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As far as scientific accomplishments go, receiving a tangible award is a measure of hard work and dedication, but impacting others along the way can sometimes be a far greater reward.
Janet Neisewander, a professor in the School of Life Sciences, was presented with the Bernice Grafstein Award by the Society for Neuroscience on Nov. 16, but it still resonates with her.
“The joys of winning and receiving the award have been some of the most memorable moments of my career,” Neisewander said. “It meant that my students really valued their training. It was probably the biggest thank you I’ve gotten in my career. It’s a really good feeling to know that you’ve had a positive impact on your students.”
Named after the first woman president of the Society for Neuroscience, the Bernice Grafstein Award recognizes people who promote women’s advancement in neuroscience, specifically by mentoring women. Nominated by three of her former graduate students, Neisewander received the award for her outstanding accomplishments in mentoring.
Neisewander currently mentors three graduate students who are studying topics related to drug addiction.
Because Neisewander “was very fortunate to have excellent mentors,” she said, she also wants to help her students grow in every way possible.
“I see it not only as my job to teach students how to do research but also to make sure they’re doing everything they can to develop their career paths. Sometimes that involves helping them decide what their career path is going to be,” Neisewander said. “I view it as my challenge to figure out where their strengths are and what makes them the happiest. Then I try to guide them in the right direction and hopefully inspire them to do everything they can to succeed.”
Several undergraduate students and two post doctoral assistants also study in Neisewander’s lab. They are currently studying the neurobiology of substance abuse, a topic Neisewander has been working on for decades.
Neisewander’s research, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is in the field of behavioral neuroscience, particularly the mechanisms of drug seeking behavior and drug addiction. Her research primarily focuses on cocaine and nicotine.
Aside from mentoring graduate students, Neisewander also mentors undergraduate students and high school students. In addition to mentoring she speaks at high schools, grade schools and community events about the brain and substance abuse.
Neisewander said when it’s all said and done, she’ll have learned as much from her students as they have from her.
“I still keep in contact with former students. Even now they’ll contact me and ask me for advice, but sometimes I’ll ask them for advice too,” Neisewander said. “They’re my colleagues now.”