Research Fellow at Neural Systems Group, Department of Psychiatry
Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA)
BA '99 Psychology magna cum laude (philosophy minor)
My undergraduate studies in psychology and philosophy at Webster University in Vienna formed a strong foundation for my graduate and postgraduate work in neuroscience and space life sciences. I have always been interested in how the human brain evolved and how it adapts to new, sometimes extreme environments. I have also always been fascinated by spaceflight, and needless to say wanted to be an astronaut for as long as I can remember. As I started my studies at Webster Vienna, I learned that one of the most accomplished NASA astronauts – Col. Eileen Collins – is a Webster University graduate (MA ’89)! Eileen’s life and career – completing multiple science degrees, flying four missions on the Space Shuttle, and being the first female Shuttle mission commander – not only inspired me, but proved to be a great testament to Webster’s educational paradigm. During my time in Vienna, I was honored to be taught and mentored by some of the best educators in psychology and philosophy such as Dr. Deborah Bock, Dr. Stefan Geyerhofer, Dr. Thomas Oberlechner, and Mr. Charles Randolph. The high academic standards demanded by my mentors, as well as the interdisciplinary and international nature of Webster faculty and students, prepared me well for a research internship in neuroscience at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology (University of Vienna). There, I worked with Prof. Karl Grammer on evolutionary basis of nonverbal communication through movement and scent.
The academic foundation and research experience I gained at Webster, enabled me to pursue MSc. degrees in biology (University of Zagreb) and space life sciences (International Space University / NASA Johnson Space Center), and a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Houston. Since 2012, I have been working as a postdoctoral researcher in Neural Systems Group at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Here, with funding from NASA and National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) I work with Dr. Gary Strangman on understanding how human brain changes during spaceflight and exposure to extreme Earth environments (e.g. submarines, polar outposts, extreme sports). We are beginning to understand mechanisms of brain function under extreme environmental stressors and are using that knowledge for prevention, detection and treatment of neurologic and psychiatric disorders in the general population on Earth. While I always hoped Webster would be my first stop on an improbable journey to space, I hardly imagined it would be such a prominent constant in life. I am reminded daily that without Webster education, I would probably not be doing the science that I always wanted to do.