Senior university scholar studies sleep, discrimination

Keller senior Stacy Nguyen started in the Sleep Neuroscience & Cognition Laboratory (SNaC) in August 2015 and has been studying sleep and discrimination for her thesis. MJ Routh | Multimedia Journalist

By Vivian Kwok | Reporter

As spring graduation and commitment dates for graduate and professional schools approach, many faculty and staff commemorate their students’ achievements. Keller senior Stacy Nguyen started in the Sleep Neuroscience & Cognition Laboratory (SNaC) in August 2015. Nguyen has worn several hats both in the lab and as an undergraduate student.

“I got connected with it by luck actually,” Nguyen said. “A poster at Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement (URSA) in Spring 2015 caught my eye, and I noticed the logo on top and was intrigued that there was a sleep lab at Baylor.”

Nguyen said the lab was brand-new at the time that she applied and then joined the team later that fall. She started in the SNaC lab as a research assistant where she often worked on several projects simultaneously.

“As research assistant, I just helped out with the lab and worked on our main project that we were running at the time as well as several side projects,” Nguyen said.

Assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience Michael Scullin is one of Nguyen’s mentors in the SNac Lab. Scullin said Nguyen was promoted from research assistant to to research coordinator position. Nugyen said as a coordinator she helps schedule people for the main studies and ensures that the lab runs smoothly. However, Scullin commends her for much more.

“It’s a position of leadership — other research assistants look to you for help, answer questions,” Scullin said. “You’ve got to be really organized and trustworthy for this position.”

Scullin said Ngueyn has been involved in over half a dozen projects since being in the lab since August 2015.

“Some of these studies are in our sleep laboratory where she applies electrodes to people’s scalp to monitor what their brain is doing while they sleep,” Scullin said. “Other projects involve sleep restriction, memory functioning in patient groups, how students best learn educational concepts and how gender biases emerge.”

Nguyen is also a University Scholars major, which is a major and a program within the Honors College.

“I love USchol for giving me a more well-rounded education and for challenging me with less science and more humanities and philosophy,” Nguyen said.

According to the degree requirements for University Scholars, Nguyen must propose, research, write and defend an undergraduate thesis project to complete the program.

“My thesis is about sleep and discrimination,” Nguyen said. “We tried to look at whether sleep restriction could affect the cognitive resources that moderate behavior in terms of racial, gender, weight discrimination [and other factors.]”

Sculllin said some of her best work in the lab combines several intersts of the lab in her thesis.

“She conceptualized a project whereby sleep restriction might affect rates of prejudice and discrimination,” Scullin said. “She did the literature review and funded the project by writing — and being awarded — two grants, one from URSA, the other from the honor’s college.”

Scullin said Nguyen worked with a discrimination scientist from Rice University and him myself to develop an appropriate research design.

“She collected, analyzed and interpreted all the data,” Scullin said. “Eventually, her work will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.”

Nguyen said her main undergraduate achievement was winning second place at URSA in 2016. Nguyen also studies on the pre-med track, and she said she will be attending medical school in the fall.

“I currently hold a seat at UTMB Galveston, so I will likely go there,” Nguyen said.

However, she is still keeping her options open. Nguyen said she is waiting to hear back from some other medical schools to which she applied.

“I definitely think Baylor has prepared me in the pre-medical sense,” Nguyen said. “And working in the SNaC lab has been such a fantastic and influential experience on every aspect of my life.”

Scullin said Nguyen has worked in the SNac Lab for “three full years” and has coordinated all their sleep studies over the last 10 months. He said the team is ecstatic to see what Nguyen does in her career after Baylor.

“It will be bittersweet to see her graduate,” Scullin said. “She’s been so important to our work, and so we will miss her.”