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International Day of Women and Girls in Science Profile: Dr. Jessica Nicks Takes Lead in Neuroscience

February 11, 2022
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Dr. Jessica Nicks is one of many women serving on the faculty of the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences.

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The Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences recognizes the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

On February 11 each year, the United Nations highlights the importance of full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and to further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Interested in science from a young age, Dr. Jessica Nicks, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, studied engineering at first. She recalls that her engineering classes were about 70 percent male. When classes were broken up into teams, it wasn’t unusual for her to be the only female student.

“One of the things we had to do was in electronics—cutting up some pieces for this machine we were building. The guys said ‘I’ll do it’ and I said ‘I’m going to do it.’ I think they were trying to be nice; they don’t always realize how it would come across,” she said.

As a student, Dr. Nicks’ interest in biology was growing.

“I loved biology and took extra science classes in high school because I really liked it. I went to a school that’s primarily engineering and when I took the biology class there it just kind of confirmed that’s what I was here to do, so I ended up switching schools,” she said.

One of her favorite classes was in cell biology, an upper level science class. She was inspired by her teacher and his ability to get complicated information across in a way his students could grasp. 

“He did a good job. I was like ‘I hope I can do that,’” she said. 

Dr. Nicks asserts that women enjoy key roles in the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences and that she is one of many women serving on the faculty. She teaches classes in anatomy and physiology, genetics and neurobiology. She is taking a lead teaching role in the a new BS degree program in neuroscience developed by her colleagues Dr. Joni Criswell, Biology, and Dr. Robert Franklin, Psychology. Dr. Nicks’ doctoral research focused on neuroscience, studying neuromuscular disorders and ways to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“I  piloted an upper level neuroscience neurobiology course last fall and then taught a topics course on pharmacology and drug action, which ended up basically being drugs’ effect on the brain,” she said. “One of the classes I’ll be teaching this fall is neuropharmacology, where we’re going to tie in the nervous system with all these different molecules that you’ve heard of and haven’t and why it’s hard to treat things in the nervous system.”

The undergraduate neuroscience degree will prepare graduates for medical school or a career in research.

“We have got a pretty decent amount of female professors in the Science Department, mostly biology and chemistry,” she said. “When you see people like Carrie Koenigstein, she’s the dean and you’re like ‘anybody can do this.’ I think it’s no longer a guy or a girl thing. If you want to go there, go for it.”

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