Kaela S. Singleton, PhD


Where you can find her:

Undergraduate: I attended Agnes Scott College, a private all-women’s liberal arts college in Decatur, GA. I chose Agnes Scott because of the neuroscience major. In 2010, not a lot of schools had neuroscience majors and I knew that’s what I wanted to do so it was a no brainer. In an effort to get out of taking Spanish, I chose Ancient Greek as my foreign language. I fell in love with the language, culture and stories so I ended up double majoring in Neuroscience and Classical History & Culture. 

Graduate: Yep! I went to graduate school straight out of undergrad. I applied to seven programs, got interviews at 6, and accepted to 5. I ended up picking Georgetown University’s Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience. I earned my PhD in Neuroscience in May 2020.

Current job title: I am a postdoctoral fellow in Victor Faundez’s lab at Emory University, a NINDS D-SPAN Scholar, IRACADA FIRST Fellow and Adjunct professor at Agnes Scott College. 

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue? 

In the seventh grade, I participated in this science outreach event where I got to dissect a sheep brain – I was hooked ever since. So yep, at the ripe old age of 12 I said I’m going to study the brain and here we are now. 

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

My mentor for undergrad, Dr. Jennifer Larimore was essential to my success. She believed in me every step of the way from course work to grad school applications all the way through the end of my PhD. Even now, she’s my biggest advocate and support system. When I made the transition from graduate school to postdoc, my friends were also so essential. Drs. Erin Wenzel, Daniel Gonzales, Stephanie Sloley, and Joey Olmos as well as Alyssa King, Ubadah Sabbagh, and Thiago Azrua – each one of them has really given me so much confidence and encouragement. 

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

In graduate school I had a lot of moments of doubt. At one point, I was worried if I was even capable or worthy of finishing my PhD because of some comments I got from a former mentor. With the help of my friends, I was able to dig deep and realize I was more than capable. 

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path. 

I was definitely shocked I got into graduate school and Georgetown no less. Honestly, any accomplishment I’ve ever earned feels like a shock. When I was offered the adjunct position at my alma mater, I was pretty surprised too! It’s always been my dream to give back to the community that supported me as an undergrad – so getting that offer meant the world to me. 

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.  

Ooo – One of the things that drew me to Classical History as a major in college was the intricate and beautiful storytelling. From the diction, rhetoric to the complexity of each character and story arc. I try to bring that same vibe to my science in terms of telling captivating stories in my writing – grants, fellowship applications and publications. 

I’m also really interested in the idea of growth. How do our environments, identities, personalities affect our growth and journey through life? I bring that to my research as a developmental neuroscientist, but I also bring it into my classrooms when I teach. For me, students thrive and are excited about learning when they can see their progress and growth on a topic. So my goal is to keep track of those milestones and emphasize their successes. 

Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path. 

My biggest advice is always to have faith in yourself. If a career in science is what you want, you can do it. There is no 100% right way or right path so give yourself grace. We’re all figuring it out as we go. And if you ever run out of faith borrow some of mine because I’ve got it for you in spades. 

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