Liz McCullagh

Postdoctoral fellow, University of Colorado Anschutz, Aurora Colorado

And - Starting as Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater Oklahoma January 2020


Love what you do.

What do you do?

I am an auditory neuroscientist who is interested in understanding how we use the brain to interpret where a sound is coming from in our environment. I am more specifically trying to understand the underlying cells in the brain responsible for encoding sound location information and how they might be altered in autism, Fragile X Syndrome, aging, or in animals that live in environments with weird sound cues such as underground.

Why did you choose this field?

I have always been interested in why animals or humans behave in certain ways, and how the brain orchestrates behavior. Sound location processing is an interesting pathway that may be disrupted in unexpected ways by the environment or other factors. Originally, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but in the end I decided my real passion was in basic science and running experiments in a lab where I can really try to untangle the complexities of something like a behaving organism.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

A little over a year ago I helped develop and launch the "Request a woman scientist" platform with 500 women scientists. I never really thought in the past about tangible ways that I can be making an impact on visibility of women in science and how important that is. I think it is easy to get overwhelmed with work and life, that it's important to remember that giving back to the community is equally as important and can be just as impactful as our scientific work.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love that every day is a little different. There are so many questions that still need to be answered, and when experiments are working (or not!) and really push you to think about the importance of your contributions it makes it exciting to go into the lab to work. I love the unpredictability of my work and how exciting each experiment still is, especially when you build the foundation of skills necessary to really understand and come up with new projects.

Best advice for next generation?

Love what you do. There are so many failures along the way when pursuing STEM fields, paper rejections, experiments not working, grant proposals not funded, critical feedback from colleagues, that excitement for your projects can go a long way towards mental health. However, I think it is also vitally important that we rebuild infrastructure and support systems behind the STEM fields to further support women and underrepresented groups so that they do not have to deal with additional challenges in an already difficult area.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

I got to see a talk by Barbara Lipska, a neuroscientist who battled a brain tumor and wrote a book about it called "The neuroscientist who lost her mind" at the Winter Brain conference in Aspen CO this year. Her story about her battle with cancer and thinking about it critically as a neuroscientists is fascinating and inspiring.

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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