This past weekend, Nathaniel Allen concluded his time as a student and athlete at Florida Tech. However, this busy individual has more work ahead.
Allen is a neuropsychology graduate and former captain on the Panthers swim team, where he qualified for the NCAA Championships this past season– all as a first-generation college student. Now he has another achievement to be proud of: Allen was awarded a full scholarship and stipend for the doctoral program in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins, a rare achievement for an undergraduate.
Behind the accolades is some serious scholarship in the form of Allen’s research on nonconscious (also known as unconscious) memory. Allen’s study focused on the hippocampus, an area of the brain that has a significant role on learning and memory and that uses past experiences to remember things without intentionally recollecting them, such as the ability to ride a bicycle.
The study used data from a project Rick Addante, an associate professor in the School of Psychology, had worked on in 2021. The papers aren’t related, but the data collection procedure was the same. Allen initially used the same analytic parameters as a 2015 hippocampus study by Addante to replicate the findings, then proceeded to further specify and characterize what he had by targeting a more specific area and conducting multiple analyses.
The findings of Allen’s work backed up Addante’s study, which suggested the hippocampus plays a role in unconscious memory.
Interested in mapping the brain’s processes from a neuroscientific perspective, Allen was also eager to use a bit of his philosophy minor in this research. He is exploring questions that have no simple answers, such as whether the mind is separable from the brain and what memories are.
“I think explorations of the unconscious mind, or in this particular experiment, implicit memory, are really interesting connections between what were originally solely philosophical questions, until we got to the point now with the technology that we have and the methodologies that we have, where we can begin to explore those scientifically,” Allen said. “It’s kind of a breakdown of both fields in which we’re using these incredibly high-tech and sophisticated measurements and procedures to tackle things that are so hard to properly define, as far as the subjective nature of lived experience.”
Allen was a member of Florida Tech’s swim team during his time at the university. In March his presentation of the unconscious memory paper was delayed as he was at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis. Allen has been successfully balancing his athletic training and his academic responsibilities, time management skills he started developing in middle school that have grown into the dedication and discipline that serve him in college.
The unforgiving nature of his chosen sport, where a fraction of a second can be the difference between first place and a lower finish, helped Allen with staying locked in on goals both in and out of the water.
“Understanding that and living that day in, day out, in that kind of sport, gives you a sense of how seriously you have to take things, even in the minutiae of doing a drill, any random day at practice, knowing just how much every little thing happens and affects what you do in those races,” he said. “The same way in school, right? Every second that you spend studying or are working on a project or engaged in a lecture, asking questions, things like that, are all up to you.”
Adding to Allen’s focus is an understanding of the sacrifices others have made for him to have educational opportunities. As first-generation college students, Allen and his older sister saw how hard their parents worked even as they emphasized the importance of going to school. There was never a question of going to college for Allen. The support his family has provided encouraged him from a young age to pursue his goals in science.
“One thing that I’ll say that is constant has been my respect for how much work that they’ve done to get where they are and how successful they are today, and how much respect I have for the work ethic that they’ve instilled into me, on that same vein,” Allen said.