November 10, 2021

Neuroscientist Hilary Marusak, Ph.D., wins accolades for public outreach, advocacy and education

The THINK Lab at Wayne State University School of Medicine is led by principal investigator and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Hilary Marusak, Ph.D., pictured top row, center.

Wayne State University School of Medicine faculty member and neuroscientist Hilary Marusak, Ph.D., was awarded the Next Generation Award by the Society for Neuroscience. The award recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to public communication, outreach and education about neuroscience. 

Hilary Marusak, Ph.D.

She received the honor, which includes a $300 honorarium and a $2,000 grant to the Michigan chapter, at the organization’s Science Education and Outreach Awards.

Dr. Marusak, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, has created two initiatives to promote the general public’s understanding of science. Along with three of her students, she cofounded in 2020 the Science Policy Network-Detroit branch, or SciPol-Detroit, and continues to serve as the faculty advisor.

SciPol-Detroit seeks to improve communication between lawmakers, scientists and the general public through advocacy such as letter-writing campaigns and lawmaker meetings; panels on important community issues and science communication; and advocacy training workshops.

“As a neuroscientist, I think we need to do better in communicating science to the public and lawmakers. Students and scientists are trained to talk to other scientists, but less emphasis is on communicating with the public and lawmakers,” Dr. Marusak said. “This limits public understanding of science and reaping benefits of scientific research, and results in many public policies not being science- and evidence-based. So it was truly an honor to be nominated for an award that focuses on public communication, outreach and education about neuroscience.”

In its first year, SciPol-Detroit focused on addressing health disparities in Detroit, including water injustices and air pollution, and helped pass a bill to prevent water shutoffs. To learn more, visit (www.scipoldetroit.org)

Dr. Marusak also hosts and produces, with the help of trainees Amanpreet and Manmeet Bhogal, the BrainSTEM podcast. Each episode interviews someone diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric disorder and an expert who studies or treats the disorder. The podcast helps to educate the public and reduce stigma surrounding the discussed disorders. The BrainSTEM podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, Google podcasts and YouTube.

Additionally, both SciPol-Detroit and the BrainSTEM podcast provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in science communication and advocacy.

“This award means a lot to me because I’ve always had an interest in neuroscience outreach and community engagement. Since grad school, I have regularly brought human brains to schools, often with my wonderful colleague Dr. Tom Fischer, director of the WSU undergraduate neuroscience major and advisor to the Neuroscience Honor Society Nu Rho Psi, to educate children and teachers about the brain,” Dr. Marusak said.

She was nominated by the Michigan Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, for which she is treasurer.

Dr. Marusak is attending and presenting research at the virtual Society for Neuroscience conference this week. In addition, 12 students/trainees from her lab (www.wsuthinklab.com) are also presenting individual research or neuroscience outreach projects, including Breanna Borg, Aneesh Hehr, Mohammed Faraj, Shreya Desai, Julia Evanski, Amanpreet Bhogal, Autumm Heeter, Shelley Paulisin, Daed Daher, Jennifer Losiowski, Pelli Mechnikov and Zazai Owens.

“These trainees are from various disciplines and levels, including undergraduate, graduates, medical students and post-baccalaureates,” she said. “Their projects span different topics related to brain development and mental health in children, such as impact of prenatal cannabis exposure on brain development in children, importance of sleep for modulating emotion-related brain connectivity in children, the impact of air pollution mental health, and the impact of a martial arts-based intervention.”

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