Current Trainees


Sarah Barber, Ph.D. (Preceptor, Mara Mather)

Broadly, my research focuses on how social factors influence cognitive processing.  As a social species, humans routinely encode and retrieve experiences in interactive, collaborative contexts.However, cognitive research on memory has typically focused on individuals working in isolation, and has only recently begun to examine how an individual’s memory changes when recalling as a member of a collaborating group.  Surprisingly, extant research shows that collaboration can be detrimental to memory, both at encoding and also at retrieval.  My graduate research focused primarily on understanding the mechanisms underlying these collaborative deficits.  In my current research I am examining age-related changes in how a variety of social and emotional factors influence memory.

David A. Davis, Ph.D. (Preceptor, Caleb E. Finch)

My research aims to define for the first time how exposure to airborne urban pollutants predisposes the adult brain to accelerated aging, memory loss and neurodegeneration, using in vivo and novel in vitro models. In particular, I am studying nanoscale particulate matter (nPM, < 200 nm) derived from urban vehicular exhaust collected from the Los Angeles 110 Freeway. These ambient nanoparticles are collected into sterile suspensions allowing delivery to brain cell cultures or reaerosolized for in vivo exposure.   In my first year at USC, I showed a novel mechanism in which exposure to nPM reduces neurite sprouting and causes growth cone collapse in neurons through glutamate receptor (GluA1). Currently, I am investigating how aging impacts the effects of nPM on learning and memory.

Anna Rahman, Ph.D. (Preceptors, Jon Pynoos, Kate Wilber, Susan Enguidanos)

My research centers on a persistent question that has largely escaped serious scrutiny: How do we translate evidence-based long-term care practice into routine practice for vulnerable adults? For years, researchers have sought to develop standardized, reliable procedures to improve long-term care. As a result, we now have a myriad of evidence-based interventions to recommend to providers. Yet numerous studies have reported a gap between recommended and usual long-term-care practice. One reason is that we have failed to follow-up this research with robust efforts to translate it into practice. To the extent that our translational efforts have gone unexamined, they represent an area that may significantly and rapidly advance quality improvement. In recent years, I administered and evaluated a series of long-distance coaching courses that provided extended instruction and support to nursing home staff as they worked to implement new evidence-based practices with residents. In extending this research, my current work aims to further advance translational science as it applies to long-term care.


Alison Balbag (Preceptors, Caleb Finch and Margaret Gatz)
Davis School of Gerontology, USC

As a trained and professional musician, my work seeks to investigate and better understand music’s effects on aging across the lifespan.  Because music is such a unique and complex process and medium, I am interested in its influences on our mental and physical health, whether performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 or listening to Miles Davis.  My work also aims to further study the relationship between music memory and Alzheimer’s, exploring music’s potential as a neuroprotective agent.  Because music is a universal, non-pharmacological, and non-invasive medium that all cultures experience, I believe advancements in this direction can serve a large and diverse population.

Morgan Canon (Preceptor, Eileen Crimmins)
Davis School of Gerontology, USC

My research interests are centered on expanding our theoretical and empirically based understanding of sarcopenic obesity by identifying possible predisposing factors. I am particularly interested in investigating the influence of mid-life abdominal adiposity and insulin resistance on the deterioration of muscle quality, which leads to disability in later life. Given the potential social burden of the aging population, our ability to identifying biological and environmental aspects that affect the quality and progression of human aging is imperative. In moving forward, I would also like to incorporate the use of simulations to predict the future health status of the population, as well as examine potential health effects caused by changes in obesity incidence and prevalence. Identifying factors, such as mid-life obesity, that may contribute to sarcopenia in late life presents researchers and policy makers with an opportunity to develop preventative strategies that may diminish the prevalence of frailty and disability in the older adult population.

Carrie Donoho (Preceptor, Eileen Crimmins)
Davis School of Gerontology

My research interests lie in relatively broad topics: social structure (age, race, socioeconomic status, gender), the social environment (social stress, social support, social networks), and personality and their relationships with health through the lifespan. I am particularly interested in socioeconomic status and racial disparities in health, how social factors exert their effects on the human organism over the course of a lifetime, and if there are periods when physiological regulatory processes are more vulnerable to (mal)adaption to environmental stressors. I recently finished a project examining the relationship between diurnal cortisol rhythms, psychosocial stress, and abdominal adiposity in Hispanic children. Our preliminary findings indicate that children with a high cortisol increase upon awakening combined with stressful school experiences, have a greater volume of fat interspersed in the abdominal cavity, placing them at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders later in life.

Krista Garcia (Preceptor, Eileen Crimmins)
Davis School of Gerontology

My research focuses on cross-country comparisons in health outcomes and secondary prevention strategies.  Prior to transferring to the doctoral program, I collaborated on a project examining whether international differences in health are similar to international differences in life expectancy.  My current research examines prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer screening prevalence and trends in cancer-specific incidence and mortality rates in the U.S. and Europe.  My goal is to increase understanding of the factors associated with cancer survival as well as the challenges and needs associated with the growing population of older cancer survivors.

Sarah Rastegar (Preceptor, Bob Knight)
Department of Psychology, USC

My research interests include aging and mental health, psychological well-being across the lifespan, and family adjustment to chronic illness.


Matthew Sutherland (Preceptor, Mara Mather)
Department of Psychology

When people experience emotional arousal, it changes the way they attend to visual information. It also changes what information is later remembered. Moreover, the impact emotion has on cognition changes as we near the end of our lifespan. These changes and their underlying neural mechanisms form the basis of my research.