Berkeley Neuroscience PhD Program alums Emily Jacobs and Michael Goard start their own labs at UC Santa Barbara

February 15, 2016

Emily Goard Jacobs and Michael Jacobs Goard are alumni from the Neuroscience PhD Program entering class of 2004. Jacobs completed her thesis in the lab of Mark D’Esposito on the effects of estrogen on dopamine-dependent cognitive processes. Goard completed his thesis in Yang Dan’s lab on cholinergic neuromodulation of visual perception. Emily and Michael met during their PhD studies, hit it off, and got married in Big Sur shortly after they graduated, in 2010. They now have a 2.5 year old daughter, Elowen. 

Following several years of productive postdoctoral experiences they went on the job market, looking for a joint hire in neuroscience. They succeeded, and are currently Assistant Professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of California, Santa Barbara. Michael is also jointly affiliated with the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

“Michael and Emily are perfectly suited to the Psychological and Brain Sciences research ethos.  Both have developed game changing new technologies to solve fundamentally important questions with socially important consequences, and both take a broad interdisciplinary perspective that focuses on answers and ignores orthodox boundaries.   We look forward to this dynamic research duo each further raising the profile of behavioral and cognitive neuroscience at UCSB.”

Diane Mackie, Chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UCSB.

We recently asked Emily and Michael some questions to learn more about what they have been up to since they completed their PhD studies.

What led you to choose Berkeley for graduate school?

(Michael) Berkeley was the perfect combination of top-tier research with a supportive and cooperative environment for graduate students. This enabled a degree of exploration and curiosity-driven science that is rare in top-ranked institutions.

Photograph: Emily and Michael’s daughter, Elowen.

What did you do after finishing your PhD at Berkeley?

(Michael) I joined Mriganka Sur’s laboratory at MIT, where I developed methods for imaging and manipulating neural activity in awake, behaving mice. I used this approach to study the cortical circuits underlying decision making.

(Emily) After grad school, I pursued a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Fellowship at UCSF and then transitioned to Harvard Medical School to develop a program of research geared toward understanding how the decline in steroid hormone production in midlife (menopause) impacts specific neural circuits and cognitive processes in women.

How did you approach the faculty job search as a couple?

(Emily) In many ways, it is similar to searching for individual positions. It is very rare to land two positions at the same university purely by chance, so inevitably it requires the hiring institution to consider a joint hire. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of institutions where we received offers were supportive of a joint hire.

How did you decide which offer to accept?

(Michael) This decision is very different for everybody, and rarely is it clear-cut, but we ultimately sought an institution where we could do great research while still having a sense of freedom to pursue riskier projects. We were also looking for an institution with high growth potential, and fell in love with UC Santa Barbara for those reasons. The location isn’t bad either!

What are you working on in your new labs?

(Michael) The goal of my research is to better understand how the mammalian neocortex processes and stores incoming sensory information. My lab employs large-scale two-photon calcium imaging, multi-unit electrophysiology, and optogenetic manipulation of neural activity in behaving mice.

(Emily) My work uses brain imaging methods to establish basic principles of how sex steroid hormones shape the neural circuitry underlying higher order cognitive functions. This includes defining the role of sex steroids in the healthy adult brain and, in turn, exploring how the loss of gonadal hormones in early midlife influences memory circuitry. This growing area of study, which sits at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology and endocrinology, has the potential to deepen our understanding of basic models of brain function and, more pragmatically, to advance women’s health.

Do you have any advice for current PhD students?

(Emily) Sure. I would encourage students to commit themselves to advancing the public understanding of science. Seth Lloyd, a professor of quantum mechanics at MIT, once said “secret knowledge, no matter how laboriously it’s acquired, is less than science.” Sharing and celebrating science with the public can dispel myths, encourage critical thinking, and promote the same sense of wonder that drives many of us as scientists. It’s not only the public who benefits. By sharing your sphere of knowledge with folks outside of the academy (or outside of your department) you’ll strengthen your skills as a communicator. Your teaching chops will benefit from practicing the art of simplifying complex concepts without compromising the integrity of the material, and by learning how to root scientific issues into the larger social and political arena.

How can students/alums contact you or find out more about your research?

(Michael and Emily) Please don’t hesitate to reach out. The best way to find out more is through our lab websites (below). 

We are always looking for passionate graduate students and postdocs!

By Georgeann Sack

Original Publication: February 15, 2016

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