LIFE INSIDE THE LAB:
What is your research topic? Psychoneuroendocrinology
What was your best day of science? When my first PhD student successfully defended.
What was your worst day in science? When I got my first R01 triaged.
Dr. Gretchen Neigh is an Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Follow along with her science at @GretchenNeigh.
What did you study at university? Biology as an undergrad and neuroscience for my PhD
What does your average day look like? I get up about 5:30 to exercise (usually barre 3 days/week and orange theory 2 days/week), then help my boys get ready for school and put them on the bus about 8:45, then drive to work and get to my desk about 9:30. I meet with everyone in my group one-on-one at least once a week and we have a weekly lab meeting, so some of my time each day is spent in those meetings. I spend some time on video calls with collaborators talking about new data and projects in development. I spend some time on regulatory paperwork. If I’m lucky, I spend some time reading other people’s new published work. I generally eat lunch at my desk and check in on Twitter during that time (or on the bus to and from the parking lot – city parking is rough). I spend some time writing each day. I usually manage to get in a seminar or two each week and teach a lecture every couple of weeks. I try to leave for home by 7. Once I get there, I eat dinner with my family, help my boys with homework or do something fun with them. After they are in bed, I try to squeeze in a few more email answers or easy things that don’t take a lot of brain power. Then I get things ready for the next day, and get some sleep.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far? I really wanted to learn to do translational research, but I didn’t come to that realization until I was already junior faculty. I successfully found a grant opportunity, wrote the grant, got the grant funded, and managed to handle a training grant experience while running a basic science lab. It was a huge challenge, but I did it and that was very gratifying. Now I just need to get the paper published!
What is your favorite piece of technology or equipment you get to use in your job? My trainees don’t really like it when I’m in the lab these days, so I don’t use most of our really cool equipment directly. My favorite thing that we have is probably the behavioral scoring software because I used to do it all by hand and it is just so remarkable how far forward technology was able to move that aspect of research.
Life Outside the Lab
Where did you grow up? Butler, PA
What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? A Veterinarian
What do you do to relax outside of lab? Anything outdoors – my happy place is outside. We spend time hiking, biking, kayaking, SUP, or just relaxing in the woods or on the beach.
Do you have any pets? Yes – currently we have a dog (Magnolia), a cat (R01six said ‘roy-see’ – she is named after my first R01 which took 6 tries to get), a hermit crab, a fish, and a frog
Do you have any fun hobbies?Outdoor activities in general – but not one specific hobby
What is your family life, and how did it develop along with your career? I am married and have two boys who are in elementary school. They were both born when I was a postdoctoral fellow and for a long time we paid for me to work – that is, it cost more for childcare than I made as a fellow. Having a career and family is challenging, but everything worth doing is challenging on some level. Academia is hard but it also allows tremendous flexibility that has been very helpful as my boys have grown up. I think a key factor is having a supportive partner. My partner is very supportive of my career and together we are raising the boys. Just because I’m the female, doesn’t mean I’m the default parent – we raise them as a team. Although my career and family are fairly separate worlds, I think my scientific training has made me a better mother, and I think my experiences as a mother have made me a better mentor.
What was your biggest motivation to obtain your PhD? I couldn’t think of anything else that would allow me to decide what questions I got to ask.
What is your best advice for girls interested in science? Don’t worry about what anyone else has done or hasn’t done or thinks you can or can’t do. Do what is a good fit for you as an individual and know that you can always change your mind if things are no longer a good fit.
Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? Because men and women have different perspectives and so they will focus on different research questions and address them in different ways – this is also true for multiple cultures, demographics, and even training backgrounds. Research isn’t ‘one size fits all’ and so the people that do the research can’t be either.
Is there any one event or person who/that made you want to be a scientist? Not really, I didn’t even really think about being a scientist until college and even then I didn’t really see my career path as trying to be a scientist. I am one, but even now, that isn’t the first word I’d use to identify myself. I’m not sure why; I definitely fit the description.
Why were your drawn to science? I like to know how things work and the why of things. I guess my incessant question asking pushed me towards science.
Did you ever consider another career path? Yes, until my senior year of undergrad, I had planned to be a veterinarian. But after working with a veterinarian through high school and college, I couldn’t see myself doing that everyday forever. My professor suggested I try research. I did. I liked it. Here I am!
How close was your schooling related to your current job? Pretty close – I focused on animal behavior in undergrad and neuroscience as a PhD
What was your biggest challenge during your degree? Growing accustomed to things not working and being wrong. I had not experienced that much before grad school.
Are there any women in STEM who are inspiring you right now? My colleagues who I see manage even more than I have to manage – the everyday heroes in my life that are just doing the best they can each and every day.
- What is your favorite book? The Westing Game
- What is your favorite desk snack? That’s It bars (the cherry-apple are my favorite)
- What is your favorite cartoon? On TV – Phineus and Ferb; In print – The New Yorker cartoons
- What would you listen to while writing? Starting a project: Pink; Part way through a project: Mumford & Sons or Dave Matthews; Finishing a project: David Gray
- What was your favorite subject in high school? Math because there was never any ambiguity to when you were done with an assignment – if you solved the equations, you were done.
- What is the strangest thing on your desk right now? A rip off calendar of quotes from great leaders
- Organization nut, or curated chaos? Depends on where you look – at home and in my lab I am adamant about organization; in my office – curated chaos
- Another other fun fact about you: Sleep is my solution for most challenges and generally when I wake up, I know what comes next. I can also fall asleep in under 2 minutes.
- What color socks are you wearing? None – I have an obsession with ballet flats – in particular Tieks, and it is oddly warm today for Virginia in January.
CONTACT DR. NEIGH ON TWITTER @GRETCHENNEIGH
My lab webpage is www.gretchenneigh.com and there you will find links to a couple interview and talks that have been recorded over the last few years. My lab also have a Facebook page, twitter, and Instagram – all of which link from the main website.