Ask Caitlyn Ralph what her major is, and she’ll tell you it’s computer science – right now, anyway.
She’s already doing advanced research, using computer algorithms to analyze brain function. But she chose that Area of Concentration because New College let her explore many other fields along the way.
She started with psychology but gradually became more interested in neuroscience, and now has spent two summers at a New Mexico research institute that partners with New College faculty and interns.
Caitlyn’s first project focused on a new technique, called diffusion tensor imaging, to look for a biomarker for a neurodegenerative disease called Vascular Cognitive Impairment, the most common such disease after Alzheimer’s.
Now she’s creating algorithms to analyze data from resting-state functional MRI scans, which look at active thought processes. The goal, she says, is to learn about how cognitive processes work together in different regions of the brain.
In addition to her research, this semester Caitlyn is taking seven classes, while working on the New College newspaper, writing part-time for the Cleveland-based music magazine Alternative Press, and launching a journal of New College students’ research, Aeolus.
Those interests have her considering careers in computational neuroscience or in data journalism, a fast-growing field that applies advanced research methods to produce investigative reporting.
“If I was going to a traditional university I would have had to choose between them, but because I came to New College I’ve been able to foster both of those interests,” Caitlyn said. “I’m fully prepared to go into either of those fields. Without New College’s flexible curriculum letting me do what I choose, it wouldn’t have been possible.”