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Women in Science Project
6201 Parker House
Hanover, NH 03755

Phone: 603-646-3690

Lisa Forlano Shin '90

An interview by Holly A. Taylor '87, July 3, 2000.

A Born Scientist

Like many early childhood interests spurred on by interested parents, Lisa Forlano Shin '90 first became a budding scientist by entering elementary school science fairs (her first project was a lemon battery). Her science interest really picked up in early high school and has continued until today. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Tufts University, conducting research on the neurobiology of anxiety disorders.

Lisa's interest in the neural mechanisms of anxiety disorders developed out of two Dartmouth courses, Abnormal Psychology and Human Neuropsychology. This interest was further reinforced through nearly two years of work in Dr. Gazzaniga's Cognitive Neuroscience lab at Dartmouth. This research experience played a critical role in Lisa's first job after graduation. She worked as a research assistant with Dr. Stephen Kosslyn of Harvard University. This additional research experience helped sway Lisa more toward the research side of her two possible interests, clinical work or research. Lisa went on to complete her Ph.D. in Psychology at Harvard.

Lisa's research primarily involves brain imaging to determine differences in brain functions between normal individuals and those in clinical populations. She is most interested in anxiety disorders and has focused most recently on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Individuals with PTSD include Vietnam War veterans and women subjected to abuse, among others. She uses positron emission tomography [PET] and functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] to better understand differences in how individuals with PTSD process information.

The Importance of Good Guidance

Lisa received guidance for her current career path through influential college and graduate school mentors. These mentors treated her like a colleague rather than a student. One of her graduate school mentors introduced her to neuro-imaging. Such a cutting-edge tool was simply not available to graduate students at the time (1992). Another graduate school mentor provided consistent support during the sometimes arduous task of graduate school. Although he is technically no longer her advisor, and she is a Ph.D. in her own right, he still serves to support Lisa's research and career.

A Juggling Act

In addition to her position at Tufts University, Lisa is also an Instructor in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. These multiple roles play into her juggling act between career and family. Lisa and her husband Patrick '89 have a 9-month old daughter, Gianna. Family is the top priority for Lisa. However, the juggling act can become frustrating. While both parents have made schedule adjustments, the adjustments early on may have a greater impact on the mother due to childbirth, nursing, etc.

The Meaning of Success

Lisa will also willingly point out the truth: a career path, whether in science or any other field, comes with its difficulties. There are times when we doubt our capabilities and we are only human to do so. The successful individual is the one who keeps going despite those occasional doubts. For current undergraduates she offers some advice, "Immerse yourself in your field of interest. This means talk with senior people in the field, find a mentor or two, get involved in their research or other professional work, and find out what steps you need to take in order to get started in the field. Generally speaking, you should not wait for other people to hand you opportunities; instead, you must search for and obtain them on your own." This advice relates to Lisa's observation that there are two kinds of people with respect to career paths, those who know what they want to do and those who aren't so sure. The indecision of the latter makes the road a bit more bumpy because career decisions are made multiple times, sometimes ending in a very unexpected place. If you're this latter type, don't get discouraged. You will find your intellectual home; it just might take longer.

Last Updated: 8/6/12