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Sikoya Ashburn

Photo of doctoral student Sikoya Ashburn wearing a striped sweater and glasses
Sikoya Ashburn is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience. She predominately has research experience within cognitive neuroscience and have worked on a range of projects including those investigating language processing, neuroimaging biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, structural MRI in adult dyslexia, and functional activation as well as connectivity in pediatric populations with learning disabilities. Presently, my dissertation research investigates the involvement of the cerebellum in children with reading and math disabilities.

Describe your research interests and how you chose this area of research.

Oddly enough, my interest science and research all started with a 7th grade science fair project comparing adults and children in their ability to solve a word puzzle. It led to a stream of questions of how we learn, how we process and manipulate language while reading, what happens when the system is disrupted, and how can we ‘fix’ or ‘enhance’ the learning process. Currently, I study the cerebellum’s involvement in higher cognitive functions, particularly with respect to reading and math. Under the TL1 training grant, I am using a combination of functional activation and connectivity to test potential cerebellar involvement in children with co-morbid reading (dyslexia) and math (dyscalculia) disabilities. In the future, I hope to continue using neuroimaging methods to elucidate the cerebellum’s involvement in other developmental and learning disorders, which may then be used to improve current interventions.

How does GHUCCTS help you to achieve your research goals and advance your career in clinical and translational research? How will the CTSA program help to advance knowledge and treatments for patients with the disease(s) you study?

Through this program I was able to participate in several opportunities that have not only assisted with my dissertation research but will be valuable towards the advancement of my career in academia. The grant writing workshops were one of the most impactful activities because they proved to be invaluable towards my successful re-submission for the NIH Blueprint DPSAN F99/K00 grant. Also, the professional development workshops were useful for receiving first hand advice from experienced clinical scientists for how to succeed within the sciences as a researcher. Additionally, I was able to attend the Translational Biomedical Science Summer Intensive Workshop, which provided an introduction for using R programming packages for various data analyses. Aside from workshops, the program provided financial assistance for attending conferences relevant to my dissertation research, including the Association for Clinical and Translational Sciences Conference and the Cerebellum Gordon Research Conference in. Both of these were great experiences for networking, practicing science communication skills, and developing a stronger foundation for conducting ethical and innovative science.

Why is it important to have both disciplinary and ethnic/cultural diversity in medical research? How does diversity contribute to your research? How does diversity enhance scientific discovery?

Diversity is key in medical research for both inclusivity of persons who conduct research as well as of those participating in within studies. For researchers, diversity promotes creative thinking and strategic problem solving that can be applied towards current research endeavors. With regards to research populations, diversity is necessary for understanding the full scope and dynamics of disorders that afflict humanity. This is especially useful when considering co-morbid disorders, such as the ones that are the focus of my own research, developmental dyslexia (reading disability) and dyscalculia (math disability).

How does clinical translational research benefit our communities, both directly and indirectly?

Clinical translational research provides a means understand how to better the quality of human life by exploring potential ways to alleviate various symptoms and/or disorders.