Unraveling the maze of drug addiction: Florence Varodayan makes her way as a researcher and mentor

After a few too many drinks, individuals find it difficult to navigate the twists and turns of the road ahead.

But while the booze is real, it’s not a Friday night on the town. In the laboratory of assistant professor of psychology Florence Varodayan, the drinkers are mice and the way back is in a veritable maze.

“Like humans, animals are initially reluctant to consume alcohol,” says Varodayan, who joined the psychology department at Binghamton University in January 2020. “After repeated exposure, rodents will drink at levels high levels equivalent to excessive alcohol consumption in humans. ”

By studying animal models, Varodayan hopes to understand how chronic alcohol consumption can create neurobiological changes in the brain’s prefrontal cortex that impact human executive function and decision-making, and contribute to the cycle of addiction. This could potentially lead to innovative therapeutic strategies for patients with psychiatric illnesses related to alcohol and anxiety or stress.

Although new to Binghamton, Varodayan has already garnered significant honors. In the past year, she received Promoting Diversity, Inclusion and Growth Recruitment Opportunities (PRODiG) funding for her research as part of a SUNY initiative to increase diversity. faculty in STEM fields. She became the SUNY System Chancellor’s first Early Career Fellow in 2020 and also brings with her a multi-year Pathway to Independence grant from the National Institutes of Health, which supports highly qualified postdoctoral researchers in their transition to independent scientists.

She received her BA in Biochemistry and Biology and MA in Chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a second MA and PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neurobiology. at Scripps Research.

Science and inclusion

As an educator and mentor, Varodayan emphasizes the importance of creating a diverse classroom and laboratory environment through the pedagogy and materials chosen for study. If faculty create a welcoming and inclusive environment, student participation will increase, which will benefit both the student and the field as a whole.

“The reality is that science has a bit of a reputation for being a very exclusive, male-dominated environment,” Varodayan explains.

To remedy this inequity, she ensures that students do not limit themselves to research that focuses exclusively on men, whether human or animal. Instead, they also read research on female subjects, as well as minority populations, and examine topics such as postpartum depression that are directly related to the female body.

Varodayan’s first year on campus was atypical: she joined Binghamton faculty just two months before the coronavirus pandemic sent classes online and canceled many in-person research. As the campus reopened, his lab quickly began to regain lost ground, welcoming its first graduate student in fall 2020 and its first batch of undergraduate researchers in the spring semester 2021.

Varodayan particularly appreciates the energy that students bring to a research team and the opportunity to witness their discovery of “the joy of scientific inquiry.” Mentoring also benefits her as a researcher: students will often ask questions that she has not considered on her own.

“No one has all the answers, and I think that’s a very important thing that everyone should keep in mind,” she reflects. “The only way to learn and grow as people, as scientists, as teachers, as students, is to ask questions and get information. This is the key to a mentoring relationship and this is how you gain trust.

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