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Current INSPIRE Fellows

Amanda Benavides, MD PhD, 2018-2021

Mentor: Peg Nopoulos, MD
Graduate School: University of Iowa
Medical School: University of Iowa
Describe your INSPIRE research: My INSPIRE project is investigating the early and later neurodevelopmental outcomes of preterm infants exposed to red blood cell transfusions as neonates. My current and future work involves utilizing advanced brain imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as resting state MRI, to investigate the developing brain structure. I also investigate cognitive functioning by using both widely standardized cognitive protocols, as well as novel cognitive assessments, in these infants.
How is INSPIRE helping you achieve your goals? INSPIRE is helping me achieve my goals, most significantly my future career goal of being a translational physician-neuroscientist, by providing me further training in neurological science. Because my project is so intimately associated with collaboration of multiple research projects at various institutions, I have the opportunity to participate in discussions with expert physicians, nurses, and researchers of diverse clinical backgrounds, including pathology, hematology, neonatology, neurology, and psychiatry. As part of this program, we have completed courses under the Translational Biomedicine program at the University of Iowa, which include courses topics such as review of study design methodology, current trends in commercialization, personal career development, grant development and journal writing processes, development of effective scientific presentations, and principles of scholarly integrity.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an academic researcher? I would say a commitment to lifelong learning is a must! That is a driver and motivation in itself that will take you far. I know my many mentors have  said similar things about their own paths, and I can say the same is true for my own so far. Your career journey may take you places you never even imagined or where you thought you would be. So having that flexibility, enjoying an atmosphere of collaboration, and commitment to lifelong learning is inherent to being an academic researcher.

 


Amanda Decker, PhD, 2019-2021

Mentor: Mark Niciu, MD PhD
Graduate School: University of Iowa
Describe your INSPIRE research: I am currently working on several projects which revolve around understanding the mechanism of action of ketamine as an anti-depressant. First, I'm undertaking a Crispr-based gene editing project using induced pluripotent stem cells. Second, I'm examining the metabolic effects of drug exposure on neurons. Third, I'm developing methods to measure neurotransmitter release in live cells. All of these directions will help us better understand ketamine and one of the model systems we use in lab, human cortical spheroids.
How is INSPIRE helping you achieve your goals? I appreciate how the classwork through translational biomedicine clarifies the steps one must take to succeed in an academic research career. We've discussed how to assemble a team of researchers and collaborators, how to negotiate a contract, and even how to start talking with the program officer that's best suited to direct you toward funding opportunities. These discussions have prepared me for a position as an assistant professor.
What surprised you about Iowa City? A few things have surprised me about Iowa City. First, there are abundant biking trails and beautiful places for outdoor exploration. I was under the impression that Iowa was flat and full of corn fields, but as it turns out I spend a lot of time walking through forests, over beautiful hills, and around rivers. Second, the friends and neighbors I have here are just uncommonly nice and thoughtful. People care about the city, keeping it clean, and most importantly they care about making everyone feel welcome.

 


Deniz A. Madencioglu Kul, PhD, 2020-2022

Mentor: Aislinn Williams, MD PhD
Graduate School: Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany
Describe your INSPIRE research: My INSPIRE project is investigating how copy number variations in the human genome play a role in psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. I am using induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patients to understand how these genetic differences change neuronal development and function.
How is INSPIRE helping you achieve your goals? INSPIRE has been a great guide for building a career in research by providing the necessary tools.
What surprised you about Iowa City? How extreme the weather can be and how nice the downtown area is. If you are coming from a larger city, it will take some time to get used to the small size of the city and how quiet it can be sometimes.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an academic researcher? Like every other career option, being an academic researcher has its pros and cons. Curiosity and wanting to have answers to the problems you see must be your drive. Without these, it will be very hard to have a career as an academic researcher and have a healthy life at the same time.

  


Sara Maurer, PhD, 2020-2022

Mentor: Hanna Stevens, MD PhD
Graduate School: Duke University
Describe your INSPIRE research: My project explores the mechanism of prenatal stress-induced alterations in offspring brain and behavior. Specifically, I am examining whether the cytokine IL-6 is sufficient to induce the cellular changes in the developing striatum seen after prenatal stress.
How is INSPIRE helping you achieve your goals? I honestly don't have an extremely firm career goal. What I really care about is doing research that has the capacity to help people, and to learn skills to be able to answer more questions. INSPIRE is not only giving me access to resources to help me to discern more firm career goals, but also to help me develop widely-applicable skills while in a lab that is focused on translational questions.
How did you hear about INSPIRE? Dr. Hanna Stevens, my INSPIRE mentor, contacted me and told me about it after a mutual colleague mentioned my interest in her work. Networking matters!
What has surprised you about Iowa City or UIowa? There are a lot of little things that surprised me about UI, all centered around researcher success. From grant writing workshops to pandemic-safe networking opportunities to extremely convenient supply stores, I feel very supported as a researcher.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an academic researcher? There is a lot of advice out there from people farther along than I am, but to me the most important thing is to find a supportive and collaborative atmosphere and one that you can thrive in.

 


Jacob Miller, MD PhD, 2020-2022

Mentor: Peg Nopoulos, MD
Graduate School: University of South Dakota
Medical School: University of South Dakota
Psychiatry Residency: University of Iowa
INSPIRE Research: 

 

 

 


Victoria Muller Ewald, PhD, 2020-2022

Mentor: Krystal Parker, PhD
Graduate School: University of Iowa
Describe your INSPIRE research:  I study how the cerebellum contributes to cognitive processes such as interval timing. My INSPIRE research project involves evaluating whether transcranial-magnetic stimulation of the cerebellum helps alleviate cognitive symptoms in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.
How is INSPIRE helping you achieve your goals? The feedback from peers and faculty members on written materials and talks has been extremely valuable. The program also provides a sense of community and access to a variety of career development resources.
What has surprised you about Iowa City or Iowa? I completed my PhD in Iowa City so I have spent a lot of time here, and I am still not bored! It is a lovely place and there is always something interesting going on.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an academic researcher? It’s a long haul, make sure to enjoy the process.

  


Justin Reber, PhD, 2019-2021

Mentor: Aaron Boes, MD PhD
Graduate School: University of Iowa
Describe your INSPIRE research: I am currently studying how to derive different predictors of stroke outcome from the connectomes of healthy people.
How is INSPIRE helping you achieve your goals? The program provides a chance to really focus on research while also giving multiple opportunities to broaden your expertise through coursework and seminars. It also provides a great deal of career development resources.
What surprised you about Iowa City? I was probably most surprised by the number of literary and cultural events in the area. I really liked the smaller college town feel of Iowa City, but I was pleasantly surprised at the number of concerts, readings, and even decent restaurants here. It's not a huge city, but it has hidden depth. Plus, Chicago is close enough to supplement any bigger-city needs you might have.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an academic researcher? Work hard and get lucky? Also, please don't apply for any of the positions I apply for, thanks. 

 


 

Recent INSPIRE Fellows

Aubrey Chan, MD PhD, 2018-2020

Mentor: John Wemmie, MD PhD
Graduate School: University of Utah
Medical School: University of Utah Medicine
Psychiatry Residency: University of Iowa
INSPIRE Research: Dr. Chan was interested in the role that the acid-sensing ion channel plays in the defensive response to CO2 exposure in mice.
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa


Jessica DeWitt, PhD, 2017-2019

Mentor: Hanna Stevens, MD PhD
Graduate School: University of Southern California
INSPIRE Research: Dr. DeWitt evaluated the role of oxidative stress pathway abnormalities in basal ganglia, related to BCAA catabolism that resulted in autism spectrum disorder-like behaviors in mice. She also led a project that evaluated the role of embryonic GABAergic proliferation as a contributing mechanism in prenatal stress effects.
Current Position: Scientific Writer, Integrated DNA Technologies


Ki-Won Nam, MD, 2017-2019

Mentor: BC Ho, MD
Medical School: Catholic University of Degau, South Korea
Psychiatry Residency: University of Iowa
INSPIRE Research: Dr. Nam applied machine learning and natural language processing algorithms to the clinical notes of psychiatric patients (total N > 200,000) to predict longitudinal progress of psychiatric conditions and statistically assess mental status and suicide risk.
Current Position: Psychiatrist, Seattle Neuropsychiatric Treatment Center


Krystal Nizar, MD PhD, 2019-2020

Mentor: Aaron Boes, MD PhD
Graduate School: University of California, San Diego
Medical School: University of California, San Diego
Psychiatry Residency: University of California, San Francisco


Josephine Schamp, PhD, 2017-2019

Mentor: Nandakumar Narayanan, MD PhD
Graduate School: University of Iowa
INSPIRE Research: Dr. Schamp established a genetic model (α-synuclein based) to study the role of dopamine in the pathways involving movement, reward, and timing, as well as exploring potential new therapeutics for treatment diseases involving dysfunction or disregulation of dopamine.


Nicholas Trapp, MD, 2017-2019

Mentor: Aaron Boes, MD PhD
Medical School: University of Nebraska
Psychiatry Residency: Washington University in St. Louis
INSPIRE Research: Dr. Trapp led a three-armed trans magnetic stimulation clinical trial involving schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder.
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa