Joshua Cruz

Position title: M.P.A/Ph.D. Candidate


Josh Cruz headshot

Hometown: Livermore, California
Undergraduate Education: Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior, University of California, Davis
Professional/research interests:

  • Psychiatric Research & Mental Healthcare Reform


  • Science & Medicine Graduate Research Scholar Fellow (SciMed GRS)

Expected graduation date: 2019

What experiences (for example, work, volunteer, travel, etc.) shaped your decision to enroll in the Neuroscience and Public Policy program at UW-Madison?

Despite initially aspiring to go to medical school after receiving my undergraduate degree, my decision to enroll in the Neuroscience & Public Policy program at UW-Madison was based on my research experience working as a research specialist at the UC Davis MIND Institute where I researched risk factors for schizophrenia in children with chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS). Since this disorder is very unfamiliar to the public, clinicians, and educators, I had the pleasure of working with families who were desperate to find specialists who were familiar and even studied the physical and cognitive impairments of this disorder. After working for a couple years at the MIND Institute prior to graduate school, I got to see first-hand the lack of knowledge and resources for families and caregivers who have the difficult task of caring for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. After attending an international conference for 22q11.2DS in Ireland that brought together researchers, clinicians, and families to collaborate on goals to study this specific disorder, I became interested in the translation of how neuroscientific research affects special populations. Experiences such as these allowed me to redirect my career aspirations from becoming a physician to wanting to become a scientist and policy professional.

What was so appealing about the program for you?

I was especially attracted to the program because of the flexibility to pursue interests outside of a normal research doctoral program. I get the ability to explore both scientific and public policy coursework to shape how my research can be applied in the policy realm. In addition to the more diverse coursework, the program allows for opportunities and experiences to work with policymakers through internship opportunities as a component of the public affairs master’s degree.

What is your dissertation research focused on? What are you learning, what techniques are you using? What excites you about this research?

My dissertation research is focused on understanding neurodevelopment trajectories and identifying risk factors for anxiety using a longitudinal sample of pre-adolescent girls who have been identified to have an elevated risk for anxiety. Using a combination of behavioral assessments, psychophysiology, and multi-modal neuroimaging techniques, I hope to understand risk factors for anxiety, specifically focusing on limbic structures such as the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis as well as its role in anticipatory anxiety. I’m excited by my project because it allows me to utilize a large longitudinal human sample to study the basis of anxiety & depression, disorders that are widely prevalent in our society but still quite misunderstood.

In what on- or off-campus volunteer activities do you participate?

SciMed GRS Undergraduate Outreach

If any NTP or N&PP alumni and/or friends have helped you with your career path or course work, who was it and how did he or she mentor you? If it was for a specific course, which one and what was the project?

Annie Racine, PhD is an alumna of the N&PP program, fellow colleague, and close friend who mentored and helped me learn more about the program while I was applying to graduate school.

What are your career goals?

My career goal is to return to my original interest in studying and being an advocate for lesser known neurodevelopment disorders like 22q11.2DS, Fragile X, and sex chromosome anomaly syndromes. I hope to work in Washington, DC for a couple years as a science & policy specialist at one of the major federal scientific institutions such as the NIH or NIMH. Eventually, I would like to direct or be an advisor at an advocacy group focused on assisting in policy and research efforts for those with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities such as with the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD).

How has your N&PP experience (classes, research, etc) set you on the path to meeting your career goals?

The N&PP is helping me meet my career goals by allowing me to conduct research alongside many talented clinicians and scientists focused on progressing the field of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorder research. The N&PP also allows me to take numerous courses on policy-making and policy analysis with top professors in the field. These two branches of the program will undoubtedly help me prepare for the next stage of my career after I leave UW-Madison.

What advice would you give to prospective N&PP students?

Trust that your work does have meaning. With the ever-changing political climate that transcends beyond science and policy, it’s important to recognize that each course, experiment, and opportunity, no matter how small, will lead you to figure out why the integration of science and policy is important for our society.

Is there anything you’d like to add or emphasize (family, pets, travels, interesting experiences, volunteer activities, etc.)?

5 years ago, while I was still an undergraduate, I had no idea that I wanted to work in the field of science policy let alone pursue a career in it. Looking back, I have come to value the 3-year period between college and graduate school for allowing me to grow. During that time, I grew to understand the culture of working in a laboratory as a full-time research assistant. In addition, I also took the opportunity to backpack through Europe and Southeast Asia to experience and get to know the cultures and people of different countries. Finally, I value my family & friends both here in Wisconsin and back home in California for their lasting support in my endeavors.

People would be surprised if they knew …

People would be surprised if they knew that as a California boy, born and raised, I love winter. Before moving to Wisconsin, I used to consider winter a destination rather than a season. During my first real winter here, I learned to cross-country ski, went snow-kiting, and drilled a hole in a frozen lake in northern Minnesota in the middle of January just to jump in it.