Neuroscience on the brain

By Jackie Wirz, Ph.D.

OHSU is filled with all sorts of brainy people, ranging from your local faculty superstar who is a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator to hardworking students who won their first major grant to fund their graduate research.  Speaking of students, OHSU is home to more than 2,800 students enrolled in 42 different academic programs.  That’s a lot of brain power!   For one of those programs, 2013 marks a significant anniversary: the Neuroscience Graduate Program turns 20 this year.

Neuroscience can be loosely defined as the study of nervous system; however, the modern scope of neuroscience research has expanded to include a vast array of scientific approaches to better understand the nervous system and the brain.  These range from the study of the developing neural systems in humans to atomic-resolution imaging of chemicals involved with neural transmission.  As our collective interest in the brain grows, it is imperative that academic institutes continue to produce scientists capable of meeting the research challenges of the future.

The Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) at OHSU is one of our premier graduate programs, and has grown to be an exceptionally multidisciplinary program.  At its core, the program is comprised of more than 150 faculty that cover a huge range of research topics.  The depth and breadth of NGP graduate faculty allow students to build a graduate program that encompasses a wide-ranging view of the neurosciences through seminars and class work while simultaneously deepening their own expertise in their chosen thesis topic.  This combination of highly specialized training in the context of a broad, multidisciplinary scope helps create the next generation of truly collaborative and multidisciplinary scientists.

Additionally, the NGP provides several unique offerings that help set it apart as a truly collaborative and fun community of scholarship and research.  Incoming students are treated to a weeklong boot camp that provides a good orientation to the scope of techniques and topics covered here at OHSU.  The NGP retreat offers a chance for students, postdocs, research ranked employees and principal investigators to mix and mingle in a casual environment while learning about the latest research.  Of particular interest is the highly popular “Data Blitz,” which allows participants the opportunity to present new data and get hazed by their fellow scientists (it’s not often that you can deploy loud noisemakers on senior faculty when they run over time!).  On a more serious side, the NGP retreat hosts nationally renowned keynote speakers from industry and academia.  More facets of the program and its distinguished alumni can be found here.

Despite the fact that I am not a neuroscientist, I actually have direct experience with the neuroscience program – I was an undergraduate intern in the Neuroscience Summer Research Program, a three-month intensive research experience sponsored by the NGP and the Vollum Institute.  This amazing opportunity gave me some of my first experiences with formal graduate-level education, ranging from the Vollum’s weekly seminar series to learning the details of establishing a new protocol.  Retrospectively, this formative experience directly influenced my decision to pursue research science at the graduate level and is one reason why I applied to OHSU.  Although I may not have studied the nervous system and the brain, I owe my scientific successes in part to the brainy people that make up the Neuroscience Graduate Program.  Congratulations on your 20th year – and here’s to many more decades of success!



Jackie Wirz is an Assistant Professor and the Biomedical Sciences Information Specialist at the Oregon Health & Science University Library. She earned her Ph.D. from Oregon Health & Science University in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and has a B.S. from Oregon State University in Biochemistry & Biophysics. Her research career has spanned 15 years and has covered diverse topics such as transcriptional regulation, macromolecular structure determination, collagen biophysics and DNA repair. Her professional interests include information, data, and knowledge management, as well as the publishing paradigms of scientists.

Additionally, Jackie is a strong proponent of science outreach and volunteers with a variety of programs designed to promote scientific literacy. Jackie believes in evolution, salted caramel buttercream and Jane Eyre.