Pheatured Scientist | 016

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Dr. Jennifer Vega

This week's phuture doctor is Dr. Jennifer Vega! Jennifer officially became Dr. Vega after successfully defending her thesis in 'Nicotinic Treatment of Post-Chemotherapy Subjective Cognitive Impairment' in July 2018. Before succeeding in this challenging and demanding milestone, Jennifer began her academic career at her state community college. 

Performing a little below average in high school, Jennifer used community college to refresh and reframe her academic foundation before transferring to the University of Arizona in 2008. During her first years at UA, she took a psychology class and later found herself always thinking about how the brain works. With her growing curiosity about the brain also grew her passion for knowing more. Jennifer went on to declare her major in psychology with a minor in biology.

To grow her understanding of how the brain works, she got involved in undergraduate research through the McNair Scholars Program. Under the mentorship of Dr. Evelyn F. McKnight, she investigated the brain activity in decision conflict of rats. She also got to work with bumble bees during a summer research internship through McNair. Jennifer went on to graduate from UA with Magna Cum Laude and was recognized with an Outstanding Senior Award from the College of Science.

Jennifer joined the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Vanderbilt University in 2010. She joined Tricia Thorton-Wells lab were she studied how the extra chromosome found in people with Down syndrome are prone to developing Alzheimer's disease in their thirties rather than in their sixties. Unfortunately, Jennifer was forced to relocate into another lab in her fourth year as Dr. Thorton-Wells lab left Vanderbilt to work for the industry. Having found herself starting over and unable to defend the work she has done thus far, she had no other option but to re-qualify to become a PhD candidate in another lab if she wanted to earn her PhD.

Jennifer landed a position in Paul Newhouse lab in the Center for Cognitive Medicine. She successfully passed with only a year into her new lab environment. Although faced with a significant setback at first, the new lab setting was a better fit for her as she was able to develop new lab skills and work on a clinical trial which later became her thesis. The clinical trial she ran was to test the effects of nicotine as a treatment for chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment in breast cancer survivors. What was so exciting about the clinical trial she ran is that the results imply that cognitive rehabilitation may play a more significant role in improving the cognitive ability of the cancer survivors than nicotine.

After eight long years in graduate school, Jennifer defended her thesis and has chosen to continue her research efforts as a postdoc at Vanderbilt. The unexpected results of her trial have resulted in her winning a prestigious grant to further investigate these finding as a postdoc in Warren Taylor's lab. Jennifer's current goals are to build upon the skills she's acquired through grad school and get more publications before managing clinical trials for private medical industries. As she transitions from grad school life to postdoc life, Jennifer spends her free time dog sitting, traveling with her husband, practicing her archery, and playing video games. 

Stephanie Castillo