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Linda Amarante Receives Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Award PhD ’20 grad is a changemaker in the lab and the community

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Headshot of student Linda Amarante

Linda Amarante, a member of the 2020 graduating class of the BCaN (Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience) PhD Program, has received American University’s 2020 Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Award. This fall, she will pursue a postdoctoral position at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

During her time at American University, Amarante’s achievements in the lab and in the community have made her a true changemaker at AU and in the greater DC area. “Linda has been an amazing member of the university community during her tenure here — consistently a source of support to student and faculty colleagues both in BCAN and across the College,” says Kara Reynolds, AU associate dean of graduate studies and professor of economics. “I am not surprised that she earned this prestigious award, it is well deserved. Although we will miss her at AU, I know she will continue to make us proud as she enters the next phase of her career.”

Amarante says she’s grateful to be chosen for this award. “With everything going on right now in the world, there hasn't really been an appropriate moment to reflect on my time at American University, but receiving the award allowed me that space to reflect and reminisce and think back on all of the hard work, projects and experiments, friendships, and memories I've made while working on my doctorate,” she says.

Excellence in Scholarship

Mark Laubach, professor of biology and director of AU’s Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience Program, first met Amarante in 2013 when he hired her as a research assistant at his lab at the Yale School of Medicine. The following year, Laubach joined the American University faculty, and Amarante entered AU’s BCaN program.

Since that time, Laubach says, Amarante has learned to use a variety of physiological methods and become a highly productive author — she is an author on seven peer-reviewed manuscripts, and first author on three of these manuscripts. She has two additional manuscripts to be published from her dissertation. One of her first author publications has already been cited more than 10 times (Amarante et al., 2017).

Amarante has also presented at the last six meetings of the Society for Neuroscience, at the Computational and Systems Neuroscience meeting, and at the Computational Properties of the Prefrontal Cortex Conference.

But for all her accomplishments at AU, Amarante says she is most proud of having received a graduate research fellowship (GRFP) from the National Science Foundation, which supported her financially for half of her time at AU. 

My research proposal for the award became the framework for my dissertation, which focused on the role of the medial and orbital frontal cortex in value-based decision making,” she says. “From that research came my first first-author publication in the Journal of Neuroscience (Amarante et al., 2017), with another publication currently in the works. I'm also very proud to have been an author on our lab's recent commentary publication (Laubach et al., 2018), which addressed several challenges in the field regarding the rodent prefrontal cortex and aimed to suggest a set of standards within the neuroscience field.”

In the Community

Amarante is an active member of the Society for Neuroscience and was invited to a prestigious leadership conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She has also been an active member of American University’s neuroscience community as a regular presenter and participant in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience’s weekly journal club, as a member of the Advisory Board for the Center, and as a member of the search committee for the next dean for graduate studies. She has presented her work in the Center’s annual retreats and at the College’s Robyn Rafferty Mathias Student Research Conference.

Laubach notes that Amarante has worked tirelessly as the social media voice of a project promoting open source tools for neuroscience research, as a key member of his team running the OpenBehavior project. “The project involves collaboration between my lab and the laboratory of Alexxai Kravitz at Washington University in St Louis to disseminate and promote low-cost open-source tools for carrying out neuroscience research,” he explains. “The project has a relatively large following around the world, and Linda’s efforts through social media to promote the project and the tools that are featured there have had a major impact on awareness of OpenBehavior within the greater research community.”

And finally, since 2015 Amarante has volunteered for the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, where she mentors DC children in STEM skills through practical examples from baseball. She received the Everyday Hero award from the Nats in 2017.

A Bright Future

For Amarante’s postdoctoral position at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, she will work with Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Jeremiah Cohen. Cohen’s lab studies neural circuits underlying reward, mood, and decision-making using mouse models.

“In her new position, Linda will be able to take advantage of cutting-edge research tools using transgenic mice to explore her long-term research interests into how specific types of brain cells control decision making,” says Laubach. “This complementary training to her PhD research at AU will help prepare Linda for a future position running her own lab.”

At the same time that Amarante is looking forward to the next steps in her academic career, she says she would not be where she is today without the support and guidance from Laubach. “I have been working in Dr. Laubach's lab in some capacity for seven years; he took a chance on me in 2013, and I am forever grateful for all he has taught me,” she says. “Dr. Laubach taught me skills in the lab, but also often provided guidance about academia and professional skills (and a lot of baseball trivia knowledge too!).”

Amarante also says she is thankful to have been taught by “top-notch neuroscientists” at AU, including Distinguished Professor and Chair of AU’s new Department of Neuroscience Terry Davidson and Associate Professor of Psychology Catherine Stoodley, as well as all of the members of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, which she describes as an inclusive group that provides students the space to grow and learn.

True to character, Amarante says she would also like to “acknowledge the members of the AU community who are often behind the scenes but make this place run smoothly and deserve recognition, specifically the custodial care staff, administrative staff within CAS, and the shuttle bus drivers who made it possible for me to get to campus every day.”