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Forrest Rogers: OSP Co-Founder and Editor, and a PhD Student in Biological Psychology at the University of California, Davis.
Written and Edited by S.L. Guerra, Ph.D.
As the son of a biochemist and a high school educator, Forrest Rogers was encouraged to pursue science and other academic studies from a very early age. Between seeing his mother working in the lab and having dedicated mentors throughout his early schooling in Oklahoma, he quickly fostered an interest in the biological sciences that ultimately led him to pursue his Ph.D. in Biological Psychology, with a few twists and turns along the way.
Forrest is currently a PhD Candidate in Biological Psychology at UC Davis, but his journey to the Golden State started in his hometown of Stillwater, OK. He attended public school there and started to develop an interest in science in preschool, though his full passion did not bloom until he entered his sophomore year at Stillwater High School. While in high school, Forrest was a serious student that dedicated his time to coursework in biology and French. It was these good grades and his extracurricular involvement in Youth Government, Student Council, and French Club that opened doors for many leadership scholarships.
“I would say I was a really serious student and that really paid off in the long run.”
Oklahoma State University
Forrest chose to attend Oklahoma State University because they offered extensive opportunities and funding for undergraduate research plus a strong degree program in biological sciences. This academic excellence combined with its convenience and affordability made it the perfect choice. In fact, his entire college tuition was paid through Oklahoma’s Promise (OHLAP), a program that gives qualifying Oklahoma students tuition to attend an Oklahoma public university. Forrest was able to cover his fees and living expenses through his leadership and merit scholarships he earned in high school, only taking out a small loan to fund a study abroad semester in Paris where he was able to further develop his French skills. Ultimately, Forrest completed two degrees: one in Biological Sciences and the another in French.
From Medicine to the Lab Bench
Forrest began college as a Physiology major, first pursuing medical school as his next step. But after conducting undergraduate research in two separate labs, he fell in love with science and the process of the work. The hands-on experience in the lab made him reconsider his future goals. He pivoted from three years taking Physiology coursework that focused heavily on healthcare topics, to a new less specific major of Biological Sciences so he could explore a wider range of topics including botany and ecology.
Forrest’s undergraduate research first centered on the social behavior and neuroscience in prairie voles, a small rodent model for social monogamy and parenting behavior, working in the lab of Dr. Alexander Ophir (now at Cornell University) in the Department of Integrative Biology. Following two years studying prairie voles, Forrest then had the opportunity to work with Dr. Jennifer Byrd-Craven in the Department of Psychology to study hormones and romantic relationships. It was his passion for behavior and biology that ultimately led him to pursue his degree in Biological Psychology.
His experience in undergraduate research at Oklahoma State University was the primary reason he pursued his PhD in the first place. He credits the research as a primary driver of his ability to attend graduate school.
“I think my undergraduate research experience is 99% of the reason I was able to get into graduate school. My undergraduate research experience showed me hand how science is done, from the rest questions you have to the answers you gain and the process in-between. If I had not done undergraduate research, I don't think that I would have pursued my PhD. I really fell in love with science and the process of science once I had the opportunity to get hands on experience.”
Forrest was very passionate about his undergraduate research, so much so that he chose a graduate school based primarily his research interests, following them to a lab at the University of California - Davis run by Dr. Karen Bales. Dr. Bales had an opening for a new graduate student in her lab and Forrest was excited to join to study his specific sub-discipline of behavioral neuroendocrinology, the study of how hormonal processes in the brain drive behavior.
His PhD program takes about five years to complete and consists of coursework and research in the first two years of the program. After he finished his first two years, the vast majority of his time has been spent doing research. He gets paid as a graduate student to conduct this research work, which can vary from planning the studies, actively conducting them, analyzing data, to writing up and presenting his results. He spends time in the lab mentoring undergraduates in research- a small way to pay it forward, encouraging and inspiring others to pursue a research career path like he did.
Biological and Affective Psychology
Psychology is a broad scientific field that could be split in a few ways. Some psychologists may earn a masters degree or doctorate (either PsyD or PhD) in order to work as a counsellor, a therapist, or clinical psychologist in order to work with patients (or clients) to promote mental health. For example, soldiers returning from war might seek the help of a clinical psychologist to receive help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other psychologists are researchers, and do not work with patients or psychologist. Instead, they work with people and non-human animal models to study things like cognition, emotion, and behavior. This broad category of experimental psychology can be split into smaller research areas, or “sub-disciplines”. For example, according to the American Psychological Association, Social psychology is the study of how individuals affect and are affected by other people and by their social and physical environments. Other sub-disciplines include child or developmental psychology, quantitative psychology, health psychology, quantitative psychology, etc. Forrest studies what is known as Biological Psychology, as well as Affective Psychology.
Biological Psychology is the sub-discipline of Psychology that is concerned with explaining psychological phenomena (e.g. behavior or emotion) in terms of biology. Some people know biological psychology by the name of Behavioral Neuroscience, emphasizing the study of behavior and the brain. Forrest studies how the brain and physiological systems in the body influence behavior and affect, which includes things like emotions and moods.
Return of the Prairie Voles
Forrest has continued to work with prairie voles in graduate school and recently completed a study using data he collected on parenting behavior on prairie voles. These animals are interesting to researchers because like humans, both the mother and father prairie voles show care towards their children. Forrest found that the parenting behavior of mothers and fathers changes over time from one litter to the next, a finding that provides valuable information for the understanding of parenting in monogamous species. Forrest is also conducting research exploring the ways that early social systems (like family) influence the way brains and behavior develop.
Translation from Voles to People
Forrest has also expanded his research into the field of affective psychophysiology, the study of how things like emotions and mood are reflected in physiology (e.g. in heart function, hormones, etc.). He is currently conducting research under the advisement of Dr. Wendy Berry Mendes at the University of California, San Francisco. Specifically, Forrest is investigating how the relationship between parents and children change during the early pubertal transition, a period between childhood and adulthood that is characterized by extensive neurobiological and behavioral change.
For more information on the research Forrest Rogers is doing, check out the lab of his mentor at UC Davis, Dr. Karen Bales: https://bales.faculty.ucdavis.edu/ ; and the lab of his mentor at UCSF, Dr. Wendy Berry Mendes: https://www.wendyberrymendes.com
For more information on undergraduate research opportunities at Oklahoma State University, check out: https://scholardevelopment.okstate.edu/