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Vanderbilt Professor, Cody Siciliano, on developing a passion and the value of community college

Cody Siciliano: Professor at Vanderbilt University

Cody Siciliano is a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he runs a research program geared towards understanding and treating substance abuse.  He and his trainees want to figure out how some people can be exposed to drugs for their entire lives without issue, while others quickly develop substance-use disorders after brief exposures to drugs or alcohol.

Cody’s academic training has been far from typical.  A self-described “kindergarten drop-out,” Cody was home-schooled for many of his formative years before electing to attend Sullivan County Community College instead of high school.  After finishing his Associate’s degree, Cody transferred to Binghamton University, where he discovered his love of neuroscience in one of the final classes he took.  Cody explored his new interest in brains first by working as a technician at Binghamton, then going on to earn a PhD in Sara Jones’ laboratory at Wake Forest University and completing postdoctoral training with Kay Tye at MIT.  Cody and Nick discuss how their early education and especially their experiences at community colleges prepared them for autonomous careers in scientific research.  “I think [personalized learning] made a huge difference for me,” Cody says.  “Learning how to learn teaches you so much… it really helps you figure out what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about.”

Learning how to learn teaches you so much.

Cody Siciliano

Cody and Nick also talk about what it’s like to come into academia as an outsider.  Having a parent or another close family member who is involved in research can be a tremendous boon to a young scientist’s career; they can impart useful information and expectations, provide advice, and help with networking.  However, according to Cody, there are a number of benefits to being a scientist with no preconceived notions about how academia works.  “If you don’t come from those backgrounds,” he says, “you almost have to break the norms to make it.  I just did a bunch of stuff I wasn’t supposed to do.”  For example, Cody applied for awards that it “wasn’t [his] turn to apply for” and had no compunctions about walking up to famous researchers and asking them questions at conferences.  Cody also credits his naïveté about the normal progression of graduate school for helping him set (and complete) his goal of finishing in only three years.

Check out this episode to hear more from this conversation including Cody’s goals as a mentor, his favorite live music, and a discussion of what makes Nashville great!

Notes for this episode were written by Sam Asinof.

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