P&N Person of the Week: Sara Maurer, 2018 Bass Connections Outstanding Mentor Award Winner

P&N Person of the Week: Sara Maurer, 2018 Bass Connections Outstanding Mentor Award Winner

Sara Maurer, P&N graduate student, recently won a  2018 Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship. This award recognizes the vital role that graduate students and postdocs play in mentoring undergraduate students on Bass Connections teams. Read more about her award and the Bass Connections Project, Exercise as a Therapy for Cognitive Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sara Maurer has one request for her peers, advisors, and all involved with P&N: eat more eggs!

How many years of service do you have here?

This is my fourth year. I am in the last phase of the doctoral program.

What do you do with P&N?

My dissertation work is on prenatal choline supplementation. Choline is a nutrient largely found in eggs, and previous work in this lab has shown that it’s really good for baby brains throughout the entire lifespan. So, it’s a great nutrient for pregnant women to consume. Now, we are looking at choline through a neuro-inflammatory lens.

What led to your interest in prenatal nutrients?

My interest in psychology and neuroscience peaked when I took developmental psychology and developmental biology classes at the same time in college. The two classes complemented each other, which is a great perk of a liberal arts education. I began to become really passionate about the idea that early-life events program the brain in ways that would affect the rest of your life, such as improved learning and memory and more neurogenesis in adulthood. Also, as an undergrad, I began interning in the lab that I am actually in now, which really exposed me to prenatal choline.

You were recently awarded for outstanding mentorship by Bass Connections. Can you share more about your work with Bass Connections and the award?

Alzheimer’s disease occurs more frequently among females, but no one is really sure why. Our lab is toying with the hypothesis that it’s because of the sudden loss of estrogen in menopause. In our project, we induce menopause in mice, and we’re currently trying to prevent or slow Alzheimer’s in this female-specific model. Though my scientific passion is perinatal programming, this project is a nice complement to my other work because there is a feeling of instant gratification. The applications of developmental work can help children of the future, but the applications of this project can help people right now. Two of the undergraduates and two of the PI’s on my team nominated me for this award without me knowing, which in itself would be enough - just knowing they appreciate all the work I do with this project. Actually winning this award is an incredible honor, and I’m really humbled by it. From a career perspective, I want to continue to invest in the lab as a classroom. I find mentorship to be the most gratifying part of my job and something I want to keep doing going forward, so receiving this award makes me feel like I am on the right path.

What do you like about P&N?

I like that there are opportunities to do projects outside of your wheelhouse. Especially in a Ph.D. program, you get so focused on one nutrient, one molecule, but with a varied department, we get opportunities to at least talk, if not collaborate. I think my absolute favorite thing is the first year seminar because we got to socialize and discuss different career fields in the broad psychology and neuroscience.

What’s your favorite memory with P&N?

There are five of us in my SINS (Systems and Integrative Neuroscience) cohort, and we all did our prelims the same week. After that week, there was a large, collective sigh. Having that be over and be over with my cohort is one of my most appreciated memories.

What are your hobbies?

I really like board games and video games. I play a lot of Settlers of Catan and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I also love to exercise: I have a goal to do an obstacle race every year.

Do you have any hidden talents?

In undergrad, I spent more time playing guitar and singing. I especially loved to make Taylor Swift covers!

Do you have any fun facts about yourself?

I was an extra in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m in the scene of the last day of school, and I’m rocking an insane side-pony!



P&N person of the week profile by Madison Catrett (Trinity '21) 
Have a nomination for P&N person of the week? E-mail psychneuro@duke.edu