Senior Maggie Pecsok named Pyne Prize Winner

Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018

Pecsok, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, in concentrating in psychology and is also pursuing a certificate in cognitive science. She received the Howard Crosby Warren Junior Prize in Psychology in 2017. She is a member of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, a group of juniors and seniors who are committed to the study of humanistic inquiry and meet formally once a month with faculty members and distinguished guests.

Since her first year, Pecsok has been an undergraduate researcher in the Princeton Neuroscience of Attention and Perception Lab, under Sabine Kastner, professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, who is also serving as Pecsok’s thesis adviser.

For her senior thesis, Pecsok is combining neuroimaging analysis with an extensive literature review and discussion about how some symptoms of children with ADHD can contribute to creativity. “My hope is that work like this will help people understand that individuals with learning differences are not stupid, and in fact can benefit from a unique perspective or problem-solving approach,” she said.

“Maggie is the most outstanding undergraduate student that I have had the privilege to mentor and teach in my (almost) 18 years at Princeton,” Kastner said. “In her junior paper and senior thesis, she has worked on exploring the behavioral and neural bases of neurodevelopmental disorders such as dyslexia, attentional deficit disorder or dyspraxia. Many of us have witnessed Maggie’s beautiful service in the name of humanity, trying to make the world a better place for children who struggle.”

Pecsok’s international experience includes a PIIRS Global Seminar in Kyoto, Japan, the summer after her first year, and a student-initiated internship at the Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity in England in the summer of 2016, where she studied rhythmic fluctuations in visual attention.

After graduation, Pecsok will spend two years at Yale University researching multiple sclerosis in the neuroimmunology department. She plans to pursue a career as a physician scientist. She also has an interest in creative writing and hopes to write novels “that empower individuals navigating particular health challenges,” she said.

She is a member of Wilson College, where she has served as a residential college coordinator for the Wilson Peer Health Advisers. She also has been involved in Princeton University Chapel Choir and Princeton University Climbing Team.

For Outdoor Action — an orientation program for first-year students, led by returning students — Pecsok has served several roles: leader, leader trainer, committee chair, first aid instructor and technical skills instructor. As part of Outdoor Action, she is also a member of Peak Potential Princeton, a community service climbing program for children with disabilities, a commitment she said is particularly rewarding.

“Each Friday, I get to rock climb with a kid who is overcoming incredible challenges,” Pecsok said. “They’re really inspiring. One time, I was 30 feet up the wall with a kid who had cerebral palsy, who suddenly turned to me and said, ‘I do this because I have problems with my legs and I’m afraid of heights.’ I was blown away. Peak also connects with my interests in medicine and psychology because I get to see how non-pharmaceutical interventions can be so powerful.”

Receiving the Pyne Prize, Pecsok said, “is an indescribable honor to receive recognition from the school I love so dearly. Princeton has been my home, and has given me mentors, friends and countless opportunities to grow, learn and connect with others. I am so grateful to be a part of this community, and receiving this award warms my heart.”