the field of biomedicine, in both the lab and the clinic.

Starting this year, students in the program received hands-on training with the institute’s state-of-the-art MRI scanners, the Siemens Prisma 3T and Terra 7T. Stradford said this experience, along with the opportunity to shadow and learn from the institute’s magnetic resonance technologist, has been highly impactful.

“Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about neuroimaging from lectures and slides,” she said. “But going into the MRI scanner, operating the machine and seeing gadolinium injections being administered—I immediately knew I wanted to incorporate imaging work in my career.”

During her time in the program, Stradford has worked as a research assistant in the lab of Judy Pa, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the Keck School. “Everyone in the lab notices Joy’s optimism and ‘can-do’ attitude,” Pa said. “And she’s a quick learner. In our new clinical trial, she excelled in handling aliquoted blood specimens on her first try.”

Stradford also interns with Tony Strickland, PhD, of the Sports Concussion Institute in Culver City, where she shadows psychometrists who give neuropsychological tests to former NFL players. After graduation, she will stay in Los Angeles to continue her work with Pa and Strickland. In the fall, she plans to apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology.

— Zara Abrams