Postdoc Profile: Hannah Twarkowski, PhD

Hannah Twarkowski, PhD

Hannah Twarkowski, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Amar Sahay, PhD, MGH Research Scholar 2019-2024. His lab investigates ways to use hippocampal neurogenesis and hippocampal circuit mechanisms to improve memory in adulthood and aging.

I am interested in understanding how neurons can write, update and store memories. This amazing capability of being stable and dynamic at the same time declines with aging and to a much further extent in Alzheimer’s disease. So, my research focuses on understanding how a healthy, adult brain writes & stores memories and how that changes in aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

To investigate this, I use a miniature microscope and a fluorescence marker that changes upon neuronal activity. This setup, in combination with a learning-task allows me to visualize neuronal activity in a freely behaving mouse while the animal is either learning (writing a memory) or recalling a stored memory.

What has been one of the most exciting moments in your career so far?
One of the most impressive things I’ve experienced while I was a student was the sound of a neuron being active (firing action potentials) in an electrophysiological recording.

This neuron was holding a piece of information online for a few seconds until the animal performed the task this information was needed for. With closed eyes, I could tell if the animal was successful or not in performing the task. 

What is the hardest part about the work you do?
I find it challenging to not get lost in all the steps & hurdles a research project normally includes. The thing that helps me the most is to organize as well as possible. I use some common time-management tools to arrange my priority list, deadlines and time for experiments.

This way, I can focus on the actual experiment when doing it — and not on the 20 other things I need to do. This system also helps me avoid losing time over unavailable resources. 

What are some of your interests outside the lab?
A few years ago, I promised myself to try one new activity or learn a new skill each year. Some of it I combined with my love of water — by learning to dive, sail and surf. (I horribly stink at surfing, but at least it is fun!)

Finishing my PhD and moving to the states for my postdoc got a bit in the way of this promise but I am currently back in the game – this time learning Spanish. Let’s see what I put on the to-learn/try list for next year.

What do you feel most passionately about?
I feel very passionate about gender equality. I am happy to see that this topic gets a lot of attention these days, but I am afraid that quite a lot of it will fade out over time without resulting in any proper changes.

I am stunned by how many barriers still exist for women and how unaware men are of them – partly because we don’t talk to each other about these things but rather attend all-female workshops on how to overcome gender inequality.

It should become the standard for men to be invited and to attend those events, in order to enable an actual dialog.

This article was originally published on the Harvard Brain Science Initiative website.

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