Alumni Spotlight: Wayne Mackey
Wayne Mackey received his B.A. in Psychology from Temple in 2012 before embarking on a doctorate in Psychology from New York University. He completed his Ph.D. in 2016 and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in David Heeger’s Computational Neuroimaging Lab at NYU.
Mackey’s research interests lie in how individuals select and remember goal-relevant information. “At any given moment”, writes Mackey, “we face a never-ending stream of sensory information that must be integrated with our internal thoughts and goals. In order to purposefully guide our behavior, we flexibly select goal-relevant sensory information (via attention) while we keep in mind and manipulate critical information no longer available in our environment (via memory). I employ a wide variety of experimental methods (computational neuroimaging, brain lesions, eye-tracking, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and virtual reality) and theoretical approaches to investigate how the brain represents and processes information necessary for executive control”.
Since graduating from Temple in 2012, Wayne has won multiple awards, including the Henry M. MacCracken Fellowship (2012), the Engberg Fellowship (2012), the Katzell Fellowship in Psychology (2016), and a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (2013-2016) to study how both transient and chronic lesions of association cortex impair working memory. He is developing novel computational techniques to quantify nonlinear response dynamics in association cortex, and has successfully applied these techniques to make important fundamental discoveries about brain organization.
“My current work is largely focused on leveraging computational techniques typically used to characterize visual regions of the brain to better understand information processing in higher- order brain areas thought to be critical for executive control. My goal is to develop a biologically- plausible theoretical model that approximates how complex networks of brain regions interact to support cognition. Once we are armed with such an understanding we can devise better strategies to treat and prevent the wide range of psychiatric and neurologic disorders (such as autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia) thought to be the direct result of impaired executive control”.
As a student in Dr. Jason Chein’s Neurocognition Lab, Wayne assisted on two research projects: A study that utilized fMRI to examine the effects of peers on risky-decision making in adolescents, and a comparative investigation of different working memory paradigms that tested whether training benefits untrained tasks and whether different types of training would yield different benefits. He also worked as a research assistant for Dr. Pamela Shapiro at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where he learned about the impact of cancer and cancer treatments on everyday cognitive function, as well as how the stress of dealing with a cancer diagnosis causes physiological changes that impair cognitive abilities.
We asked Mackey how his experiences at Temple has influenced his career. Here’s what he had to say: “My experiences at Temple were nothing less than transformative. For some perspective, I graduated high school with a 1.8 GPA and had no interest in college, as no one in my family had ever gone. I joined the workforce after graduating high school and didn’t begin my college education until I was 26, after being frustrated with poor job prospects. Two years later, I arrived at Temple as a first-generation college student transferring from a small community college and leaving with multiple acceptance letters to top Ph.D. programs across the country”.
Wayne notes that the faculty at Temple, both inside and outside the Psychology department, were incredibly influential in his decision to pursue a career in cognitive neuroscience. “They were accessible, inspiring, supportive, candid, and most importantly, provided me with the opportunities to discover what I was most passionate about. As an ambassador for science and education, I hope to encourage other students from disadvantaged or non-traditional backgrounds, not only by outreach but by example, to realize their potential for math and science, just as mentors at Temple did for me”.
We also asked Wayne for advice to pass on to our current undergraduates. His response was
Take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you at Temple, because they can truly be life-changing. If you are interested in scientific research, or are considering applying to graduate school, get into a lab as soon as you can. This will provide you with valuable experience and knowledge beyond what can possibly be learned in the classroom. The beauty of the scientific process is that it actually encourages you to get your hands dirty and make mistakes. Be curious. Try. Fail. Try again.