She is an early riser, but not without her coffee. She then heads to the lab, and every day she gets closer to making the next discovery or finding the next cure for a disease.
UCF Clinical Psychology Ph.D student Rosanna Scott received national recognition for her work in finding genetic risk factors for depression.
Scott’s research first involved looking at older adults to see if their vascular burden, which includes conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart problems, made them more likely to become depressed as they age.
Scott then focused on APOE4, a gene that has primarily been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
Scott said that we are born with two copies of APOE; we get either one copy of E2, E3 or E4 from each parent. The E4 gene is concomitant with negative functional implications, and people with E4 are also more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease as they age.
Since vascular depression is a reflection of a neurological change in our brain, Scott wondered if people with E4 and vascular burden together had a higher chance of developing depression in later life.
Scott's team discovered they both do, but vascular burden plays a larger role. She said we can reduce our vascular burden with healthy eating and exercise.
How did Scott end up at one of the top research universities in the country? She said it all started with her being fascinated by her Introduction to Psychology course at the University of Louisville.
“I started working in a memory and cognition lab at Louisville, and I wanted to take it a step beyond behavior and look at how the brain and behavior relate,” Scott said. “It just became apparent to me. There wasn’t much of an 'aha moment.' It was just, ‘Oh, I really enjoy this work.’”
Scott said the concept of neuropsychology, relating the brain to behavior, really spoke to her, and that’s why she is pursuing her passion at UCF to become a neuropsychologist.
“I fell in love with the class and then was introduced to it through the lab that I was working with in undergrad,” Scott explained. “From there, it just kind of unfolded … Focusing on diagnosis and recommendations that can actually help someone, that is important to me.”
Scott was born in rural Lebanon, Kentucky and lived there until she was 21 years old. She graduated from the University of Louisville with a psychology degree, then moved to Fort Lauderdale and took a year off from school.
What drew Scott to UCF was the school’s clinical research program and Dr. Daniel L. Paulson, an assistant professor of psychology and the co-author of Scott’s depression gene study. Paulson’s research is focused on how mood is impacted by chronic health conditions, which aligns with Scott’s interests.
“As a first-year student, Rosanna identified her desire to be fluent in issues surrounding geriatric mental health and clinical neuropsychology,” Paulson said. “She’s accomplished that and has turned her attention to a very exciting dissertation project, and her career thereafter.”
Scott said the best part of her job is working with her brain injury survivor patients.
“I love working with my patients,” Scott said. “The focus of my clinical work is maximizing the independence and quality of life for traumatic brain injury survivors. That’s the purpose clinically-- treating an individual like the actual person that they are and not just a brain injury survivor. Brain injury survivors have more ability and autonomy than they often get credit for.”
Scott’s supervisor Dr. Megan Sherod, clinical associate professor and the director of the UCF Pshycology Clinic, said Scott is one of the best students she has worked with in a long time.
“She is extremely professional,” Sherod said. “She is very empathetic; she does a great job of putting her clients at ease. I think she goes above and beyond in both her assessment and her therapy skills.”
Scott wants to continue to put her research into clinical practice, and vice versa.
“She’s been relentless in her efforts to learn new scientific methods,” Paulson said. “She excels at translating her work to others.”
At the young age of 26, Scott has discovered her calling in life.
“I enjoy what I’m doing and I enjoy school. It’s a lengthy process, but it’s worth it, and I’m a happy person,” Scott said. “I feel very lucky to have found what I want to do and to enjoy it.”