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Personal profile

Research interests

The Ackerman lab uses both zebrafish and fruit fly model systems to determine how distinct glial cell populations (individually and collectively) instruct nervous system development and disease, from synapses to circuits.


Although the United States is one of the richest countries in the world, systemic biases, racism, and ableism within our government and healthcare systems negatively impact the success, wellbeing, and survival of minority groups. These biases are clearly visible within the STEM community as well, with non-majority groups severely underrepresented across the board. For example, according to the Pew Research Center and National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, women of color make up 10.2% of the total population in the United States but occupy only 2.3% of tenured/tenure-track faculty positions. Additionally, 1 in 4 individuals in the United States have one or more disabilities, but lack of adequate accommodations largely precludes disabled individuals from occupying academic spaces— only 4% of faculty have a disclosed disability (Burke 2021, Inside Higher Ed). If URM individuals do persist and acquire a tenure-track position in academia, additional barriers challenge their success, including significantly lower rates of funding from federal grants (Taffe & Gilpin 2021, eLife). Thus, STEM has a severe problem with retention. My goal is to ensure that my trainees have the support systems they need to not only survive, but excel in STEM. 

Research shows that science is more innovative and productive when performed by a diverse team of individuals (Hofstra et al, 2020, PNAS). My goal as a mentor is to serve as a guide and advocate that enables each trainee to achieve their individual goals, and to challenge each mentee to expand their own vision of success. Because no two individuals are alike, this means that one size shoe does not fit all. My mentorship strategy is to provide individualized, stage-specific training in a compassionate and culturally competent manner (Tanner & Allen 2007, CBE Life Sci Educ). Cultural competency is one’s awareness of how their own cultural background drives their behaviors and how they interact with and mentor individuals from other cultures. I have taken several training courses, including two nine-hour workshops through the National Research Mentoring Network, to grow my skills in culturally competent mentoring. After sharing what I’ve learned from these trainings with my own mentees, together, we built the following lab philosophy to ensure an environment where anyone with a passion for neuroscience can find a place to learn and grow: 

As a lab, we are committed to a research environment where all individuals experience a true sense of belonging, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, age, religion, or any other identity. We do not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, xenophobia, or prejudice of any kind within our lab, and we stand against oppressive practices that inhibit equity and inclusivity within the broader community. 

We have four strategies to support this vision: communication, learning, networking, and breaking financial barriers. 

1. Communication: We believe science belongs to everyone and that science is at its best when diverse minds are at the table; thus, we make that opinion visible whenever possible. Our lab philosophy can be found on the Community page of our website, and I begin/end each of my talks with an emblem supporting Diversity in STEM. This allows members of minoritized groups know that our lab is a safe space for them to do their work.

2. Learning: Becoming a good mentor is an active process. I solicit semiannual, anonymized feedback from my group about which of my mentorship strategies are effective, and in which areas I need growth. Furthermore, I will continue to attend yearly training in effective mentorship strategies to appropriately support a diverse lab group. Additionally, I will set aside funds to enable my trainees to attend these workshops as well. 

3. Networking: Many exceptional scientists leave academia because we fail to create spaces of belonging for underrepresented trainees and staff. A sense of belonging cannot be driven by one person (e.g. a trainee’s PI), but instead requires a village of mentors and advocates both locally and within the broader scientific community. Over the course of my training, I have built a network of mentors that have been instrumental to my success. Thus, I will create a sense of belonging for my trainees by helping them to build their own, custom network of mentors (both scientific and otherwise) to usher them to success.

4. Financial: Low socioeconomic status is the most significant barrier to STEM participation (Cooper & Berry 2019, International Journal of Science Education). Unsurprisingly, this means that tenure-track faculty disproportionately come from families where at least one parent already has a PhD (Morgan et al., 2022, Nature Human Behaviour). Breaking down this barrier requires financial support. Accordingly, no work in my lab goes unpaid. High school students and undergraduates receive $15/hour for their time, regardless of their previous experience. Graduate students and postdocs are paid minimally according to NIH standards, with yearly raises to compensate for inflation, and are never asked to pay out-of-pocket for professional development (e.g. conferences, training courses). 

Together, we strive to make our lab, and WashU as a whole, a more supportive space for all individuals with a passion for learning.

Available to Mentor:

  • PhD/MSTP Students


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