Grace Porter has always been interested in psychology. She started taking science classes while she was an undergraduate student at Kent State University and applied to do research in a behavioral neuroscience lab.
“Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to do something in psychology….the idea that someone’s perception of reality is different because of a psychiatric disorder is fascinating to me,” she said.
Porter initially had planned on applying to medical school but after graduation, she decided to take a year to work at the Cleveland Clinic as a research technician at an epilepsy lab. She found that after working at the hospital, she was attracted to the research aspect of her job.
“Our brain controls everything. If you change one piece of the brain, you can change an entire person,” she said. “An entire person’s personality, including any abnormalities, can be traced down to seemingly insignificant cellular interactions.”
She decided to apply to the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio after she kept seeing the same faculty member names popping up in her research on animal models.
“I really like the atmosphere at UT Health because people are friendly and supportive. I went to a big school and worked in a big hospital so it’s nice to be in a smaller environment where there is a lot of collaboration,” she said.
Porter currently works in Dr. Jason O’Connor’s lab on neuroinflammation and depression research. Specifically, she is working to find out more about the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN).
“BDFN is a protein involved in neurogenesis. It’s an important molecule in the brain and it’s been shown that when animals are treated with antidepressants, their BDFN expression increases, and there’s an association with genetically reduced BDFN and depressive-like behaviors. That’s what my research will be about. I’m going to be doing a lot of cognitive behavioral testing in this genotype.”
Besides research, Porter is the treasurer of the Women in Science, Development, Outreach, and Mentoring (WISDOM) student club on campus. She is also the Neuroscience representative on the Integrated Biomedical Sciences (IBMS) student council.
“I’m excited about this group because even though more women in our generation are entering the science field, we are still working in a male-dominated industry. It’s nice to be part of a group that helps support women in science.”
In the future, Porter would like to be a professor.
“Competition is tough for academic careers but I really want to be in academia because there seems to be more freedom. I want to continue doing research because I like how science offers an explanation for almost everything.”
To future scientists, Porter says, “be curious and always keep looking deeper into things because even if the explanation seems obvious, there’s probably more to it and it will be exciting to discover something new.”
Porter recently accepted a dog, a boxer mix.
“All of my free time is spent playing with my puppy.”
This article was written by Charlotte Anthony, marketing specialist at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. This article is part of the “Meet The Researcher” series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.