For These CUNY Grads, Cognitive Neuroscience Master’s Program Is a Springboard to a Ph.D.

May 30, 2023

Three Cognitive Neuroscience master’s graduates with prior CUNY degrees are ready to start their doctorates.

2023 Cognitive Neuroscience graduates: Daisy Reyes, Denis Shor, and Tikva Nabatian portraits
(L-R) Daisy Reyes, Denis Shor, Tikva Nabatian (Photo credit: Alex Irklievski)

As a child in New York City, Daisy Reyes would occasionally go to McDonald’s with her mother. But her mother never ate. She couldn’t afford to.

Reyes’ parents, immigrants from Mexico, are factory workers. Her mother worked double shifts when Reyes was young. Still, there wasn’t always enough food for the family.

Yet Reyes made it not just to college, becoming her family’s first college graduate when she received a B.A. forensic psychology and English from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2015, but also to graduate school. She recently completed an M.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Graduate Center, and later this year, she will be one of three program graduates, out of 10 total, to move on to a Graduate Center Ph.D. program.

Learn More About the M.S. Program in Cognitive Neuroscience

All three graduates — Reyes, Tikva Nabatian, and Denis Shor — are two-time CUNY alumni, and they credit the master’s program with preparing them for this next step. This is the first time since the program was started five years ago that so many graduates have stayed on for Ph.D.s.

Reyes started the Cognitive Neuroscience master’s program feeling like an imposter. Because of her background and prior experiences, she said, she doubted at first that she belonged in the research-intensive program.

“Thankfully, through my experiences as a master’s student, researcher, adjunct lecturer, and teaching assistant, I was able to overcome those feelings,” she said.

Daisy Reyes at the commencement
Daisy Reyes at Commencement on June 2. 

Through the courses, Reyes said, she gained knowledge and critical thinking skills. “Working alongside my mentor, Professor Robert Duncan, for my thesis research allowed me to become a more confident researcher,” she added.

As a Psychology Ph.D. student (Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience training area), she plans to explore the relationship between stress and learning.

The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the Graduate Center drove her decision to stay on as a doctoral student. “Because the Graduate Center connects faculty and students in multiple disciplines from throughout CUNY, I am able to gain different perspectives about my areas of interest,” she said.

The collaboration and the diversity intrinsic to CUNY drew Shor, who has a B.A. in psychology from Hunter College, to the Ph.D. Program in Psychology (Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience training area).

By working in research labs as an undergraduate and master’s student, he said, “I gained firsthand insight into the diversity of students who undertake research at CUNY and the focus on collaborative research.”

And, like Reyes, he feels ready to take on a Ph.D. Through the master’s program, he completed a large portion of the Ph.D. coursework, and meeting doctoral students in his classes gave him a sense of Ph.D. program, he said.

“This feels like a new step in my academic career, which I am very eager to begin,” he said.

In the master’s program, he studied how fish process and integrate sensory information. He plans to pursue related research in the Ph.D. program.

As a master’s student, Nabatian conducted research on how high-fat diets affect the brain’s dopamine reward system, known to be involved in habit formation and addictive and compulsive behaviors.

She had scant neuroscience research experience before joining the program, but because of the support and training in the master’s program, she now feels confident she can handle the Ph.D. program. “The Cognitive Neuroscience program allowed me to gain the skills and knowledge to succeed as a doctoral student,” she said.

Nabatian, a Macaulay Honors College graduate who will be in the Ph.D. Program in Biology (Neuroscience subprogram), advised current and prospective master’s students to “take the time to consider what works best for you and remember that it’s an adjustment for everyone, and no one has it completely figured out yet.” For students planning to go for a doctorate, she recommended, “Take advantage of any opportunities to further learn about your areas of interest in your field to develop a clearer picture of what you hope to study.”

Shor and Reyes also offered advice to current and aspiring Cognitive Neuroscience students.

“I believe that if you are accepted to this master’s program, you’re already halfway in the door to a Ph.D., as the program provides you with all the tools to succeed as a scientist,” Shor said. “I would suggest all of the master’s students take advantage of all the auxiliary workshops, seminars, etc., that the program provides.”

“We all have strengths and weaknesses,” Reyes said. “Be honest with yourself about yours and take advantage of every possible opportunity to grow as a scholar.”

Her next goal after obtaining a Ph.D. is to be a professor. “I want to inspire other females to pursue a career in cognitive neuroscience,” she said.

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