Meet Alyssa Johnson, a double major in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychology, and an exceptional student from the School of Neuroscience 2019 graduating class. 

After two years at Northern Virginia, she came to Virginia Tech to major in psychology. At the encouragement of her advisor, she filled in an empty elective slot with a class in the burgeoning School of Neuroscience program, which, like the Department of Psychology, is in the College of Science

“It turned out to be one of the hardest classes I’d ever had to up to that point,” Johnson said. “I spent countless hours in the library, learning and memorizing. I lost sleep and possibly shed a few tears at points. But I loved it. I was hooked, and I wanted to learn more.”

She took more neuroscience classes and decided not to switch majors from psychology to neuroscience, but to take on both majors. The intimidation she felt at 18 was gone. “I realized that I didn’t like science in high school because I didn’t understand it,” she said. “But at Virginia Tech, I learned to love it.”

Hooked, she jumped into neuroscience research, studying sex differences in the effects of stress on behavior, the immune system, and brain cells in the lab of Georgia Hodes, an assistant professor in the School of Neuroscience. “Women experience depression at twice the rate of men, and this might be one of the reasons that depression treatments only work in a fraction of people who try them,” Johnson said.

As she closes in on that walk across the stage in cap and gown, Johnson is working as a first author on a research article on depression for the journal Neuroscience. “I am most proud of this because I feel that my time and effort in this lab paid off — I helped contribute to a discovery in depression research,” Johnson added. “I have received research awards and opportunities in the past, but I believe this paper is bigger than myself. It is something other labs and researchers will be able to build on in the future.”