Alex Kloth, Ph.D.

akloth@live.unc.edu

    Neuroscience Center

Education

    Princeton University, Department of Molecular Biology/Neuroscience Institute

Mentors

    Ben Philpot, Ph.D.

Biography

Throughout my graduate and undergraduate careers, I have had numerous opportunities to share science with a variety of different audiences. With each experience—teaching biology majors and non-majors alike, helping to prepare new teaching assistants for their posts, mentoring undergraduates in the laboratory, and reaching out to a lay audience—I came away with a consistent impression: my best work takes place while teaching, whether it is encouraging middle school students’ curiosity to help them discover something new about science or guiding future scientists and engineers toward mastery of the scholarly work of their fields. This preparation has culminated in my decision to make biology education my life’s work. My career goal is to become an educator and a neuroscientist at a primarily undergraduate institution.

I first got my feet wet in scientific research as a high school research assistant in the mechanical engineering lab of Dr. Victor Giurgiutiu at the University of South Carolina. Even there at the beginning, I was working on a project that had a link to education: I designed equipment and developed practica for a freshman engineering lab. As I entered Duke University, I knew that I wanted to pursue a degree in engineering, but I still had a burgeoning interest in the brain and how behaviors arose from its activity. As I majored in biomedical engineering, I also found my way into the laboratories of Dr. Sidney Simon and Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, where I was able to use my knowledge of signal processing and electrical systems to analyze neural signals. After college, I moved solidly in the direction of neuroscience research: I worked as a postbaccalaureate fellow for Dr. Mortimer Mishkin at the Laboratory of Neuropsychology at the National Institute of Mental Health.

I attended graduate school at Princeton University, where I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Samuel Wang. There, my interest on a specific brain system, the cerebellum, evolved into research on the role of this system in neurodevelopment disorders, including autism. Recent research has shown that the cerebellum is a common feature of the pathophysiology of autism patients, and I wanted to assess how widespread cerebellar dysfunction might be in the large and proliferating number of mouse models of autism. Using a cerebellum-dependent form of associative learning, I found that disruption of cerebellum-dependent learning and timing disrupted is not only expressed in various ways across multiple mouse models of autism, these disruptions may depend critically on how the genetic mutations are expressed in the cerebellar circuitry. This research lays the foundation for understanding how disruption of the cerebellum at a physiological level may be part of the etiology of autism. Along the way at Princeton, I also had the opportunity to expand my expertise in anatomy, physiology, and behavior through a number of fruitful intramural and extramural collaborations.

Here at the University of North Carolina, I will continue my research on neurodevelopmental disorders in the laboratory of Dr. Ben Philpot. Here, I will used electrophysiological techniques in vivo and ex vivo to study neuron- and circuit-level defects in mouse models of Angelman syndrome, Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, and related disorders.

Neuroscience has broad appeal both in academic institutions and among the general public. I believe that an understanding of science, including neuroscience, plays an essential role in an active, informed society; likewise, I think the diversification of the perspectives of people involved in science would be beneficial. I am dedicated to making neuroscience accessible to any student who is interested in it, from a budding scientist or health professional to a freshman taking a general biology course. For this reason, I am excited to share the practice of science, and possibly inspire new interest in it, with students at SPIRE’s partner institutions. I have grown tremendously as a teacher and communicator over the years through a number of opportunities to interact with students and public, as a teaching assistant at South Carolina, Duke, and Princeton, as a teaching fellow at Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and as a part of the Graduate Molecular Biology Outreach Program at Princeton. Teaching biology majors and non-majors alike, helping to prepare new teaching assistants for their posts, and mentoring undergraduates in the laboratory have been the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my graduate career, and I want to make biology education my life’s work. The SPIRE program will further enable me to make a real impact in the classroom by giving me biology-specific pedagogy skills that I can take to other institutions to inspire students interested in science careers, to catalyze a general interest in science, and to contribute to the theory of effective science teaching.

Courses

  • Fall 2016
    • Neurobiology of Disease, North Carolina A&T State University
  • Spring 2016
    • Concepts in Biology II, North Carolina A&T State University