Croasdale Award: Michael Hopkins
Since September, Michael Hopkins has been working as a fellow at SpecialtyCare, a company that specializes in intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring. The fellowship aims to train qualified doctoral graduates for careers in this type of surgical monitoring.
“In my current position at SpecialtyCare, I monitor the neurological activity of patients while they undergo surgeries that put their brain or other neural elements at risk. By collecting real-time data about neural function during surgery, my colleagues and I are able to inform the surgeon of any changes that could lead to post-operative injury if no intervention is taken,” says Michael. “While, currently, I am not conducting research, one thing that excites me about working at SpecialtyCare is that the company is known for conducting research and publishing their findings in respected scientific journals. Once I’ve completed my training fellowship, I look forward to participating in these ongoing research projects.”
While at Dartmouth, Michael studied the mental health benefits of regular exercise with his doctoral advisor, David Bucci. This research culminated in his doctoral dissertation, Move it or lose out: neural and behavioral effects of physical exercise.
“My graduate research examined the neurobiological mechanisms underlying exercise-induced cognitive effects, from those underlying changes in stress-reactivity and anxiety-like behavior in rats, and to begin translating these findings from rodents directly into experimental work with humans. We found evidence to support the idea that the effects of exercise on cognition do indeed arise through separable neurobiological pathways than those underlying exercise-induced decreases in anxiety. Through our translational study with human participants, we were able to replicate a number of these findings with a low-intensity exercise intervention.”
In this experiment, Michael tested object-recognition memory in a number of undergraduate and graduate students at Dartmouth, who—prior to volunteering as participants in the examination—met the inclusion criteria for leading a “sedentary lifestyle,” and as part of the study adopted regular exercise routines. For the duration of his study, Michael’s volunteers walked at about 4 mph for 30 minutes every other day on treadmills.
“Throughout my doctoral career, I gathered data on the mental health of my subjects through a series of surveys and complied these findings into one of the studies in my dissertation,” explains Michael. “Our data suggest that a relatively mild exercise intervention can lead to cognitive improvement. But I think the most compelling finding was that the likelihood of experiencing these cognitive benefits may be tied to which version of a specific gene one carries, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF.”
Since it was disseminated, the research that Michael conducted under the guidance of David Bucci has been featured in a number of national publications, including The New York Times and The Huffington Post.
Michael also served as a teaching assistant in Dartmouth’s Psychological and Brain Sciences department (PBS), and participated in a number of Science Cafés hosted by the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL). After completing his department’s teacher-training program, Michael helped teach four of PBS’s required courses—Psych 6, Psych 10—as well as two terms of Systems Neuroscience, Psych 65, one of the more challenging courses offered by the department.
“Margaret Gullick and I were asked to TA Systems Neuroscience together, which required a lot of commitment. However, our efforts were recognized, and in 2009, the faculty members of PBS selected me and Margaret as the recipients of that year’s departmental teaching award.”
While working as the North Park Graduate Advisor, and serving as an Executive Board member of the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Michael hosted and planed a number of community-building events. Also, upon arriving at Dartmouth, Michael volunteered to chair Green Lambda, the graduate community’s only LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and Allies) student group. For his community-building efforts, Michael was awarded the Graduate Community Award in 2009.
“I genuinely enjoyed each of the leadership roles that I held at Dartmouth as well as being involved with different facets of the school’s graduate community. While working as the North Park GA, I was impressed by the enthusiasm that graduate students brought to the events—whether it was a wine and cheese mixer in the laundry room, or a shopping trip to White River Junction, the residents that came to my events were excited to meet other graduate students and to enjoy their time outside of the laboratory or library,” explains Michael. “I think the capstone of my GSC involvement was planning the inaugural ‘Amazing North Park Race,’ which I hosted last spring. Those who participated really got competitive, and it was great to watch graduate students from different departments run around campus working together to complete all of the challenges.”
Michael received his bachelors degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Colgate University in 2002, where he published two peer-reviewed scientific articles with Dr. Spencer Kelly examining the role of nonverbal communication in language. After graduating from Colgate, Michael lived in New York City where he began volunteering at a colon cancer research laboratory housed in The Rockefeller University. After a few months of volunteering, Michael was hired full-time as a research assistant, and while working at the center, found that he really enjoyed working in scientific research.
“The real-world experience I gained at Rockefeller was invaluable: not only did it re-affirm my passion for science and provide the work experience I needed to be accepted into the PhD program of my choice—which was Dartmouth—but I believe that the training I received helped prepare me to succeed as a graduate student,” says Michael.
by Wesley Whitaker
photos by Tennile Sunday & Wesley Whitaker