Megan Duffy: Introduction

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Yeonwoo Lebovitz, Anthony Franchni, Megan Duffy, and Celia Fernandez will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday  for new posts.

Current position: 4th year Ph.D. Student in Neuroscience, Department of Translational Science and Molecular Medicine
Program start date:  August 2013
Institution: Michigan State University

Hello Everyone,

I am looking forward to sharing my career development and exploration experiences with you over the next six months.  Let’s get started, shall we?

The basics:

I am a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience Program at and the Department of Translational Science and Molecular Science at Michigan State University.  Broadly, my research examines the temporal relationship between alpha-synuclein aggregation, neuroinflammation, and nigrostriatal degeneration in Parkinson’s disease and investigating the potential for anti-inflammatory therapeutics to serve a disease-modifying role.


My grandmother whom I was very close to, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease during my senior year of high school (2009).  I knew at that point that I wanted to be involved in helping better the lives of others living with Parkinson’s disease whether as a clinician or as a scientist. (If you look at the title of the blog series, you’ll know which option I chose!)  Over a short period of four years, I watched my grandmother transform from being a fiercely active and independent woman to needing 24-hour care.  Commonly prescribed medications did not adequately improve her symptoms and often came with adverse cognitive and psychiatric side effects from which she never fully recovered, leaving me wondering how current therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease could be improved to slow disease progression rather than simply provide symptomatic benefit. She passed away after 5 years of battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Needless to say, it’s a constant reminder of “the bigger picture” of scientific research and the impact we can have.

That dreaded question: What do you hope to do with your degree after you graduate?

Whether you’re catching up with family and old friends during the holidays, or meeting new people, that dreaded question you thought you wouldn’t get asked after you graduated college gets brought up: “What are you going to do after you earn your Ph.D.?”  I can’t speak for everyone, but coming in to my Ph.D. program, I  wanted to pursue a career in academia with the end goal of being a tenured professor.  I love research and had two years of teaching experience in an upper level neuroscience class in college. But the more I learned about myself, the more I came to the realization that academia (long term) isn’t the ideal path for me. More about that later.

While a post-doc fellowship is in my immediate future, I have given a lot of thought to my long term goals as well. Through faculty in my department and networking at conferences, I have met some helpful people who introduced me to research careers outside of academia. I now plan to pursue a career as a research program director at a nonprofit (Stay tuned for future blog posts on what exactly that entails!) In a role like this I would be able to shape the direction research takes and interact with other scientists and patient groups, without also having to write grants and worry about funding.

I hope to provide more insight into the world of non-profits and grant portfolio management, a path that others may have not considered.  In addition, I would like to share my outside-of-lab experiences in public outreach that I hope will benefit everyone, regardless of what career path they choose!

Upcoming Events:

I will be attending The World Parkinson’s Congress in Portland, OR September 20-23.  Held every 3 years, the WPC brings together several thousand participants including scientists, clinicians, people with Parkinson’s Disease and caregivers. I am excited to present my most current research and to interact with each of these groups of people who have one goal in common: to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers.

Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease, held at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI September 26-27.  Each year, the Van Andel Research Insitute hosts a 2-day symposium centered around a specific theme in Parkinson’s Disease. Past symposia have focused on Neuroinflammation in PD, The Role of Alpha-Synuclein, and this year: Genes and Pathways. This two day meeting also brings together an audience consisting of people with Parkinson’s, academic and industrial scientists, clinicians, and program managers from foundations.

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