Mary Jane Skelly, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College where she specializes in Neuroscience research.
Mary Jane grew up in the small town of Cleveland, Tennessee on the “southeastern corner of the state”. Her journey east-ward began with her move to North Carolina (for graduate school!) and culminated in her post-doctorate education in New York City. Mary Jane loves living in New York City, and when reflecting on her move, she recalls, “I thought living in New York would be super tough, but almost as soon as I moved here I realized that New Yorkers are every bit as friendly and community-minded as Southerners, and in many ways even kinder.”
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“Not only did I not know I wanted to be a scientist, I didn’t even know I had an aptitude for science until I was almost finished with college! Growing up I was singled out for reading, writing and singing, but I really struggled with math and science. I majored in Music in college and didn’t take a single science course until my senior year! By that time I’d decided I didn’t want to be a professional musician, and I was considering Psychology as an alternate career. I took a Biological Psychology class partly because I knew it would be a challenge. I wound up loving that class and doing really well, and the professor encouraged me to apply to Neuroscience graduate programs. It’s really almost a fluke that I wound up here!”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“I really struggled with biophysics my first year of grad school. The professor kept suggesting I “refer to my Physics” to understand electrical communication between neurons, but of course I hadn’t taken physics! I found a copy of Bertil Hille’s “Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes” and spent weeks breaking down the first couple chapters. It was slow going, but I was so proud of myself when I finally wrapped my mind around those complicated concepts. I enjoyed the material so much that I wound up joining an electrophysiology lab!”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“There are lots of helpful, supportive people in this field, but there are lots of gatekeepers too. If those gatekeepers don’t see themselves reflected back in you, they’re going to try to deny you entry. They’re subtle and their methods are insidious, so you may not even recognize what’s happening at first. Here’s my advice: ignore them completely and bet on yourself. Science desperately needs diverse viewpoints and experiences. The whole world stands to benefit from your contribution . . .”
You deserve to be here, you have earned your place, you are incredibly valuable and we are lucky to have you.
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“No explosions yet (knock on wood!) but I have broken untold pieces of expensive glassware.”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“Definitely Clinical Psychology. I decided to pursue Neuroscience so I could understand psychopathology generally, especially drug and alcohol addiction. I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice in pursuing basic science instead of clinical science, but truly the education and training I’ve received have completely changed the way I view and interact with the world. I’d like to do work that’s a little more closely linked to clinical populations at some point, and I’m hopeful that my expertise in neurobiology will help me make meaningful contributions in this arena.”
Why did you decide to come to NYC?
“My Yankee husband wanted to come home and I wanted to live in the greatest city on earth ;)”
When you are done training, do you plan to stay in NYC?
“I do. New York feels like home and is full of amazing opportunities. I’m excited about what the future holds for me here!”