Dr. Catherine Thorn is an Assistant Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. Her research examines how learning-related changes in neural activity within the cortex and basal ganglia support memory encoding and behavioral performance improvement. We caught up with Dr. Thorn to discuss current progress with her research as well as reflect on her recent experience with the R.O.A.D. to DC program.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting your research?
I’ve only been a principal investigator for, not even two years now—but the biggest challenge that I’ve faced so far, I think, is that in training they teach us how to do research, how to do experiments, and how to frame the questions, but they don’t really teach us how to do anything else related to running a lab.
So, all of the financial pieces and applying for grants and managing a lab and the personnel I’ve had to figure out on-the-fly as I go along.
What advice would you give early career researchers?
I find it difficult to give advice, actually, because I’ve never liked to receive advice as an early career researcher. In general, I would have to say not to be afraid of making decisions that feel right for your career that may not necessarily be what everyone else tells you is the right thing to do.
How do you see your research impacting society?
So, because we’re interested in motor learning and the mechanisms of motor learning and motor control, the aim is to make basic discoveries about how the brain works that will ultimately inform things like stroke recovery or improve motor function in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease.
How has the R.O.A.D. to DC program impacted you?
I got a lot out of the ROAD to DC program. Just at a basic level: making contacts with program officers who will be able to answer questions and offer insight throughout the application process and throughout my career; meeting other investigators and strengthening some collaboration that had just started to form when we went to DC; and I’ve become aware of other opportunities that I may not have known about because our research is most applicable to NIH funding but the R.O.A.D. to DC program helped make me aware of other opportunities in the NSF, DOD, and other agencies. So I think for me, participating in the program was really helpful.