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An Interview With Emily Sakamoto, Neuropsychology Graduate Student

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Emily Sakamoto is a Neuropsychology graduate student at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia. Although her primary academic focus is neuropsychology, she also studies health psychology. Currently, Emily works as a graduate research assistant producing important research on COVID-19, as well as HIV. Emily will soon be starting her practicum at a private neuropsychological practice, conducting assessments and evaluations. In her private life, she is a passionate kitten and cat foster owner that is heavily involved with local shelters and rescues.                                               

What do you love most about studying neuropsychology?

A lot of that comes down to my research, which I find very mentally stimulating. You assimilate all the information at hand and then use it to come up with something that you didn’t know the answer to before. Plus, I’m working side-by-side with a lot of my classmates and professors. We’re all involved in our respective academic pursuits together and it’s a very open process. Anybody can choose to research anything. It’s pretty much what we make of it. 

What would you tell others looking to get into your industry?

I would say definitely be flexible. When I started the program, I thought that I knew what I wanted to do. But the more I was exposed to information and the more people I met, the more I found out what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were, and that helped me figure out what kind of career I want that is sustainable. It’s great to have goals going into your academic career, but don’t try to force something in the beginning. I also think listening to your gut is important. Eventually, you’ll learn what’s right for you, but the best way to make that happen is to remain flexible.

What keeps you motivated?

With school, it’s definitely digging into new research. For a lot of people, the main goal is to add stuff to their CV, but there are so many opportunities outside of that—to present at conferences or submit papers and really get to know people in the neuropsychology community. I’m highly motivated by wanting to meet other people in this field and learn from them and talk with them, and I think that’s really important. What keeps me excited is knowing that I’m going to be making more connections and that I have all these options ahead of me. I want to make sure I do well in my fifth year, which is an internship year and largely regarded as the most important year of graduate school for neuropsychology because it can create so many future opportunities. As for fostering cats, I don’t need any motivation for that. I feel very strange when I don’t have one around me!

Who has been a role model to you and why?

A lot of my classmates in my graduate cohort inspire me. It really is a situation where we’re all in it together. We’re all working for the same thing. Everyone tries to help each other reach their goals, and I’ve found it to be a very influential and rewarding experience in the way that I look at myself. 

Also, I look up to every single person at CatRangers, the shelter that I coordinate my cat fostering with. They are so passionate about what they do. They know every single cat on a personal basis. They take in a lot of cats but they’re so careful about where they place them. They really have a true vetting process, and they’re constantly in touch with me to keep me aware of the progress my fosters are making and who might be a good adopter for a cat. They also have a really good relationship with a lot of the animal hospitals in the area. I look up to them because they give their cats really good care, which is evident even in how they keep the place so clean. They care about cats so much. 

How do you maintain a work life balance?

I like to FaceTime with people who are close to me if I can’t see them during the week.

I also enjoy taking my cats on stroller walks. I put them in a mesh baby stroller and walk them around and they seem to really enjoy it. It’s a great way to advertise that they’re up for adoption. People ask about the stroller all the time. It really gets peoples’ attention. I’ve even made my cats little business cards that I hand out to people when they ask. Hopefully, it gets the word out that they need a home.

I also listen to podcasts in my spare time and that helps me maintain a balance. It helps bring me out of my head while I’m driving, showering, or prepping meals at home. Some of my favorite podcasts are Youre Wrong About, where the hosts talk about how we should reconsider cultural things that have happened in our history, and then there’s one called Slow Burn, which is a history podcast that goes into American politics. Another is called This is Actually Happening. It explores real life stories about people that seem unbelievable, and it’s really entertaining. I enjoy podcasts that can take me out of the work or school space. Another thing I do that is not work or school-related is work through creating all of the recipes in The Sopranos Cookbook, which is based on the TV show. I love to cook for people. I’m not going to say I’m a food pusher, but I love watching people eat my food. I get recipes from other people that I know, like co-workers and family members, and try to prepare their favorites.

What trends in your industry excite you?

Neuropsychologists can only prescribe in some states. These states are Idaho, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Iowa. They can prescribe in Puerto Rico and Guam, too, however, these are US territories and not states. I believe Psychologists in the US military can prescribe, as well. I know that there has been some pertinent legislation making its way through various states. For example, Florida has a bill that was recently drafted that would allow neuropsychologists to prescribe medication for mental health illnesses or any neuropsychiatric issues, but it is not yet law.

As a neuropsychologist, I would like to understand how medication and treatment work together. Regardless of whether people in my field are able to prescribe or not, that’s something I’m really interested in and I want to learn more about. I hope to learn more about pharmacology in the upcoming years. I’m also really interested in seeing what happens with the legislation regarding prescribing laws in the various states in the next few years. Things seem to be heading in a positive direction.

Outside of work and school, what defines you as a person? 

My love of fostering cats is the main thing. I’m fairly well-known for fostering kittens and cats. I initially began because I couldn’t travel to get my own cat because of COVID-19. I started fostering in October of 2020, and I’ve fostered 15 kittens and cats, one after the other, including a mom and her babies.

I pretty much work exclusively with CatRangers in Buford, Georgia. They’re awesome. They’re basically an open house shelter. All their cats are free to roam. The only ones that are kept in crates are ones that might be sick or just came in and need to be quarantined. But I’ve fostered with almost every single shelter in the Atlanta area, and I’ve decided to stick with CatRangers because they’re so awesome. I can be involved in the process the whole time through to adoption. I’ve learned a lot in terms of taking care of sick animals. For example, some of the kittens that I’ve fostered have had eyelid agenesis so their eyelids aren’t fully formed, or they had partial blindness, FIV+ (which is the feline version of HIV), upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, kidney issues, obesity, skin infections—I’ve even had cats that were incredibly picky eaters and I couldn’t get them to eat for the longest time. But I love it. It is my biggest passion outside of school. People have referred to me as the neighborhood cat dealer because I have gotten so many kittens and cats adopted. I’m still in touch with most of them. I love that I get to see these cats and kittens, and people often call me over to groom them or watch them. I am really involved in my community outside of work and school in that way.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’ll most likely be in my internship or my postdoc, probably in a different state. This is a difficult question for me to answer because there are still so many details that are yet to come clear. In terms of fostering cats, I’ll definitely be doing that forever.

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