6th Annual Neuroscience Graduate Program Awards Ceremony

The annual Graduates in Neuroscience (GIN) Awards ceremony is an opportunity to dress black-tie and celebrate students and faculty alike, and the perfect way to end another long academic year. Each year, members of our Neuroscience Community are recognized for outstanding achievements in scholarship, research and service. This year’s event was a great success, with fantastic food, libations, and even a photo booth!

Congratulations, winners!

Scientific Outreach: Lyndie Wood

Lyndie - Service

Lyndie repeatedly demonstrates her love for scientific outreach. She is about to complete her term as Student Representative of the Atlanta Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, during which time she has organized a Classroom Matching Program which connects local scientists and teachers for outreach opportunities. This amazing program has reached 50 local classrooms, helping teach more than 4,000 students! Additionally, she visits the Atlanta Children’s Shelter to teach homeless preschoolers in their summer program. If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Lyndie is also working on creating neuroscience teaching materials and lesson plans for students and she teaches a week-long neuroscience module for 7th grade students. Lyndie clearly values scientific outreach and promotes positive change in our local communities.

University Service: Mary Herrick

Mary.jpgMary has repeatedly demonstrated her commitment to giving back to her Emory community. She was elected GSGA Executive Vice President, the second highest graduate position on Emory’s campus. She was instrumental in “restructuring SGA to allow GSGA to act as an autonomous body.”  In addition, she served as Secretary of the LGSC. She is now President of LGSC for the 2018-2019 academic year, where she hopes to continue to give back to her community at Emory. She has improved our university during her time at Emory and is extremely deserving of the University Service Award this year!

Leadership: Archana Venkataraman 

ArchanaArchana has demonstrated her leadership skills repeatedly as President of GIN. Archana’s positive attitude and willingness to get involved sets her apart as a leader. As president, she has helped organize retreat, promote GIN events, and is truly invested in “fostering a strong sense of community within our program”. She has served as Frontiers Coordinator, as Neuroscience Graduate Student Representative, and helped organize the Neurobuddy Program. We look forward to the improvements she and her co-president will bring about in the coming year!

Outstanding Early Scientific Achievement: Dan Li

Dan, an MD/PhD student, has taken the Neuroscience Program by storm. He has already published four papers with another in submission and yet another in preparation! In addition, Dan submitted an NRSA F30 to NIMH that was funded upon first submission, with an incredible 6th percentile score.

Liz and Dan

Outstanding Scientific Achievement: Elizabeth Barfield

Liz’s outstanding scientific achievement started early in her graduate career, when she was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2015. This past winter alone, she published a first-author paper in the high impact journal ,Plos Biology and another in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience! More recently, she submitted a whopping 17,000 word review paper! In total, she has published five manuscripts, presented ten posters and given seven oral presentations. Liz also presented at Frontiers this Spring, one of the highest honors in the Neuroscience Program. She is clearly very deserving of the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award!

Excellence in Teaching: Rachel Cliburn Branco


Rachel has demonstrated her love for teaching repeatedly during her time at Emory. She has served as teaching staff and Teacher’s Assistant for several courses at Emory and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Rachel was also Teaching Assistant for two Emory Neuroscience in Paris study abroad trips! Additionally, she has designed and implemented two courses: “Drugs and Society” and “Neuroscience and Literature”. Her many accomplishments make her extremely deserving of the Excellence in Teaching award this year!


Excellence in Mentorship: Maria Briscione-Vizza

Maria was my student mentor when I started my first rotation in Dr. Ellen Hess’ lab; thus, it is no surprise to me that she won the award for excellence in mentorship. Maria has mentored nine students during her time as a PhD student. She shares her passion for science, teaches her students the realities of research, and has facilitated presentations via a Junior Journal Club to engage students in the larger questions of research. Maria recognizes the importance of a mentor in molding budding scientists and has always strived to enhance the student-lab experience.

GIN Student Service: Erin King


Although she was not a member of GIN, Erin has clearly demonstrated her support for the Neuroscience program by going out of her way to assist with recruitment. Additionally, she has played a critical role in setting up and organizing the recruitment poster sessions. She is very much deserving of this service award. We can’t wait to see how Erin continues to improve the Neuroscience Program as she begins her term as President of GIN!

GIN Faculty of the Year: Sam Sober, Ph.D

Sam Sober.JPG

Dr. Sam Sober is extremely committed to the students in the Neuroscience Program. Not only does he have a spectacular lab, but he also teaches several classes in IBS 526, for which he received Exemplary Lecturer of the Year Award in 2016. In addition to his lab and teaching, Dr. Sober has been a champion of the neuroscience  students, promoting transparency between faculty and students. He has been a major force for positive change. We look forward to working with Dr. Sober to improve our program further!

GIN Exemplary Lecturer: Randy Hall, Ph.D 

Every lecturer brings something new to the class, whether it is their novel teaching method, dynamic personality or entertaining anecdotes. Dr. Randy Hall stands out from this crowd. Randy has a dynamic personality and many entertaining anecdotes that add color to his classes. His IBS514 module was clear and concise, his lecturing style engaging and his excitement for the material contagious. His emphasis on taking class content one step further to test the boundaries of our understanding is what sets him apart as a lecturer, and he certainly deserved this year’s Exemplary Lecturer of the Year Award

Director’s Award for Extraordinary Leadership: Elizabeth Hinton & Lyndie Wood 

Lyndie and Zibby.JPG

This special award goes to students who have demonstrated extraordinary and outstanding leadership. Both Libby and Lyndie are more than deserving of this award. The sentiment is shared, as they received a standing ovation as they approached the stage to collect their award. This year alone, the pair were responsible for organizing two Town Hall meetings. They have advocated for improving policies and increasing awareness among all people involved in the neuroscience program, working to improve transparency between faculty and students. Theyalso established the Peer Liaison position in GIN. Their overall commitment to causing positive change and improving our program is extremely admirable.

Calabrese/Smith Neuroscience Service Award: David Weinshenker, Ph.D

Dr. David Weinshenker has served as Director of the Neuroscience program for the past three years and has consistently advocated for his students during this time. His ability to be a phenomenal mentor, professor and program director are certainly the reason he is the recipient of the Neuroscience Service Award.

The students and faculty who received this year’s GIN Awards were extremely impressive in not only academics but also university service. Each person has contributed something unique to our program. Congratulations, winners!Gary.JPG

Author: Trisha Lala

Editors: Simone Campbell & Kristie Garza

Photography by: Zibby Hinton


What Model Organism Are You?


By Amielle Moreno and Rachel Cliburn-Branco

What do you find the most terrifying?
a) Betrayal by a friend or loved-one.
b) Being lost in an unknown place.
c) Stranded on a desert island.
d) Trampled alive by a mass of people.
e) Loneliness.

You’ve just been assigned a new project with a firm deadline:
a) I’ll get to it when I get to it. No stress.
b) I get really excited about new assignments and design grand plans. My interest dips and before I know it, the deadline is in a couple days, and I’m rushing to finish.
c) I ask numerous people for their thoughts and ideas, maybe “borrowing” some approaches…

d) I have a steady pace, always working evenly towards my deadline
e) Persistent, committed and focused, I usually finish projects early.

You’re going to walk across campus:
a) I keep my eyes straight ahead, no eye contact with strangers.
b) I would rather avoid the rush between classes. Night time strolls always seem so peaceful.
c) Funding is always tight. On my way, I might see if other labs have left “free” supplies unattended.
d) What’s ‘walking’?
e) I’ll ask a friend to join me. Things are more fun with a buddy.

What is your lab bench/desk like?
a) It’s kinda messy with crumbs and papers strewn around.
b) It’s well stocked with snacks and water within reach.
c) Moist.
d) I definitely expand to the edge of my work space. Sometimes neighbors complain about my sprawl.

e) It’s right next to my favorite lab mate.

When you have a free night:
a) I like to hang out with my crew. We have a very specific social hierarchy.
b) I come alive! Where’s the party?
c) Yes, it’s finally dark. Now, let’s also make it quiet.
d) Light cycles mean little to me. I’m just as active during the day.
e) I like cuddling up with my special someone. Or if I’m single, you’ll find me on dates, trying to meet “the one.”

Describe your perfect blind date:

a) I like going out with a real leader, someone with drive, ambition and social clout.
b) My brother’s kinda cute…
c) Ugh, I’d rather cut off my arm.
d) I love when I find someone with the same interests. Someone like me!
e) I have never truly gotten over my first love… (wistful look into the distance)

Which letter did you pick the most?

a) Macaque Monkey: You mean business both at work and play which means you get things done. However, you can be a little too competitive and should consider other’s feelings. You get along great with other a

pes and mice.

b) Mousers or Mr. Meeces: You’re fun to be around; happy, chipper and excited about things. If only you were a little more focused academically and brave. Prairie voles can help you remind you what you love about science.

c) Blood Thirsty Leech: No one has seen you since you picked a PI and you’re draining them of their life-force and grant money. You’re cunning and use all the tricks in the book to get ahead. Be careful running afoul of social/professional climbing monkeys. They’ll take your harshness personal. Prairie voles and plates of cells serve your needs well.

d) Plate of Cells: Life’s pretty simple; you usually know what you want and what you have to do to get it. You’re adaptable and reasonable but this also means you sometimes aren’t adventurous and can be a real bore. Find a nice mouse to break you out of your monotony from time to time. You’re mostly immune to the games of leeches and they complement your work drive with their cunning.

e) Prairie Vole: Social and loyal, you like to make connections. This drive ends up serving you in professional collaborations. However, some friends have complained about how you dis

appear into relationships. Keep an eye out for new opportunities, instead of committing just to one project/person in your life. Avoid leeches.

Science Communication Close to Home

by Erica Landis

Learning how to communicate science to the public is vital for graduate students today; however, many programs do not offer formal training in communication. This gap has been filled by ComSciCon, an annual science communication training conference organized by and for graduate students interested in learning how to share their science knowledge with the wider world. ComSciCon is a national body which has given rise to a handful of regional meetings now joined by ComSciConATL. Organized by four graduate students (including our own Anzar Abbas), ComSciConATL brought together 50 graduate students from the Atlanta area and greater Southeast region in early March to learn science communication skills through interactive workshops, panels and networking with local experts, and collaboration between fellow attendees.

I first applied to attend the conference in December because I wanted an opportunity to improve my writing skills and learn more about science communication as a career. I was thrilled to hear a few weeks later that I would be able to go and even more excited to learn that fellow Neuroscience students Amielle Moreno, Carlie Hoffman, and Kristie Garza would be there too! By the time I left ComSciConATL after two packed days of learning and discussion, I felt more confident about my communication skills, had built a new and supportive network of peers and local communication experts, and was inspired to start telling the world about science. While I had dabbled in science communication previously, ComSciConATL prepared me to take it to the next level.

One thing that came up throughout the conference was the idea that there are many ways to communicate science but that doing it right requires intention. In each of the workshops and with each panel we learned about communication tools I had never thought to utilize before, including 3D printing and video games, plays and podcasts, and infographics and gifs. Now more than ever it seems young science communicators like us have access to a wide range of tools. Of course, each tool is only as good as its user. Several of the experts that participated in the conference stressed being intentional about how we tell science stories. We got advice on bringing rich details out of stories and how to balance the scientific accuracy with engaging details.

A moment of the conference that has stuck with me was during the panel on the second morning when scientist and outreach specialist Christopher Parsons reminded us that, “we have to have humility when approaching scientific engagement.” Scientists are becoming more enthusiastic about reaching out to the public but if we don’t take care to listen to what the public has to say or make those interactions mutually beneficial, we will only repeat mistakes from our collective past.

One of the best parts of being a ComSciConATL attendee was having the chance to discuss ideas like Parsons’ with the other attendees. In addition to hearing from science outreach experts, the conference allowed us to learn from each other, and I will say I really learned a lot. Toward the end of our two days together, we were invited to write our ideas on a Collaboration Wall where we could see projects and events others were planning and write responses or volunteer to help. I was impressed and inspired by everything my peers were thinking about, not to mention their ongoing projects in lab. We also had the opportunity to get feedback from each other on our elevator talks. This part of the conference was a surprise to us. Six of us at a time gave elevator talks in front of everyone throughout the two days. The audience got “Jargon” and “Awesome” cards to hold up as real-time feedback for the speaker. Giving a talk this way was intimidating but incredibly helpful. Activities like this helped us learn from each other and build a network of new collaborators.

While I went to ComSciConATL to practice writing and learn about career options, I left inspired and enthusiastic about the scientific research being done today and what it will mean for the public. Now, I and others that went to the conference have the skills to share that science with others. I believe the benefits of ComSciConATL will continue to help us in whatever comes next.

For other Neuroscience students interested in science communication, I strongly recommend applying to attend ComSciConATL next year! Expect those applications to open in late fall. You can also apply to attend the national ComSciCon meeting. If you just can’t wait, look out for the JPE 610 sessions How to translate “academia” into an accessible, meaningful story with Janece Schaffer, a playwright with The Alliance Theater who lead a similar session for ComSciConATL.

Photos taken by ComSciConATL organizers Anzar Abbas and Carleen Sabusap


Alumni Spotlight: Debra Cooper

by Kristie Garza

debra cooperDebra Cooper, Ph.D.
Year of Graduation: 2013
Advisor(s): David Weinshenker & Leonard Howell
Dissertation Title: Pharmacologic Dopamine β-Hydroxylase Inhibition: Effect On Cocaine-Induced Behavior and Neurochemistry

Current Position and Position Description:
Principal Consultant with the California State Senate Committee on Appropriations. Our office analyzes the fiscal impact of all bills that come through the CA State Senate. The basis of our analyses is “if this bill were to become a law, how much would it cost the state?” I am one of 7 consultants that produce these analyses. At the moment, I’m doing less “science policy” and more just general policy, though I intend to transition back into science policy eventually.

Why did you choose to leave academia?
I chose not to stay in academia initially because I didn’t enjoy grant writing. The less facetious answer is that I realized, through doing Brain Awareness Week and similar presentations, that I really enjoyed talking about science to non-scientists, and I wanted a career doing that. Once I made that realization, I started to look into either science communication or science policy as a career path.

What is one thing you have learned since graduation?
Networking isn’t a dirty word. People often make networking out to be this onerous task that’s a necessary evil. What I’ve learned is that successful networking is simply just building and fostering genuine relationships. The people who know you the best are the ones who are the most likely to recommend you to the next person or the next position.

What kind of skills did you learn in graduate school that were transferrable to transfer to your new job?
Most of what we do and learn in grad school can be transferred elsewhere. The most important skill in my job is communication (improved through posters presentations, talks, and papers). Other useful transferrable skills include being effective in fast paced environments (reaching deadlines), problem solving (adapting after negative/unexpected results), working well within a team (collaborations between and within labs), flexibility and adaptability (juggling experiments), being open-minded and willing to learn (every scientist naturally).

Describe something that graduate school did not prepare you for.
In graduate school, we’re expected to do a deep dive into previous research when doing literature searches. We go through as much relevant research as we can, weighing the merits, and only when we feel like we’ve done a thorough analysis do we make a conclusion. My current job works at a much faster pace and doesn’t accommodate the time for such a deep dive. I have to make judgment calls based on a much smaller set of data than my ‘scientist self’ is fully comfortable with. Being able to rapidly pull small subsets of information and form quick conclusions is definitely a skill that I’ve developed after grad school.

What is a piece of advice you would offer graduate students?
If you are even moderately interested in non-academic careers, start researching options today. Most professional society meetings have break-out sessions that highlight non-academic careers (I’m certain SfN and ASPET, the meetings I participated in the most, have them). I did the coursework for the Certificate in Translational Research while I was at Emory, which exposed me to people working in and around science at different levels. I never missed an opportunity to attend the non-academic careers symposia that GDBBS held. Attending these events alone isn’t enough though. It’s important to follow up with people that you meet at these events and really get any insight you can from them to try to figure out what career could work for you.

Any final words of wisdom?
Get involved in science policy even if that’s not something that you want to make a career out of. Legislation is always being created that affects scientists and that uses science to affect change in other ways. Who better to advocate on behalf of science than the people that do the scientific research? Getting involved can be anything from writing a letter to an elected official, going to a “Hill Day” and talking to congressional staffers, or actively pursuing a career in science policy. On top of that, not everything happens at the federal level – don’t forget state, city, and county policy. Having Atlanta as the state capitol of Georgia makes it that much easier to get involved right in your backyard.

Can students in our program contact you regarding career advice?  Yes

Preferred email?  debra.cooper@alumni.emory.edu

Book Review: Lab Girl

by Erica Akhter

labgirlI stumbled upon Lab Girl as I was walking into my usual bookstore looking for coffee and free WIFI. I don’t spend much time these days reading for pleasure, but the title and cover intrigued me. “Lab girl,” I thought, “Hmm. I am that.”

As it turns out, I’m actually not, at least not in the same way the author is. And that has complicated immensely how I think about my relationship with science and my future career, but I’m extremely grateful I read it anyway.

As soon as I picked up the book (actually, as soon as I plugged in my headphones because I rented it from the library for FREE) I couldn’t put it down. Lab Girl made me laugh, made me cry, and despite having listened to it over a year ago, I still think about it—or stress about it—on at least a weekly basis.

Lab Girl is the nationally best selling memoir of the remarkably successful geobiologist Hope Jahren, now a professor at the University of Hawaii. Throughout the book, Jahren describes how she developed from a curious and outdoorsy girl playing in her father’s lab into a radically determined woman who successfully built her career despite struggles with funding, mental health and men in power who regarded femininity as weakness.

Jahren’s style is first and foremost one of storytelling. She writes about her experiences frankly and with such candor that it’s almost uncomfortable. The majority of her adult life was spent with the singular focus and determination that most developing scientists wish they could harness. It is clear, though, through her anecdotes that this remarkable concentration came with a high price. A feeling of loneliness permeates the book and this sense is strikingly juxtaposed with the love and passion Jahren illustrates when talking about her science and the relationships she built because of, and eventually in spite of, it

To me, the most striking aspect of Jahren’s perspective is the absolute reverence she has for both the things she studies and the way she studies them. Only the most gifted scientist and teacher could make a mass spectrometer sound at the same time magical, interesting, and completely comprehensible for even a majority-lay audience. When speaking about plants, or lab equipment, or—eventually—people she venerates, Jahren’s writing becomes hauntingly beautiful, bordering on poetic. Her descriptions of the most complex and seemingly mundane processes are both educational and awe-inspiring. These are the parts of the book that explain the drive it took for Jahren to make it through the many challenges, disappointments and exhilarating discoveries that true lovers of science live through and live for. These are the parts that may explain to those non-scientists in your life why you’re willing to work to answer big questions for little money. If you’re anything like me, these descriptions are also the parts that may make you question whether your own passion is sufficient enough to push you through the struggles that come with life inside academia.

Two things are guaranteed if you decide to read Lab Girl. One, that you will develop a new respect for plants and the workings and lessons of nature. Two, you will reexamine your own love affair with science, what it can take from you and what it will give you. It’s definitely worth your time.

Alumni Spotlight: Laura Mariani

by Kristie Garza


Laura Mariani, Ph.D.

Year of Graduation: 2016

Advisor: Tamara Caspary

Dissertation Title:
The Role of Arl13b and Non-Canonical Sonic Hedgehog Signaling in Joubert Syndrome

Current Position and Position Description:
Associate at Isaacson, Miller, an executive search consulting firm. When universities, non-profit organizations, and other mission-driven institutions need to find new leaders, they hire us to guide them through the complex process of identifying the challenges and opportunities that their next leader will face and bringing in experts who are up to the task. I specialize in recruiting senior administrators, deans, and department chairs in higher education, academic medicine, scientific research, and health care. I also help my firm recruit PhDs to join our team!

Did you choose to stay in academia? Why or why not?
By the end of my PhD I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do a postdoc. I loved working in research, but I wanted to move into a career where the things I was really passionate about in grad school — like serving on the Graduate Student Council and the executive board of Emory Women in Neuroscience — were viewed as valuable achievements rather than as distractions from the “most important” stuff in the lab. And, I’ll admit that money was also a factor.

What is one thing you have learned since graduation?
I recruit people in lots of different specialties, so I’m always learning! My projects have involved searches in pathology, nursing, family medicine, and lots of other fields I knew nothing about when I started this job. I’ve learned a lot about the health care industry. Also, I travel a lot, so I’ve learned some tricks for maximizing frequent flyer miles and hotel points!

What kind of skills did you learn in graduate school that were transferable to your new job?
I use my problem-solving skills all the time, it’s just a different set of problems. Instead of thinking about individual molecules, cells, or experiments, I think about large organizations made up of people with many different agendas, and how I can help them solve their problems. Being able to take in lots of information and spit out a coherent summary that highlights the key questions and prioritizes the next steps is a skill that I learned doing literature reviews, but it’s translatable to almost any career path.

Describe something that graduate school did not prepare you for.
By the end of grad school you should hopefully have learned that there’s no shame in being the person at lab meeting who goes “Uh, what? I have no idea what that means.” But as a consultant in a client meeting, you do not want to look ignorant! You’re there to sell your expertise and to portray the company you work for in a good light. Presentations and meetings feel more high-stakes in the business world. No one in grad school ever acted like I had the power to represent Emory University as a whole, but sometimes I am seen in that way as a representative of my employer.

What is a piece of advice you would offer graduate students?
Have a Plan B. Even if you want an academic career, force yourself to think about the next best alternative and make sure that you develop skills that are relevant to that alternative. Look at job postings and see what skills are actually in demand outside of academia. It’s totally possible to develop very marketable skills in the course of conducting your dissertation research: consider whether your dissertation project is relevant for clinical research or industry R&D, learn to code, learn translatable skills in statistics and data analytics, do science writing to build up a portfolio, do an internship. Life is unpredictable, and no one has ever said, “Gee, I wish I had FEWER options right now” on their graduation day.

Any final words of wisdom?
I met the most amazing people at Emory who will be my friends for life. They were there for me when stuff got real, and they made all the grad school struggles worthwhile. That said, you should also have friends who AREN’T grad students. Keep a healthy, balanced sense of perspective: failed experiments are frustrating and heartbreaking, but they aren’t the literal end of the world. Academic research is an amazing career path, but it’s not the only way to live a happy, fulfilling life. I took up running and singing in grad school because I needed to feel like I was making successful progress at SOMETHING, and the friends I made through those hobbies helped me remember that there’s more to life than mice and western blots.

Can students in our program contact you regarding career advice?
Yes! I can be reached at lmariani@gmail.com or on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauraemariani/