Over the course of my scientific career, my research has focused on the influence of gonadal hormones, namely estradiol and testosterone, on neuronal contributions to behavior and disease.
My research program is grounded in my previous learnings at Bowdoin College and Ruhr-Universität Bochum. As an undergraduate in Dr. Rick Thompson’s lab, I investigated the rapid effects of androgens on male goldfish sexual behavior. I developed my own experimental question and behavioral paradigm while learning immunofluorescent techniques and establishing the lab’s protocol for intracerebroventricular injections. I then received a Fulbright fellowship to research the effects of testosterone in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. In the lab of Prof. Dr. Ralf Gold and working group of Dr. Aiden Hagikia, I learned techniques such as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, cell culture, and FAC sorting while assisting in the development of an induced pluripotent stem cell protocol. This protocol and my results demonstrating differential effects of testosterone on neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration in females resulted in two first author publications. Ultimately, it is from these labs that I learned the crux of my research philosophy: follow the data wherever they may lead, and do not be afraid to engage your creativity to ask the research questions you wish to investigate.
As a doctoral student at UCLA, my research program investigates the effects of sex variables on the neuronal control of metabolism. In the lab of Dr. Stephanie M. Correa, I use a combination of state-of-the-art and canonical techniques. By combining stereotaxic viral injection, cell specific manipulation or isolation via the Cre-Lox system, RNA-sequencing, and estrous cycle tracking or ovariectomy, I can explore how molecularly defined neuronal populations respond to reproductive status to affect feeding. Moreover, my data indicate an interaction with body weight. I am further determining the specificity of the metabolic output through body composition analysis and telemetry probe implantation or the use of metabolic cages.
In addition to my lab research, my work also encompasses a philosophical interrogation into our understanding of sex variables. I am acutely aware of how societal norms influence my field of research and vice versa. I therefore consistently engage feminist and queer theories in my work. I firmly believe that social scientific knowledge is crucial to producing accurate, thoughtful scientific data. This is evident in my invited review (Massa and Correa 2020, co-corresponding author), where I interrogate assumptions of binary and wholly endogenous sex and sex variables, noting where these models fail and pointing out flaws in methodologies that ignore the complex interplay between biological sex variables, gender identity, and gender socialization.
A description of my research program would be incomplete without a discussion of mentorship and lab environment. Thus far, I have mentored seven students, five of them members of communities marginalized in STEM. All my mentees who have since graduated have continued on to careers in research science or medicine. My mentorship relationships have been facilitated by the creation of a judgement-free lab environment which promotes the inclusion of all voices at all scientific career stages. My commitment to equity and inclusion is exemplified by my formation of a weekly discussion tackling issues such as colonialism, racism, heteronormativity, ableism, etc. These spaces support lab members intellectually and emotionally to facilitate lab inclusivity.
Together, my research program encompasses rigorous, creative neuroendocrinology, an interdisciplinary approach, and a people-centered environment for the benefit of our science.