Faculty Spotlight: Professor Heather Brenhouse

The Psychology Department extends a warm welcome to our newest faculty member, Professor Heather Brenhouse, who will be joining our Behavioral Neuroscience area this semester!

The Department newsleter, Psych NUws, was able to track Professor Brenhouse down for some Q&A, and here’s what they learned.

What is your background?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and attended high school in New Jersey. I received my BS in Psychobiology from Binghamton University in New York, I have an MS from Rutgers, and a PhD from Northeastern. I did my post-doctoral research at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, then stayed at Harvard as Instructor and Assistant Professor until I came to NU.

How did you become interested in psychology?
My mother took a college course in introductory psychology when I was a freshman in high school. She absolutely hated the course, but I would sneak away with her textbook and read it instead of doing my own homework. In school, I fell in love first with biology, and then neuroscience, during discussions with my 12th grade biology teacher about the mind-body connection.

What made you want to earn a PhD and have a career in research?
I started in university as a pre-med student, but after my first experience as an undergraduate researcher in a laboratory, I quickly realized that the discovery side of science was what excited me the most. I spent some time between degrees working at biotech companies. By watching my peers and my superiors, I learned that being a PhD would set me up with the freedom to design my own research and to figure out exactly what it was about the brain that I wanted to know, which to me was a dream job.

I started out only driven by my fascination for how the brain works, but during my time at McLean Hospital, I have seen what an impact this kind of research has on people who are at risk for, or suffer from, psychiatric disease. So, what drives my research now is the possibility of protecting at-risk people from ever spiraling down into a lifetime of struggling with mental illness.

What kind of research do you do?

I study animal models of brain development and of the interaction between the environment, the brain, and the body’s other biological systems (immune, endocrine, etc). My research involves how the normal development of the brain through juvenile and adolescent stages can be altered by early experiences, and how these changes can set the brain up for vulnerability to diseases such as schizophrenia, depression, and addiction.

Will you be inviting undergrads into your lab?