When Jessica M. Logan accepts a doctorate in psychology in Arts & Sciences today, she’ll step from the stage with a list of scholarly accomplishments impressive enough to be the envy of many junior faculty.
In 2002, she lead-authored a study that used sophisticated brain imaging to pinpoint cognitive mechanisms behind age-related memory difficulties in older adults. Published in the prestigious journal Neuron, it provided the first clear evidence that aging-related memory difficulties may be reversible through therapy.
Her studies have been cited more than 40 times by other researchers.
While her scholarship is impressive, Logan’s greatest legacy may be the spotlight she helped focus on University faculty who go the extra mile to help students like her. As president of the Graduate Student Senate, Logan campaigned to create a student-run “Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards” program.
Now in its fifth year, the program is a national model.
“I’m where I’m at today because I’ve been lucky enough to have truly amazing mentors throughout my life,” said Logan, a native of Austin, Texas. “My parents encouraged me to follow my interests, to reach for my dreams. I’ve always found faculty willing to take a chance on me, to trust me with important work, to let me run with ideas.”
Logan has the drive and enthusiasm to make her ideas a reality. While juggling studies, she led student government, launched new programs and landed a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She represented students on the University’s Board of Trustees and on the National Science Foundation/National Institutes of Health Fellowship Stipend Steering Committee.
When the University hosted a presidential debate in 2000, Logan gave the candidates a campus tour.
Not surprisingly, Logan credits her student government successes to support from mentors in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, especially Dean Robert E. Thach, Ph.D., and Associate Dean Elaine P. Berland, Ph.D.
“Jes’ models the Washington University tradition of student leadership and shared governance,” Berland said. “She has enhanced the graduate student experience on this campus and elsewhere.”
Logan’s schedule is chaotic, but she still finds hours each week to volunteer with a group that finds homes for bunnies. Even when it comes to “mentoring” lost bunnies, she takes the job seriously — an approach she learned from master mentor David Balota, Ph.D., professor of psychology and her primary academic adviser at the University.
“In mentoring, it’s just as important that you adjust your approach to the student, as much as having the student adjust to you,” Balota said. “With Jes’, that was especially important because she’s always moving in new directions.
|Graduate School of Arts & Sciences|
“With some students, you try to restrict their interests, get them focused on one issue. Jes’ was able to take on several areas and excel at each. There was no way, and really no reason, to constrict her interests.”
Logan traces her psychology interests to a linguistics elective she took as a business major at the University of Texas. She soon found herself “on the edge of my seat” in lectures about brain damage, strokes and the neuroscience of cognition.
“I knew right then that this is what I wanted to do with my life,” she recalled.
Her parents supported the shift, and she graduated in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and linguistics. They encouraged her to apply for an elite summer program in brain imaging at the University of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Mellon Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, even though Logan was sure she was not qualified.
“They took what I consider to be a ‘leap of faith’ and let me into the program of my dreams,” Logan said.
Randy Buckner, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and co-author of Logan’s Neuron study, said that faith has not been misplaced. He considers it remarkable that Logan pursued such elegant research in both neuroimaging and cognitive rehabilitation.
Her dissertation explored whether older adults can be taught to improve their memories with a technique known as “expanded retrieval.”
She recently accepted a fellowship to continue her research at Washington University. Eventually, she’d like to direct a research-based therapeutic clinic or hospital for older adults.
“At some point, I want to get out of the lab and practice cognition in the wild,” she quipped.