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5 Things About Me: Psychiatry and Human Behavior Professor Mary Carskadon

Professor Carskadon with her 2013 summer research team. She's the one on the right behind where the sign says Science (Image: Mary Carskadon)

Mary Carskadon
Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island

Background: I work at the Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Lab, which is in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. I study sleep and circadian rhythms, chiefly in adolescents and college students. Our research touches on such disparate areas as school schedules, alcohol use, performance, sleepiness, depressed mood, and genetic associations.

Question 1:  Why did you become a researcher?

Answer:  My father initiated the process with a stealth move that garnered me a job as a research assistant in Bill Dement's sleep lab. I was hooked when it turned out I was good at doing and thinking science, and the line and sinker followed the day I was plotting results and stunning, gorgeous, inverse linear associations appeared. My writing skills landed the deal when senior scientists asked me to help explain their findings.

Question 2: What are you most proud of in your work?
Answer: From the start, I've worked with many students in my summer research program and other trainees as well. I am proud of my mentoring and of the successes of those I've mentored; I feel a bit guilty in taking pride because mentoring is such a fun and rewarding part of what I get to do.
Question 3: What fuels your passion for your work?
Answer:  My research field is at the heart of human behavior and health with direct links to most of human experience. This central connection of sleep and circadian biology to human existence makes it a joy to study and a delight to teach.
Question 4: Tell us a short story about your childhood. 
Answer: I trace my writing skill to my very early childhood and the influence of my grandfather. I have vivid memories of taking pencil to paper and writing a story in my meticulous toddler's cursive.  I was not yet able to read, so I'd need to take my notes to granddaddy—an accomplished reader. I'd sit on his knee and listen with great pleasure as he would read my fascinating short story back to me.
Question 5: Share a lighthearted story about yourself.
Answer:  While a grad student and postdoc at Stanford, I ran our Summer Sleep Camp research in a dormitory (then Lambda Nu, now Jerry [Garcia]— House) on the edge of campus. We all lived in the dorm—research participants, summer students, and I.  One summer I was very short on sleep and then missed a full night of sleep. In spite of this sleep deficit, my recovery sleep was abruptly terminated an hour later by an intense odor—had the dorm caught fire? No, but a skunk had sprayed outside my open bedroom window where a fan was pulling in the cool night air. The punch line of this story came to me years later when we were investigating human olfactory response in sleep and could generate no smell response during deep sleep. How incredibly intense was the olfactory stimulation of the skunk that woke me from such an intense sleep?
Representative Image Caption
Professor Carskadon with her 2013 summer research team. She's the one on the right behind where the sign says Science (Image: Mary Carskadon)
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