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USciences Launches Career Change for Alumnus

By Katherine Tancredi

Erik BenauIn 2010, Erik Benau MS’13 was considering a career as a teacher when he found University of the Sciences master’s program in health psychology. He had been enrolled in a PhD program that had not been a good fit, and was looking for a new direction. It was at USciences that he found the balance between his desire to study the brain, while also working with the people that they are attached to.

“USciences showed me it is possible to do both,” said Benau. “I can continue to balance teaching and research with clinical work where I can interact with patients.”

Although he was familiar with USciences through his father, Danny A. Benau, PhD, who is director of the Biomedical Writing Programs, it was not until after speaking with Stephen Moelter, PhD, that Benau made his decision. The deciding factor for Benau was the opportunity to have access to an electroencephalogram (EEG) system, a method to record electrical brain activity, which was unique to USciences’ Cognitive Neuropsychology Laboratory.

“Dr. Moelter had just acquired an EEG system, something that I had ample undergraduate and post-baccalaureate experience using and wanted to continue to use,” Benau recalled. “Since it was a new system, I would be able to have a major role in its set up and maintenance. I had applied to a few master’s programs at the time, but USciences was the shining, best fit.”

Benau was able to work closely with Dr. Moelter, who became his mentor at the University, to install the EEG system from the ground up. In addition to research experience, he also learned how to make the practical decisions, from selecting the dish soap to clean the EEG to setting a budget.

“It was nice to be coached in the pragmatic stuff,” said Benau. “Setting up a lab is a nice skill set to have.”

Benau credits his opportunity to work with the EEG system with launching his current research. He was able to use the EEG to perform research for his thesis, “Lexical Decisions and the Error-Related Negativity,” a portion of which went on to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. That in turn triggered interest in his current research on interoception, the perception of hunger and thirst and internal bodily states. Benau is currently in his fourth year of his PhD program at the University of Kansas and hopes to become earn a psychiatry faculty position or work at a hospital.

“Having a small dedicated program with a lot of support, I was able to do a lot of learning while being mentored on how to accomplish self-directed research,” said Benau.

Benau also had ample opportunities for professional development and to make close connections with his professors. Benau worked most with Dr. Moelter, who was his primary adviser and mentor, but he was also able to work closely with other faculty members.

For incoming students, Benau has some advice.

“There are many, many opportunities to be had in the school and in the area, but these opportunities are unlikely to land at your feet. I have worked in several places where these opportunities simply don’t exist, no matter how persistent you may be. So, my advice would be take advantage of the environment, be persistent, flexible and open minded and you will do well.”

Categories: News, Alumni, Profiles, Proven Everywhere, Research, Academics, Misher College, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Health Psychology