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5 Things About Me: Neuroscientist Valerie Thompson

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AAAS Fellow Valerie Thompson backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. (Photo: Valerie Thompson)

Valerie Thompson
AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow
National Science Foundation (NSF), Directorate for Engineering

Background: I graduated in 2005 from Miami University, receiving a B.A. in both psychology and zoology, with minors in neuroscience and statistical methods. I attended the University of Cincinnati's neuroscience graduate program and studied the neurodevelopmental consequences of early drug exposure. My postdoctoral training was in the laboratory of Ellen Hess at Emory University. I worked on a number of projects which sought to identify the neural circuitry involved in dystonia and other movement disorders. Now I'm doing a stint as an AAAS-sponsored Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Question 1: Tell us why you chose your particular field of study, why did it grab your interest and fuel your curiosity?
Answer
: When I was a sophomore in college, I read the book 'Phantoms in the Brain' by V.S. Ramachandran.  The book describes a number of bizarre neurological disorders that, when taken together, create this powerful narrative about the role of the brain in defining how we experience the world around us.  The case studies were incredibly compelling, but I was also completely captivated by the elegant design of the experiments described in the text.  Until that point, I had been toying with the idea of following the pre-med track, but after that I was sold on the research track.  I wanted to be one of the people trying to answer the big questions about the nature of the human experience.

Question 2: Tell us a short story about your childhood
Answer
:  When I was 5 years old, I decided I was going to be a dinosaur when I grew up.  You can't imagine how disappointed I was when I found out that wasn't going to be an option.  I still hold out hope that one day I'll be asked to use my scientific training to work on a top secret government project to bring dinosaurs back to life, but I haven't gotten that call... yet.

Question 3: Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about? Give us a brief summary and why you love it.
Answer
: Over the summer I read Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad" while traveling in Eastern Europe.  The book is Twain's account of a trip to Europe and the Holy Land with a group of fellow Americans in 1867.  Like it or not, the stereotype of the "American tourist", described with incredible wit and humor in this book, still rings true.  I laughed out loud more than once as he described experiences that were happening before my eyes, over 100 years later.  Let's all take this as a lesson and try to remember our manners as we travel to meetings and conferences abroad!

Question 4: Share a comment or opinion you have on a topical science-related issue — preferably one not associated with your own field.
Answer
: I am passionate about engaging the public in the exciting scientific research that's being done in our country right now.  Happily, I've been able to pursue this interest as a part of my fellowship. What I've learned so far is that a lot of it boils down to teaching scientists how to communicate more effectively with the lay community.  I think that's something that we tend to undervalue as scientists, but ultimately, failing to show the public why our work is important only hurts us when it comes time to decide where we make our investments as a country.

Question 5: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
Answer
: When I am not at work, I spend as much time as possible outdoors- backpacking, canoeing, adventure racing, hiking, sailing-- you name it. My favorite activities are riding my scooter, playing bocce, zip-lining, riding on segways, bowling, attempting to make crafts and/or recipes I find on Pinterest, and winning board games.

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AAAS Fellow Valerie Thompson backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. (Photo: Valerie Thompson)
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