This week I sat down with my primary mentor Jennifer Groh, head of the Groh Lab here at Duke. I’ve been fortunate enough to take on one of her new projects and report directly back to her for the course of my Howard Hughes experience, and I’ve been pleased to find Dr. Groh to be patient, understanding and constantly willing to teach. While the interview was brief, and I didn’t record it, this short biography is the summary of my notes and conversations with her thus far in the lab.
Jennifer Groh is a very accomplished individual in the scientific community, who’s come a long way since the young age at which her passion originated. Even as a child, Dr. Groh fostered a vibrant interest in neurological science. She remembers watching the popular science television series “Nova” on PBS and the passion for science never left. She carried it with her into high school and eventually an undergraduate education at Princeton University, where she got her first taste of research in the field observing the behavior of wild horses. It was not a very socially engaging form of science – horses not being known for providing good conversation – but the elements of scientific inquiry kept her coming back for several years. After Princeton undergrad, Dr. Groh started in a doctorate program at the University of Michigan, before transferring to University of Pennsylvania when she realized neuroscience was what she wanted to focus on. By the time I was born in 1994, Dr. G was already well into a post doctorate at Stanford. In her life she has published a book and tons of articles at the cutting edge of neurological perception. In this lab they specifically look at how sensory and motor systems work together, and embodied cognition – the way that neural representations play a combined role in sensorimotor and cognitive processing. It’s a fascinating and original focus essentially exploring the behind-the-scenes neural processes that take a great deal of processing power, yet happen automatically.
I asked Dr. Groh about what exactly the life of a lab director entails. He answer to “what’s your day-to-day?” was, excitedly, “there’s no typical day for me, that’s one of the things I love about my job.” Every day or Dr. Groh is filled with everything from soldering to surgery, writing code to writing grant proposals, public speaking and micromanaging several projects. The grant proposals are particularly interesting because I would have assumed they were boring and tedious. Instead, Dr. Groh informed me that they are among the most intense thinking you do as a lab director. Grant proposals need to target the potential implications of an experiment and consider the future of science coming out of the lab.
A final, large component of Dr. Groh’s time is spent teaching, something she enjoys so much she teaches a free online course on Coursera during the summer. Lab-centered discussion and teaching her students she says combine to allow even more thought breakthroughs that because of the fresh minds approaching her field of study.
I was pleased to get 15 minutes of Dr. Groh’s very busy day to pick her brain. As the days go by, her life is taking shape as one that is very fulfilling, independent and open-ended in terms of future potential.