Visitor of the Week: Mary Phillips


Meet Mary Phillips of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fifth-year graduate student in Lucas Pozzo-Miller's lab made her first visit to CSHL to participate in the 83rd CSHL Symposium on Quantitative Biology. At Brains & Behavior: Order & Disorder in the Nervous System, Mary presented a poster entitled "Ventral hippocampal input to the mPFC regulates social memory". 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am currently defining the involvement of the long-range excitatory projection from the ventral hippocampus to the medial prefrontal cortex in social memory, and how its altered function contributes to social deficits in a mouse model of autism. My broader research interest is on the encoding of social memory at the synaptic and circuit levels.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I’ve always been fascinated with behavior: trying to understand why animals are driven to perform different tasks. As I kid, this interest got me into training service dogs where I could use different motivational and training strategies to modify behavior. In college, I took a course called The Biological Basis of Behavior and my interest in neurobiology solidified.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became very excited about using computer vision to classify social behaviors during my time as a technician at Janelia Research Campus. When I went to graduate school, I was fascinated by long-range connections and how different brain regions integrate and influence one another. Naturally, I combined the two interests and now use computer-vision to classify social behaviors using circuit manipulations and map synaptic changes.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
The lateral orbitofrontal cortex is a happening place! In addition, The brain and psychiatric illness is under-understood, but the field is growing and making remarkable progress to help us understand both basic mechanisms and in identifying possible therapies.

Was there something specific about the 83rd CSHL Symposium that drew you to attend?
This meeting is bringing together the top people in field – the speaker list is unparalleled for such a small conference. There were many people attending this conference I would like to potentially work with in the future, so I mainly came to this conference to network and to share my own work in a poster presentation.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I am coming away with more knowledge about my niche. I’ve met some great young scientists I would love to stay in contact with, set up contacts for technical help on projects, and chatted with experts in my field. I hope to continue to learn about what other labs are working on and perhaps identify a few I may want to work with in the future.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of the symposium asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I am really enjoying the meeting: it’s size and participants. I would definitely recommend coming!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The friendliness of the staff, researchers, and students. Everyone is helpful, inclusive, and collaborative. The gorgeous environment is definitely something worth noting as well!

Thank you to Mary for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.