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Ramirez Honored for Advancement of Women in Neuroscience

Julio Ramirez with Cornell University neuroscientist Bernice Grafstein
Julio Ramirez with Cornell University neuroscientist Bernice Grafstein, namesake of the award he won for “outstanding accomplishments in mentoring.”

Stuart Dickson Professor and Chair of Psychology Julio Ramirez was named the 2015 recipient of the Bernice Grafstein Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Mentoring on Oct. 20. Ramirez accepted the award at the Society for Neuroscience's (SfN) annual meeting, where 30,000 attendees gathered to present emerging science, explore new technologies and forge collaborations with peers.

The award recognizes individuals dedicated to women's advancement in neuroscience. Recipients receive a $2,000 award and complimentary expenses to attend the SfN meeting and the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience Luncheon.

Ramirez is the first liberal arts college professor to receive the award. Over the past 30 years, he has mentored 135 students; of those 54 women are enrolled in or have completed doctoral programs in biomedical health or science.

Davidson Well Represented

Real, live examples of Ramirez's dedication to women's advancement in neuroscience were abundant at the conference. Ramirez's former student Sarah Hamilton '15 received the conference's inaugural David H. Hubel Memorial Fund Travel Award, presented by the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience organization in honor of the Nobel laureate. Hamilton works in the Medical University of South Carolina Brain Stimulation Laboratory, directed by Davidson alumnus Mark George, M.D. '80, on fMRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation studies looking at suicidality, depression, PTSD and positive psychotherapy. At the conference, she presented her paper, "Septal Facilitation of Normal and LTP Electrophysiological Responses in the Rat Perforant Path."

Current Davidson undergraduates Jenni Isaac '16 and Pooja Potharaju '16 also presented their research at the conference's poster session.

Isaac presented "The Influence of Cholinergic Degeneration on Septal Facilitation of Long-Term Potentiation in the Perforant Path." Potharaju presented "Investigating the Recovery of Spatial Working Memory in Rats via Bilateral Entorhinal Cortex Lesions." Both presentations also carried the names of other Davidson undergraduates and alumni mentored by Ramirez.

Supportive Environment

Ramirez credits his award to his students' success. That, in turn, he credits to his own insistence from the start on creating a lab atmosphere welcoming to all students.

"This lab is the classic ‘If you build it, they will come' scenario," he said. "I focused on creating a welcoming lab in general for any student interested in brain and behavior relations, and investigating the frontiers of neuroscience by engaging in original research."Our lab is an environment of collaboration, cooperation, fun and nurturing support that challenges students to perform better than they think they can perform," Ramirez said. "I make sure that every student who crosses that threshold understands that they can flourish in this environment."

Neuroscience research draws on a wide range of expertise in multiple disciplines, from engineering and computation to cell and systems biology to clinical medicine. According to a report by the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a diverse neuroscience workforce will contribute to neuroscience research generally and be a potent factor in reducing health disparities.

"We are mining an area of science that truly, in order to have momentum, really requires a diverse pool of investigators," Ramirez said.

"I'm very fortunate to have had all the very talented and hard working Davidson students join me in my lab over the years," he said. "My students make every day a fun adventure."

Ramirez favorite science quote? Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!' (I found it!) but, ‘That's funny....'"

Read more about Ramirez's distinguished career and about the White House's recognition of his leadership in undergraduate neuroscience.