Christine Ann Denny (’12PhD, Biological Sciences)

January 11, 2020
Christine Ann Denny

What is your current role?
Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry) at Columbia University Medical Center and Research Scientist at The New York State Psychiatric Institute/Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc.

What are you working on now?
My laboratory is broadly interested in identifying the neural mechanisms underlying learning and memory in disease states. To do so, we created an activity-dependent tagging system in mice that allows us to visualize an individual memory across the whole brain in mice with single-cell resolution. We can then quantify and manipulate the neural ensembles underlying memory loss following natural aging or Alzheimer’s disease results, or the neural ensembles underlying aversive memories following depression or PTSD.

What drew you to your field?
The brain has always fascinated me. When I was in college, I joined a neuroscience laboratory for financial reasons—I was the first person in my family to go to college, and needed extra money to support myself. I immediately loved the work (e.g., being able to ask and answer questions that interested me), and have never since left a laboratory setting. My mentor at the time suggested that I continue in research, which I ultimately did. Then and now, I am driven to find novel treatments or preventions for psychiatric and cognitive disorders.

What lessons from graduate school have you found useful in your professional life?
The greatest lesson I learned during graduate school was to think outside the box. My graduate program taught me to think creatively, to question the status quo, and to come up with innovative experiments to answer my questions. Moreover, I have learned not to be afraid to take advantage of novel tools to answer my questions.

What skill has unexpectedly helped you in your career?
During graduate school, my mentor René Hen taught me how to present my work clearly. I learned the importance of conveying my science not only to people in my direct field, but also to other scientists and the public. I have learned so much from René—especially how to give a great talk.

What is your favorite memory from your graduate years?
Meeting all of the people in René Hen’s laboratory and in the Biological Sciences program. Most important, I met my best friend, Justine (Barry) Kupferman, in graduate school, and to this day we are still very close. I have been so blessed by her friendship.

What are your passions outside of your work?
Raising our two girls and cooking.

What is your advice for current GSAS students?
Take advantage of all of the great people at Columbia. Their wisdom and guidance has been instrumental in my career.

What is next for you, professionally or otherwise?
Staying at Columbia for a long time, I hope!