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

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Alumni Spotlight: Laura Mariani

by Kristie Garza


CS_mariani_pic

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/

 

Anzar and Amielle Save Your Inbox

by Amielle Moreno


You might have noticed a change in your Emory inbox of late. The ubiquitous e-mail forwards from the GDBBBS office are less frequent. One of the responsibilities of the GDBBS office is to communicate opportunities with the student body. We all know how this worked. Administrators would receive an e-mail that requested an announcement be shared with the list serve. With no edits, these e-mails were forwarded directly to your inbox, including messages directed to administrators (example below). Forwards would be made two to six times a week. NO MORE!

GDBBS emails
Forward directly to your trash

Thanks to your fellow graduate students Anzar Abbas and yours truly, the rein of forwards is over. It happened August 31st during a GDBBS administrator’s meeting concerning communication and outreach. Anzar and I were asked to attend. Towards the end of this meeting, Director Nael McCarty addressed how the office currently engages with the GDBBS students. With limited time before I needed to start a new experiment and too much coffee, I had gotten bold with my feedback: “Well, we get those e-mails from **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** all the time…”

“What?” **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** rose her head from her note taking.

“You know, you forward us GDBBS list serve request e-mails when you receive them. It’s really hard to keep up with.” **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** was stunned, almost confused. For a moment I thought I had confused **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** with someone else.

“Do you do that?” asked McCarty but **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** was still without words. “This is what we’re here to address.”

Anzar and I went on to describe how difficult it was to keep up. Students want to find opportunities but, since half of the e-mail forwards don’t apply to our goals, the bulk are ignored. Additionally, some are short notice and the event has happened before we can read them. I did not share how a number of graduate student sources say they filter GDBBS e-mails directly to their trash, to keep their inbox orderly. Or maybe I did say that, I was pretty caffeine high and glad to finally be addressing something that directly affected students.

Instead of sending out any request upon receiving it, we recommended they be bundled, much like the GSC announcements, into a single weekly e-mail. The administration listened. On September 28th, **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** sent out the first ‘Weekly GDBBS Student E-Mail Update’ and the inboxes of over 400 graduate students got lighter.

GDBBS emails
You’re welcome

2017 Retreat Newsletter

by Elizabeth Barfield

If you couldn’t make it to the Neuroscience Program’s annual retreat weekend this year to pick up a copy of the Central Sulcus’ printed newsletter (retreat edition), you can check out some of the articles here!

For the “Status of Statistics” article, syllabi from the courses described can be downloaded here.

 

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5th Annual Neuroscience Graduate Program Awards Ceremony

by Erica Akhter
photos by Amielle Moreno

Spurred by good ol’ program spirit and the promise of free booze, Emory’s finest showed up dressed to the nines for the 2017 Neuroscience Awards Ceremony.


Leadership Award
Chris Sinon
SinonWinShot 2
GIN ex-president Chris Sinon has enthusiastically served the Emory Neuroscience community in almost every capacity imaginable. Aside from fearlessly hosting recruitment parties and successfully campaigning to increase the GIN budget in dicey economic times, Chris has continually worked behind the scenes to organize, support and rally the program to both improve our community and expand our connections with other programs in Laney and beyond.

University Service Award
Elyse Morin

Morin_win_2017Elyse Morin has excelled in service both within and outside of the scientific community. Elyse has taken an active role in science advocacy, meeting with GA representatives and joining her advisor, Mar Sanchez, to speak to the House Committee on Appropriations in DC. In addition, she has served as senior coordinator for the Emory RespectCon, led workshops bringing together Atlanta resources for rape survivors and spent more than 1,700 hours on call for the Rape Crisis Center.

Outreach Award
Desiree De Leon

DesireeWinShotThough her outreach efforts may sometimes put her in hot water with advisors Larry Young and Mar Sanchez, Desiree has made a huge impact on the community. As the graduate representative for the Atlanta Chapter of SfN, Desiree has built a multi-university outreach empire, growing outreach efforts by nearly 1,000 students while serving as chair of the Atlanta Brain Bee and coordinator of Brain Awareness month and the ATL Science Festival Booth.

Outstanding Early Achievement Award
Andrea Pack

Pack_win_2017Andrea Pack had the honor of being the sole nominee for this award. When you view her CV it’s not hard to see why. In her two years at Emory, Andrea has been placed on two training grants, received an NSF graduate research fellowship, presented at two international conferences and is currently preparing a first author manuscript. In addition, she is extremely active in scientific outreach, pioneering her own course to teach science within a local prison.

Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award
Elizabeth Pitts

Pitts and profElizabeth Pitts has presented at too many conferences to count and is an author on eight publications, including first authorship on a paper in Neuropsychopharmacology and a review in Neurobiology of Disease. While spanning two distinct model systems and actively teaching, Liz has remained active in the program and received multiple awards for her research, including the prestigious honor of presenting to prospective students during the Emory recruitment process.

Excellence in Teaching Award
Arielle Valdez

ArielleWinShotArielle Valdez has served as a teaching assistant for a variety of rigorous courses on a variety of topics: everything from human anatomy to the ethics of vegetarianism. Arielle has reached students far beyond the neuroscience realm in which most of us live. In each course she’s taught, both her instructors and students have recognized her excellence, so much so that she was awarded the GDBBS-wide TATTO Teaching award. Despite already hitting this ceiling of recognition, she plans to continue broadening her teaching experiences.

Excellence in Mentorship Award
Elizabeth Pitts

Pitts Acceptance1Liz Pitt’s excellence in mentorship is reflected through both the quality and quantity of her students. Liz directly mentored eight undergraduates while at Emory, guiding them through in depth, long-term research projects. Her students have graduated with highest honors and – even more remarkably – a literature based understanding of their field and the ability to think critically about it. Some might say that thanks to Liz, they’re now positioned to have their own outstanding scientific achievements.

GIN Faculty of the Year
Shannon Gourley

GourelyWinShotDr. Shannon Gourley, pictured here with her Elizabeth’s, was selected from a sea of wonderful mentors because of her passion and dedication for her students. Perhaps best said by one of the Elizabeth’s themselves,  “Her altruistic and well-organized use of her time” and “dedication to her students’ and colleagues’ success” make her an exemplary representative of what makes Emory neuroscience a wonderful place.

GIN Student Service Award
Byron Gardner

Byron Acceptance3Byron Gardner continually attends, assists, and invigorates GIN events. He is always willing to use his creative energies for the betterment of the program and he stands out in his ability to make prospective students want to join in the fun. Ironically he could not attend this ceremony, but his efforts to go above and beyond at almost everything else make him more than deserving of the award anyway.