Kelsea Gildawie '16 Pursues Her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience
What was your major at Simmons?
I majored in neuroscience and behavior and minored in biostatistics.
What graduate program are you in?
I'm in Northeastern University's Psychology Graduate Program, pursuing my PhD in behavioral neuroscience.
How did Simmons prepare you for graduate school?
Simmons provided me with so many opportunities to perform research at the undergraduate level. I was able to work in several labs — inside and outside of Simmons — including the labs of Professor Amanda Carey and Professor Gregory Feldman, as well as the Pain Research Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Before I graduated, I was able to directly study nutritional neuroscience, dispositional mindfulness, and the biopsychosocial aspects of chronic pain first hand. I was also able to TA and tutor for both Biological Psychology and Introductory Statistics, which has given me invaluable teaching practice that I will be able to use in graduate school and beyond!
Tell us about the research you conducted while at Simmons.
Some of my undergraduate research, in the lab of Professor Carey, focused on the behavioral and neurological deficits of a high-fat diet and the neuroprotective effects of anthocyanin-rich berries (such as blueberries and raspberries) on memory and cognition in mice. We explored behavioral effects of diet as well as neurological correlates, observing differences in hippocampal neurogenesis, BDNF expression and microglial activation.
What are your current research interests?
I will be spending the next five years in the Developmental Neuropsychobiology Lab under Dr. Heather Brenhouse. In our lab, we use animal models to study the effects of early life stress (ELS) on neural development and the manifestation of disease later in life.
I'm extremely interested in conducting research to further understand developmental neuroplasticity and neuroinflammation. My current research explores microglial cell morphology and activation states resulting from altered early life conditions in rats, as well as their interaction with with perineuronal nets.
Research has shown that microglia, the resident immune cells in the brain, are a critical component of neural development and early life insults may disrupt proper microglia function, negatively affecting the brain. Perineuronal nets are components of the extracellular matrix that play a major role in regulating synaptic plasticity throughout development. I'm extremely excited to explore the role of these integral neural components in the developing brain.
What type of work do you hope to do after graduate school?
I hope to develop a career a neuroscience research and teach at the collegiate level as a professor. I want to continue learning about the structural and functional aspects of the brain and behavior and act as a mentor to future students — especially young women! — entering STEM fields such as neuroscience.
You started the Simmons chapter of She's the First. Can you tell us more about that?
She's the First (STF) is an amazing non-profit organization with over 200 high school and college campus chapters that form an extensive global social network to raise awareness for increased quality education for girls in low-income countries.
I started my journey with STF in my sophomore year at Simmons as the founding president of our chapter. After a great deal of work and dedication from my fabulous executive board of passionate and capable Simmons students, we became an official organization on campus and went on to host some really fun events, including a #SweatforSTF Fitness Week, Global Awareness Potluck Dinner, a film screening of original STF documentaries with special guest panelist Professor Nanette Veilleux and more!
What's your Simmons Moment?
It was during my junior year at my first big scientific conference, Experimental Biology 2015. Stepping into the Boston Convention Center to hundreds of vendors and posters with Professor Carey and two other amazing and hardworking undergraduate researchers was an unforgettable experience.
Presenting our research to fellow scientists and learning from seasoned researchers from around the country was the culmination of my hard work at Simmons and I will always be grateful to the Psychology Department for allowing me to experience this conference, as well as for continuously supporting me throughout college and into graduate school.