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Breaking Barriers: Q&A With Stephanie Bowles, PhD, New Diversity Fellow

Published on November 18, 2020 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 7 months ago


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Stephanie Bowles, PhD, Diversity Research Fellow. Photo courtesy Stephanie Bowles

This is the second in our Q&A series introducing CHOP Research Institute’s new Diversity Fellows. Recognizing diversity as a key driver of the breakthroughs that change children’s lives and encourage investigators of various backgrounds to pursue careers in research, the Research Institute established the Postdoctoral Fellowship for Academic Diversity. Two new diversity fellows recently joined the CHOP research community, bringing the wealth of their unique education, training, and life experiences. In this week’s Q&As, we meet these scholars, learn about their areas of expertise and interest, and get a glimpse into how they spend their downtime.

Today’s featured fellow is Stephanie Bowles, PhD, who is excited to enhance her research skills in the neuroscience field, with a focus on understanding the role of orexin neuropeptide signaling in sex differences in brain disorders.

Tell us about your background and what compelled you to apply for the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Academic Diversity?

My research training integrates multidisciplinary approaches to dissect molecular mechanisms underlying transcriptional control in behavior. I received my doctorate degree from Georgia State University in molecular genetics and biochemistry in the lab of Casonya Johnson, PhD. My dissertation research aimed to dissect the function of a uniquely expressed glia specific bHLH transcription factor, HLH-17, in C.elegans astrocyte-like glia and to probe the function of glia in regulating complex behavior.

My goal in applying for the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Academic Diversity was to identify a research institute where I could utilize my doctoral training but also enhance my skills in the field of neuroscience. I believe working as a postdoctoral fellow here at CHOP in Seema Bhatnagar, PhD’s lab will expand my research network, enhance my research skills, and strengthen my grant writing and publication record.

What does diversity in research and science mean to you?

Many groups are underrepresented in science. While diversity and inclusion are ongoing issues that have made great progress, I believe diversity in research and science encompasses a network of men and women who not only derive from culturally diverse backgrounds but also stem from varying professional disciplines. Diversity in academia is critical for individuals who come from socially disadvantaged populations. It’s important to not only educate and expose underrepresented minorities interested in science to research, but also to erase the stereotype of “what a scientist looks like.” It’s empowering to see someone who “looks like you” break those barriers. Nonetheless, I also believe diversity in research is essential in achieving groundbreaking and innovative discoveries that benefit and promote a change in healthcare for genetically and culturally different populations.

What are some research projects that you’re excited about?

I am excited to be working on a few projects focused on understanding the role of orexin neuropeptide signaling. Recent studies in Dr. Bhatnagar’s lab have shown that orexin signaling is differentially regulated in males and females. These findings provide the opportunity to study sexually dimorphic modes of regulation for orexin signaling and possibly uncover sex differences in brain disorders.

One project that I am excited about, which utilizes my doctoral training, aims to elucidate key factors that contribute to the transcriptional control of orexin neuropeptides. The orexin system regulates various physiological functions that include feeding, sleep, and metabolism. Additionally, brown adipose tissue (BAT) regulates metabolism by modifying energy expenditure, glucose disposal, and adaptive heat production. Studies demonstrate that orexins contribute to changes in body temperature and weight. Therefore, one of my goals in this project would be to understand the role of orexins in BAT thermogenesis and how orexins function to combat elevation in body temperature as a result of fever.

What inspired you to choose your research focus/specialty? What do you aim to achieve with your research?

Mental health has always been near to my heart, and I am an advocate for mental health education and awareness. Taking the opportunity to work on projects that aim to elucidate factors that contribute to drastic or enigmatic changes in behavior and the influence of acute and chronic stress are a few ways in which I have tried to educate myself about mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Whether it’s through academia or some other influential platform, one of my long-term goals is to be able to educate and articulate to nonprofessionals within my community about psychiatric disorders and introduce methods available for combating these disorders based on groundbreaking discoveries in the field.

When you’re not working, do you have a favorite pastime or spot to relax, enjoy a meal, or be active?

Being a new mom, I enjoy hanging out at the park, swimming, and finding fun crafts and activities to do with my 2-year-old son. I also enjoy yoga and reading.