2021 NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (F99/K00)
Shiva Hassanzadeh-Behbahani is a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) at Georgetown. Before joining the IPN, Shiva earned her B.A. in Psychology with Honors from George Mason University. Shiva was recently awarded the six-year NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience Award (F99/K00) from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
What made you choose Georgetown University for your Ph.D.?
I quickly realized that Georgetown University’s Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) was the ideal research and training environment for me. The IPN has a track record of graduating exceptional neuroscientists. I knew that I would receive the rigorous training required to master the scientific method in preparation for the next steps of my career.
What is your research focus and how did you become interested in it?
My fascination with, and dedication to, understanding the mind and brain began during my time as an undergraduate researcher studying cognitive faculties such as memory and attention. For my Ph.D., I study how HIV affects the brain and leads to cognitive decline. About 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV or AIDS, and up to half of these individuals are afflicted with HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). The goal of my research is to investigate the underlying brain mechanisms of HAND to inform the development of early diagnostic methods.
What is the name of the award you received, and can you briefly describe it?
I am the recipient of the NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (F99/K00). This award funds up to two years of my Ph.D. research at Georgetown, and then four years of postdoctoral research at a new institution.
What does this award mean to you?
This award is the pinnacle of my scientific career thus far. It means the world to me to know that the NIH selected, approved, and invested in my research and training plans.
Do you have tips for other students interested in applying for this award or other external awards?
My first piece of advice is to look at previously successful applications. I encourage applicants to ask awardees to share their successful applications — we want to help! Also, be sure to proofread and have someone outside of your immediate field read over your application to help you to avoid too much jargon.
If you could meet one scientist, who would you want to meet and why?
I would love to have met Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), often called the father of modern neuroscience. He was a Spanish neuroanatomist who made multiple significant contributions to neuroanatomy, including discovering that neurons communicate without physically touching one another (i.e., brain cells talk to each other through tiny gaps known as synaptic clefts). He was also a talented artist who drew ravishing scientific illustrations of the microscopic structure of the brain that inspire me to this day.