Nikki Honzel, Ph.D.

Nikki Honzel Image

Associate Professor - Psychology

Areas of Specialization: Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr. Nikki Honzel is an associate professor of Psychology at Carroll College.  Dr. Honzel is an expert in electrophysiological recordings and has used this neuroimaging technique to investigate a wide range of topics.  She completed her undergraduate education at Colgate University in New York and her Ph.D. at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.  Dr. Honzel spent six years working at the Veterans Affair Medical Center in Northern California investigating cognitive changes in patients with traumatic brain injury as well as patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.  During this time, Dr. Honzel researched how to identify a neurological biomarker to detect symptom severity in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Dr. Honzel also examined neurological changes associated with making risky decisions following severe brain injury.  Currently, Dr. Honzel is evaluating impulsivity and mental health in undergraduates.  Recent work includes utilizing specific neuropsychological assessments to compare executive function across a wide range of conditions. More about her previous research at Carroll can be found here.

Courses taught:
Physiological Psychology; Brain and Behavior; Intro into Psych; Abnormal Psychology; Research Methods; Special topics: Substance Abuse and PTSD; Depression, Trauma and Madness in Literature

The brain is the most incredible organ in your body and one of the most complex. My goal has always been to explain neurological processes in a way that inspires others to want to learn more about this important organ.

My passion for neuroscience began as an undergraduate at Colgate University working in a brain imaging lab measuring neurological activity in human participants. My education continued at the University of Louisville. I had many incredible opportunities, including setting up a brain imaging lab in Finland for two months. My primary research project tested newborn infants at a hospital. We placed electrode nets on the infant’s head and recorded brain activity while they listened to speech sounds. Our research was able to predict, from 24 hours of age, which child would develop dyslexia based on these electrophysiological components. 

After graduate school, I became a post-doctoral researcher at University of California, Davis, and the Northern California Veteran’s Affairs (VA) hospital working with post-traumatic stress disorder patients (PTSD). Our research team found that patients with PTSD showed heightened levels of impulsivity that was significantly related to the severity of certain symptoms. Working with patients was so rewarding that I continued as a research neuroscientist for an additional four years. My primary job was to discover a biological marker indicative of PTSD. If you would like to learn more about my previous research, you can find it here.

There were many additional opportunities working at the VA. My position allowed me to observe and assess neurological exams for patients with a variety of unusual brain disorders. I applied and received grant funding to bring neurologists to the VA to discuss their latest research. And, I taught as an instructor at a few local universities, including the University of California, Berkeley. These experiences continue to contribute to my teaching-style.

I became a professor in the Psychology department in 2015. Many of my classes discuss opportunities I had working at the hospital. For example, in Physiological Psychology, we evaluate what happens when you injure different parts of your brain using specific case studies. In Brain and Behavior, we discuss the impact of hormones and pharmacological treatments for a wide range of disorders. A collaboration with the Fort Harrison VA created a service-learning course where students volunteered in the Behavioral Health Unit at the hospital. A course, co-taught with Professor Graham in the English department, focused on diagnosing symptoms of mental illness in literary characters. Working at the hospital for six years as a researcher greatly increased my ability to conduct various types of research projects. Since my arrival to Carroll, I have supervised and supported over 100 students in 30, unique, student-led research projects that were presented at professional conferences. Additionally, I have continued to publish with my colleagues at the VA hospital; however, I am most proud of the two publications co-authored with Carroll students (and the students were the first author! You can read one of them here).

This past year, Dr. Otto-Hitt (Biology) and I started a Neuroscience minor. We both want the minor to include neuroscience research opportunities. I am currently working on establishing funding for the first high-density electrophysiology brain imaging lab in Montana. 

Finally, on a personal note, I am happy to be back in Montana. I first moved to Helena as a child when my dad became a professor at Carroll over 30 years ago. I remember certain “bring your daughter to work” days where I would listen in on one of my father’s classes. As an adult, I enjoyed living in many different areas. However, when my husband and I had a child, we knew we wanted to be closer to both of our families. In 2014, my husband and I bought a house directly behind my parents. Many mornings, after I drop my child off at school, I often walk to Carroll with my dad. Now, every day is “take your daughter to work” day.

Ph.D. at the University of Louisville