What field in Neuroscience did you study?
I studied behavioral neuroscience.
What about the research process did you enjoy?
I love coming up with questions that expand on current research. I also love working with students and helping them learn how to conduct research.
Did you prefer gathering the data, brainstorming its meaning, the writing process, defending your research, presenting your research, etc?
I love gathering and analyzing data. Not a huge fan of the writing process but that is part of the job. Poster presentations are good but talks still intimidate me.
Do you still conduct research or has your career taken you to other places? Why is that?
I still conduct research but on a different scale. I work solely with undergraduate students. Our projects are smaller than ones you might see at the big research institutions, but we are still able to ask interesting questions and the students learn the research process.
Has your career path changed since you graduated? Why or why not?
My career path has mostly remained constant since I graduated. I had to take a short hiatus right after I finished my Ph.D. because I was diagnosed with Brain cancer. (Ironic right) Once I got the clean bill of health, I started a post-doc at a small liberal arts college and began learning how to conduct research at a smaller institute.
What are some things you’ve been involved in since you graduated from the program?
From a career perspective, I have been involved in a lot of different types of behavioral neuroscience research. I worked with Kelly Lambert for 5 years investigating stress and resilience and maternal behavior. We even taught rats to drive cars. The rats were able to steer their car toward the food reward. I’ve joined and been an active member of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society. After getting a tenure track position, I continue to collaborate with Kelly and Alison Bell at UIUC. With their help, I can provide interesting research projects to my students for summer research.
What is one major change that happened since graduation that you did not expect?
The biggest change for me was getting brain cancer. I had just finished my oral defense and still had to finish the thesis paper when I received the diagnosis. My entire life I have had plans for each stage. I may not have known exactly what was in store, but I knew the road I wanted to travel down, such as going to college, then graduate school, then post-doc, and finally a tenure track position. It was during graduate school that I figured out how much I loved teaching and wanted to be at a smaller school so I could have more contact with my students. The cancer diagnosis put everything on hold. I had to turn down job interviews and focus on surgery, recovery, radiation, chemo, and recovery. I was able to combine my ultimate recovery with my post-doc with Kelly and continue my road, but I wasn’t sure for a while. With the help of some amazing people in Illinois, I was able to recover and continue my path until I moved out to Virginia to work with Kelly. Without Alison Bell and Sam Beshers in NSP and Elizabeth Good in MCB, I’m not sure where I would be now.
On the lighter side, having to teach in uniform and not the standard scientist uniform of jeans and a t-shirt was been a big change. I don’t mind but it’s interesting having students salute and continuously call me ma’am.
How has your personal life developed since you graduated?
My personal life has been relatively the same. I’ve moved from the Midwest to the East Coast. I have a fantastic family still in the Midwest that I can see but I have been able to start forming a wonderful support system in Virginia. I have a dog and a cat that keep me company. My dog can be smarter than me at times. She’s learned to open locked doors and be persistent to get what she wants.
How would you say you’ve changed since graduating?
I’ve changed a lot since I graduated from NSP. I’ve learned how short life is and to take things less seriously. Life will not end if I don’t finish a project on time or help every person I can. I’ve conquered my fears of talking in front of large groups of people. I’ve learned to stop second-guessing myself and realize that I am good at what I do.
As a graduate student, was there anything you did that stood out to you or that you have fond memories of doing?
I loved interacting with the other students. Open house is the memory that stands out the most because with the help of faculty, staff, and students in NSP we were able to change the entire open house process to what is used today. Graduate school is hard for each person that goes through it. Being able to work problems out with other members of the program and learn from each other is my fondest memory.
Have you been back to campus since graduation? If so, when and why? If not, then why haven’t you returned?
I have been back to campus a few times. First to finish up some projects from my dissertation and then to visit friends. I returned shortly after I left in 2014 and again in 2017. Thankfully, I can see many friends and colleagues at conferences to keep in touch.
What impact do you hope your thesis has on the field of Neuroscience? If you are currently in research, what do you hope your work has on the field? If not, then how do you feel about the impact you left on the field and its importance?
I don’t really think my thesis will leave a huge impact on the field of neuroscience, but I hope someone can use what I learned to further their own research. Regardless, it left an impact on me and helped me to determine where I wanted to go. I’ve been able to use what I learned, good and bad, during graduate school to educate the next generation. I know I have helped many students on their paths since I was at Illinois. Helping others and teaching others is what I hope will continue in the field.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
I tell my students that I am not the one who is going to cure a disease or make a huge discovery, but I hope that those I teach will. Therefore I chose to build my career at a small teaching institution, where I have a personal connection to each and every student who comes through my lab. Those I teach and mentor will be my legacy.