Thinking Creatively: When to Take Risks and How to Find Your Niche in Your Academic Career


While a degree of creativity is necessary in science, how much risk is too much risk? In a discussion mediated by Tracy Bale, four established neuroscientists describe their personal experiences of balancing conflicting desires and emphasize the importance of passion in overcoming disappointment when risks fail.

Why is it so important to change your risk-taking strategies as you advance in your career? Post your comments below.

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Tracy Bale, PhD
Tracy Bale is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine and in the department of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine. Bale studies prenatal stress and how it can translate to neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric diseases. Her work involves developing mouse models of stress sensitivity in order to uncover effects of prolonged stressors on future offspring's health. She earned her BS in molecular biology and genetics from Washington State University, her PhD in pharmacology from the University of Washington, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute in California.
Margaret M. McCarthy, PhD
Margaret McCarthy is professor and chair of the department of pharmacology and a member of the program in neuroscience at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Her research program focuses on the influence of steroid hormones on the developing brain. She is a member-at-large for neuroscience and a fellow of AAAS, a past president of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences, and a member of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, the Endocrine Society, and the Society for Neuroscience.
Eric Nestler, MD, PhD
Eric J. Nestler is the Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience, director of the Friedman Brain Institute, and dean for academic and scientific affairs at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The goal of his lab is to better understand the molecular mechanisms of addiction and depression in animal models. Nestler is past-president of SfN. Nestler completed his MD from Yale University School of Medicine; PhD from Yale University; internship in medicine and psychiatry at Mclean Hospital; and residency in psychiatry, fellowship in pharmacology, and fellowship in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.
Marina Picciotto, PhD
Marina Picciotto is Charles B.G. Murphy Professor in psychiatry, professor of neurobiology and pharmacology in the child study center, and deputy chair for basic science at Yale University. She is also the deputy director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience. Picciotto is the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Neuroscience and president-elect of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. She previously served on the Scientific Council of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and as the treasurer of SfN. Her research interests lie in the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in mouse models, including research related to addiction, depression, brain development, learning and appetite. She earned her BS in biology from Stanford University, PhD in neuroscience from Rockefeller University, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Pasteur Institute.
Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD
Kerry Ressler is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Yerkes Research Center at Emory College. Ressler’s lab studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms of fear learning and the process of extinction of fear in mouse models. He hopes that by understanding how fear works in the brain, it will improve the understanding of and advance treatments for fear-based disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
Catherine Woolley, PhD
Catherine Woolley is William Deering Chair in Biological Sciences and a professor of neurobiology and neurology at Northwestern University. She received her BS in zoology from Texas A&M University and her PhD in neuroscience from The Rockefeller University. Woolley’s research focuses on steroid modulation of synaptic structure and function in the adult brain and the consequences of steroid-driven synaptic modulation for behavior and disease. This work has led to the discovery of latent sex differences in molecular and circuit-level mechanisms in the brain, in which a stimulus produces the same functional outcome in both sexes by acting through distinct underlying mechanisms in each sex.

Sparking Global Conversations Around Neuroscience