Claire Erickson

M.P.A/Ph.D. Candidate

cmerickson4@wisc.edu

Claire Erickson headshot

Hometown: Mundelein, IL
Undergraduate Education: BS – Neuroscience, Minor- Spanish; The Ohio State University
Professional/research interests:

I’m interested in the preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s disease and characterizing pathophysiological changes that occur during this time in patients to hopefully implement effective treatment options. 

Accomplishments/achievements/honors:

  • Magna Cum Laude (Ohio State University, May 2017) 
  • Honors and Scholars Enrichment Grant Recipient (Ohio State University)
  • Poster winner AAAS Annual Meeting (2017) 
  • Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (University of Iowa, 2016)  

Expected graduation: 2022

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

I worked in a neurodegeneration lab that mainly focused on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease all through my undergraduate career, while also volunteering at a Memory Care facility. I was frustrated by the barriers to translatability in research and misconceptions in the general population about scientific research. When I looked into it, I found that there is a need for trained scientists to advise policy formulation. After taking the MyIDP “aptitude” test, all of my top options were non-traditional careers in science which shouldn’t have been a surprise. As a University tour guide, it’s pretty obvious talking comes naturally to me and I wanted a career where I could talk to people about things that were important to me. The N&PP program tied my experiences and interests together. 

What was so appealing about the program for you?

This program ticked every single box for me (right down to the University colors, which are the same as my high school and alma mater). I felt like a traitor to science because about halfway through my undergraduate career, I realized I didn’t want to be a career researcher. I thought that with a PhD all one could do was conduct research, so when I came across this graduate program, excited is an understatement for how I felt. The interdisciplinary nature of the program is phenomenal. Through the La Follette School of Public Affairs, students are required to do an internship. Standard PhD programs don’t have this requirement, or rather opportunity. I’m looking forward to exploring opportunities outside of academia and am hoping to complete my internship with the Alzheimer’s Association or somewhere similar. Additionally, my passion for science and policy is cultivated here, so I don’t feel guilty for wanting to apply science outside of the “typical science realm”.

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

I’m currently rotating with Ozioma Okonkwo and working on a paper about a gene and its relationship with APOE4 status and biomarkers of AD in middle-aged adults. I don’t have much experience with science writing, so it has been a learning curve reading about topics I’m unfamiliar with, but I‘m excited to have a formal contribution to the science community out of it. Next, I’ll be rotating in Beth Meyerand’s lab working on fMRI techniques in Alzheimer’s imaging. My last rotation draws on my undergraduate work. I’ll be working with Marina Emborg and a primate model of Parkinson’s disease. I’m excited to learn about clinical research in Alzheimer’s disease and work with primates, because when else am I going to have the opportunity to do that? 

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

I’m involved in Catalysts for Science Policy and the NTP Outreach Group. I go back to my high school occasionally and talk about neuroscience/careers in STEM. I’m looking into volunteering at a memory care facility in the Madison area and doing outreach for older adults. 

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?

I first met with a faculty mentor from UW-Madison in the spring before I applied for graduate school. While there, I met some current N&PP students, Annie Racine and Andrew Merluzzi. Later that summer, I contacted Andrew and he helped me tremendously with the application process, etc. (so thank you, Andrew!). In the fall my friend from school told me one of the graduate students in her lab had a daughter that was in the N&PP program here (too weird) and she gave me her contact information. I chatted with Marisa Ross about her experiences applying and she was actually the one that picked me up at the airport when I interviewed here! Today, she is my 1st year mentor, so thank you, Marisa, for all of your continued help/support! 

What are your career goals?

I’d love to work for a non-profit like the Alzheimer’s Association doing outreach/advocacy/public policy work for funding research and implementing it into people’s lives. At some point, I could see myself working for a government agency either at the state or national level looking at science funding. I’m excited to learn about potential careers in these fields and see where my education and research take me.  

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

My public affairs classes are current event driven so we discuss the real-world applicability of the concepts, including our specific interests. I’ve been able to explore different policy topics and incorporate my research into discussions about science policy. My research is furthering my understanding of AD and my mentor and I discuss the broader implications of my work on society and in policy. Neuroscience and public policy may seem distantly related, but through my classes, research and extracurricular activities, they are continuously tied together. My experiences are leading me to clarify what kind of career I want to pursue in the future. 

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

Don’t feel like you’re cheating on science because you want to take it in a different direction. Also, I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude to the N&PP students that helped me get here, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions! 

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

When I studied abroad in New Zealand, I bungee jumped off the bridge where bungee jumping originated. I went with my friend and we said we didn’t want to get wet….we got dunked upside-down, waist-deep in a freezing cold river, but it was awesome. 

People would be surprised if they knew …

I ran my first marathon when I was 16 and have continued running one marathon a year. However, I will try and talk people out of running them because they’re terrible.