The Making of a Scientist

This year’s winner of a prestigious young-scientist award.

Posted Oct 20, 2019

Courtesy, Lauren Reynolds
Lauren Reynolds and her parents
Source: Courtesy, Lauren Reynolds

You probably wouldn’t have bet on Lauren Reynolds winning a prestigious young-scientist award.

Her father was a mechanic, her mother a stay-at-home-mom, and later, a school-cafeteria worker. Lauren focused on art in high school, then went to an art college, and dropped out.

Yet, indeed, yesterday it was announced that Lauren is this year’s winner of an international young-scientist award, the Society for Neuroscience’s Nemko Prize.

Here is Lauren’s story:

After dropping out of art school, she decided to go to college “to use my mind more,” and got into Northeastern. “I decided to major in biology because I was good in science. Most of my friends were pre-med and I started to follow the same track." To increase her chances of getting into med school, she volunteered at Brigham Women’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard. Although her job was just to direct visitors to the right area, she also got to shadow physicians, which made her realize she didn't want to be a doctor.

A course in psychobiology led her to change major to a research-centric field: behavioral neuroscience. A professor granted her request to work in a lab.

After she graduated, knowing her grades, test scores, and research experience wouldn’t get her into graduate school, and because she had large student loans to pay back, she moved back in with her parents but landed a job at McLean Hospital. She laughed, “I made mistakes but I learned how science gets done.” And she got to co-author a paper with a professor.

That helped her get into a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at McGill. After getting her Ph.D., she has entered a post-doctoral training program at France’s Sorbonne Université.

Right now, I’m feeling unsettled. Partly it’s moving to a new country— establishing friends, the culture, and my French is not amazing... Part of it is changing jobs. It’s been humbling, making the change from a senior Ph.D. student who is well-established in a lab to being in a new environment and having to learn everything. Science isn't always an easy life, things don’t always work, and it takes a lot of time. I've been thinking about that a lot lately, especially since my dad passed away suddenly last December. I've been having a hard time working through my grief. We were close. He was always my biggest supporter.

Lauren is studying how the brain develops in adolescence. Her Ph.D. thesis focused on how substance abuse damages the pre-frontal cortex's wiring and cognitive functioning.

Lauren is quite modest: “The story of my life is that I’ve done everything wrong.” Hardly.