Graduation Spotlight: Amanda Merner

Amanda MernerAmanda Merner

Advanced Area of Study: Affective Neuroscience, Department of Psychological Sciences

Q: Why did you choose this area of study for an advanced degree?

A: Emotions are universal to the human experience; they motivate nearly all human behaviors and are fundamental to who we are and how we experience the world around us. If you couple that with the study of the human brain, you get affective neuroscience. When I was applying for graduate programs, I couldn’t think of anything more interesting than that combination—and I still can’t. Beyond being an inherently interesting area of research, the study of emotions and the neural processes that underlie them can aid in our understanding of affective disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, changes in emotional experiences in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, or the impact of different forms of neuromodulation (e.g., deep brain stimulation/pharmaceutical interventions) on people’s emotional states. As someone who has firsthand experience with a severe mood disorder, I can think of no better way to spend my time than studying the neural mechanisms of emotions and contributing (even in a small way) to improving the emotional well-being of others.    

Q: What’re your next steps?

A: I’m excited to continue some of the work I’ve done during my graduate training at CWRU and the Cleveland Clinic and learn more about the ethical challenges surrounding advances in neuroscience. I am now a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, where I’ll be working on projects related to the ethical, social, and clinical implications of integrating psychiatric genetics into clinical care, as well as the ethical challenges surrounding emerging neurotechnologies such as adaptive deep brain stimulation. Ultimately, I hope to integrate my training experiences in affective neuroscience, psychiatric genetics, and neuroethics to inform prevention efforts and more targeted, patient-centered interventions for affective disorders and mood disturbances in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Q: What is your favorite memory at CWRU?

A: I don’t think I could pick one favorite memory, but I have really enjoyed being able to walk to Jolly Scholar from our department’s building on campus and toss around research ideas, troubleshoot problems with experiments, and talk with other graduate students and faculty. Some of my best research ideas came about from these interactions. Overall, the open and collaborative nature of my program, and the university as a whole, have been one of my favorite aspects of graduate school at CWRU.

Q: What is your advice for a student starting a graduate or professional program at CWRU?

A: Enjoy this time as much as you can. It’s going to be stressful, and you’re going to be constantly challenging yourself and growing as a person and as a professional, and growth is never comfortable. But, you’ll also have the unique experience of spending your days thinking deeply and exploring the depths of a subject you’re passionate about, which is something that not many people have the privilege of doing. And lastly, be kind to yourself!