Alumni Profile: Nina Gold '09

Occupation: Medical + Health
Major: Psychology
Nina Gold

Source: Colby Echo, 10/28/2009

Although Nina Gold '09 recently graduated from the College, she has already accomplished a great deal. And this is just the beginning. Gold currently works as a clinical research coordinator and is also applying to medical school. Additionally, she recently received the Erlbaum Award from the International Honor Society in Psychology Psi Chi for her research on preschool children and the correlation between numeracy and age.

The paper she entered into the research contest was entitled "Age is More Than A Number: Effect of Preschool Children's Numerical Capabilities on Estimations of Age." Gold describes her work as "an empirical investigation of the perceptual and numeracy skills that young children use to judge the ages of strangers."

With the help of Tara Brian '10 and Becky Julian '09 in Professor of Psychology Martha Arterberry's cognitive development seminar last fall, the project was designed to investigate why preschool children have difficulty estimating others' ages. Gold says she owes the idea to Julian, who mentioned in class that "as a camp counselor, she often asked her young campers how old they thought she was. They replied with a slew of wrong answers." Preschoolers are apt to estimate the ages of grown adults inaccurately; some may claim them to be ten, while others may say they are 99, one of the largest numbers they know. Such variety makes it difficult to pinpoint the reasoning process employed to estimate ages.

Using the cognitive processes of facial perception and the understanding of a linear model of numbers, Gold explains that "essentially, we asked: do preschool children misjudge people's ages because they are still acquiring relevant perpetual skills...or is it because preschool children don't quite know how to count yet?" Each member of the eight-person team in Arterberry's class was matched with a daycare center or preschool where they volunteered and ran experiments. Gold and her partners found that "preschool children may misjudge adults' ages not because they perceive them to look particularly old or young--but because preschoolers cannot translate their perceptual impressions into the form of a number. This result suggests that knowledge of numbers is a crucial step in the developmental cascade of age judgment."

The Psi Chi/Erlbaum Award is given annually to one undergraduate and one graduate student in the country for the best empirical research in the area of cognitive science. Gold's final paper from her cognitive developmental seminar earned her the award.

Gold works with pediatric geneticist, Dr. Lewis Holmes, as a clinical research coordinator in the newborn medicine program at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She collects data for the Active Malformations Surveillance Program, established by Dr. Holmes in 1972, a registry of infants with congenital anomalies.

In addition to her work at the hospital, Gold is currently completing two research projects. The first consists of a "comparison between the anomalies most commonly diagnosed in the first five days of a neonate's life versus those diagnosed between a child's fifth day of life and first birthday." She will present her findings to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health this winter. For her second project, she has helped to create a classification system for congenital limb deficiencies, which she will present with a study of sex chromosome disorders at the New England Regional Genetics Group conference in December.

Despite being consumed by numerous projects, Gold is currently applying to medical school. She reveals that Colby was a "phenomenal place to be pre-med. Science professors are supportive of students and readily available during their office hours. The psychology department, particularly Associate Professor of Psychology Tarja Raag, provided me with a strong background in human development. Professor Raag was also exceptionally supportive of my senior project in psychology....She helped me to understand that academic work is most worthwhile when it can be used to help others."

Her off-campus work was also an integral part of her pre-med experience; Gold spent two of her four JanPlans volunteering at a tertiary care pediatrics unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her experiences there convinced her that she wanted a job in which she could help children and their families overcome illness. She spent her junior year abroad in Copenhagen, and this allowed her to develop clinical skills not taught to undergraduates in the United States, such as how to take patient histories, complete a basic physical exam and insert an IV.

In the future, Gold hopes to become a primary care pediatrician that provides for an under-served population, including children with special developmental and emotional needs. At Colby, Gold believes that she "developed essential knowledge and meaningful relationships" that she will bring with her to medical school and her career as a physician.