STEMinist Profiles: Dana Smith, Ph.D. student in Experimental Psychology

Dana Smith

Dana Smith

Ph.D. student in Experimental Psychology
University of Cambridge

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I originally got interested in psychology from a clinical standpoint, thinking I would pursue a career as a therapist. However, in the psychology courses I took during my time as an undergraduate, I realized I was much more interested in the neuroscientific aspect of the field. I became fascinated by the brain, wanting to understand the underlying neurobiological reasons for our actions. I also preferred the more concrete nature of research, being able to empirically address a question rather than relying on self-reports or speculation.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My work is on the brain mechanisms involved in drug addiction, and we recently finished a project investigating the differences in the brains and behaviors of addicted and recreational drug users. We hope to discover why some individuals are prone to addiction, while others can use drugs consistently on occasion without ever developing dependency. This latter group has been vastly understudied, and we hope to discover insights into potential protective factors against addiction.

Role models/heroes:
My advisor, Dr. Karen Ersche, is a brilliant researcher in addiction science, and her commitment, inquisitiveness and insight into the field have been an invaluable resource for me. Also, Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, has long been one of my academic crushes. Her career is unparalleled and is truly inspiring.

Why do you love working in STEM?
While some days slogging through research can be pretty rough, those eureka moments when you find a connection in the data or have an idea for a new project are incredibly exciting! Also, the caliber of the intellect of the people you get to work with is unmatched.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Think of something you’re curious or excited about, find the people who do it best, and go learn from them.

Favorite website or app:
The Well blog on the New York Times Health website always reports on super interesting exercise research findings (a personal side interest of mine). Also, Mo Costandi’s Neurophilosophy blog on the Guardian Science website is great!

Twitter: @smithdanag

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