What are the societal benefits of this research?
Our research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, which are U.S. government agencies that draw largely on money from taxpayers. Being entrusted with taxpayer dollars is a responsibility that we take very seriously. We strive to spend every research dollar wisely, and to make our results accessible. The societal benefits of my research program include:
1. Expansion of the scientific knowledge base. A large part of the mission of the National Institutes of Health is “to expand the knowledge base in medical and associated sciences in order to enhance the Nation's economic well-being and ensure a continued high return on the public investment in research”. This is the type of research we do in our lab; we generate new knowledge about brain plasticity, fertility, and the genetic basis of behavior that is relevant to all vertebrates, including humans. An understanding of basic biology is essential in order to develop treatments for disorders and disease. Imagine if your mechanic did not have a basic understanding of how a car is supposed to work. The same is true in medicine – in order to develop treatments, we need to begin with a solid foundation of knowledge of how the body works when it is functioning properly. In most cases, this knowledge comes from conducting basic research with a variety of model organisms. Research programs such as ours contributes toward the eventual development of treatments for human disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and infertility.
2. Scientific training. I have a particular interest in undergraduate education and research. Of the undergraduates I have mentored, more than half have presented their results at national scientific meetings or appeared as co-authors on published articles in peer reviewed journals. These projects are funded primarily by my research grants.
3. Research experience for high school teachers and students. Members of the K-12 community have been involved in a number of projects including co-authorship on a national presentation. In 2004, I worked with DeKalb County Public School System to develop an ongoing research project that has provided hands-on experience in ornithology to students. That project brought in thousands of dollars for salary and equipment to the public school system. I have served as the Emory main campus director of the Institute on Neuroscience (ION), a summer program for high school students and teachers.
4. Broadening participation. A major goal of NSF and my own research program is to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in science. Since I began my research program at Emory, 75% of the participants have been women or members of minority groups.
5. Integration of multiple disciplines. Our research combines the fields of molecular biology, genetics, neuroendocrinology, animal behavior, and physiological ecology. Students in my lab are therefore prepared for careers in a variety of disciplines and will help to bridge gaps and push science in new directions.