SNP Student Spotlight: Sara Rose Shannon

Sara Rose Shannon poses at the historic Duke Chapel.

Sara Rose Shannon is a senior with a major in neuroscience and minors in global health and chemistry. Shannon credits her curiosity as the main factor that brought her to Summer Neuroscience Program (SNP) – an eight-week Duke summer program that enables undergraduates to jumpstart their senior theses by working one-on-one with faculty mentors.

“Since I developed such a love for Neuroscience, I chose Duke because it has so many talented researchers, and this program was the one that stuck out in comparison to the others,” Shannon said. “Duke is also located close enough to home, but far enough to expand my horizons and explore a different world.”

The Manhattan native fell in love with Neuroscience when she interned at New York City’s world-renowned Mount Sinai Hospital and researched stem cells related to schizophrenia during her later years of high school. During her junior year of high school, she discovered a program called Gap Medics, a summer program where she traveled to Poland and shadowed doctors.

“I went to Poland and shadowed a pediatric neurosurgeon, which allowed me to go in during surgeries. It was inspiring to see this work and I immediately grew excited to learn about the brain and help people” she noted. “Anything that I am impacted by instills a sense of curiosity in me that I then investigate with research”.

Shannon shared that she is a very curious person, and it is reflected in her past research, not all of which is related to neuroscience. Shannon enrolled in a biology class her freshman year at Duke and took a class that constitutes species’ intelligence. This caused her to wonder what intelligence looks like on an anatomical level and resulted in a study of the subject. The research examined the size of the cerebellum and the number of neurons across different species, which indicated that “the smaller the cerebellum and larger the number of neurons, the more intelligent the species.”

"Since I developed such a love for Neuroscience, I chose Duke because it has so many talented researchers, and this program was the one that stuck out in comparison to the others."

“Anything that impacts me leads me to conduct research,” she shared. Throughout her undergraduate time so far, Shannon has conducted many different research projects with varying lengths on a more macro level while assisting others with research. However, this was her first opportunity to delve more deeply into one study and come up with a paradigm of her own.

During the Fall 2021 semester, Shannon also studied in Copenhagen with Professor Claudia Carrara-Augustenborg, of unconscious processing, specifically unconscious arithmetic calculations. The study examined where participants embedded numbers into prompts, which were followed by a series of questions – some of which would ask them to choose between two products connected to numbers in the prompt. Most participants selected the product of the two numbers more times than not. After this study, and after viewing the results, she found the trend of people selecting the sum without being told to multiply.

“My goal was to find out if participants were multiplying the two numbers in their head deliberately, or if they have been subconsciously primed from a young age to associate the numbers with the products” she said.

Shannon has taken a neuroscience approach – eye-tracking – to look at which parts of the prompt were examined more by participants to determine the levels of attention needed to calculate, which she continues to study during her studies in SNP. She believes that her time in SNP has allowed her the opportunity to challenge herself to make a long-term commitment to her interests through dedicated time, concluding with her senior thesis.

After graduation, Shannon’s goals are to take a gap period before entering medical school where she will continue to conduct research. She aspires to do so in a neuroscience-based lab and will choose between the clinical side and the translational side.