Above: Neuroscience and public affairs student Annie Racine volunteered with Expanding Your Horizons Network, which helps girls recognize their potential and pursue opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by providing role models and hands-on activities. Below: Racine and public affairs classmates Maria Toniolo, left, and Lacee Koplin take in a political rally outside the Wisconsin Capitol.
Spurred by her desire to help people and translate scientific findings into better health policy, Annie Racine came to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the only U.S. campus to offer a dual degree in public policy and neuroscience.
"I want to study topics in neuroscience that have the potential to positively affect individuals and populations, rather than for the sake of scientific discovery in itself," Racine says. "I want to understand the policymaking process and be able to communicate effectively with policymakers so my research can both inform and be informed by public policy."
Racine graduated from Washington University in December 2011 with a unique combined major in philosophy, neuroscience and psychology. She chose Madison's Neuroscience and Public Policy Program because it is the only one of its kind. "An added bonus is that La Follette is a highly ranked school in an awesome town like Madison," she says. "Madison is a really fun, vibrant place in which to be a graduate student."
This summer, Racine is working in a neuroscience laboratory studying preclinical neuroimaging biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease through a National Institutes of Health training grant.
She appreciates the small size of the La Follette School and neuroscience programs. "The professors are intelligent, committed and engaging," she says. "I've gotten the chance to get to know some professors personally. Having a personal relationship with a professor is extremely motivating and makes classes more interesting."
The crossover of faculty between the two programs is also a benefit. Public affairs professor David Weimer is her advisor and a member of the Neuroscience and Public Policy Program, and Racine took Introduction to Policy Analysis with him. "His policy analyses on the early identification and treatment of Alzheimer's disease are an inspiring example of how public policy can be integrated with neuroscience," she says.
Racine is also gaining a solid grounding in statistics and learning how to apply them in the two fields. "Statistics are key for analytical policy work and for scientific research," she says.
Long term, Racine sees two primary career paths: a neuroscience research position in academia or industry studying a topic of high public health concern, or a policy analyst position for a science or mental health organization. "I want to center my research in neuroscience around topics of high clinical and public health relevance," she says.
Facilitating dialog between scientists and policymakers is an important component of public service, Racine says. "Public service should be of even greater emphasis in the scientific community," she adds. "Funding for research projects is incredibly competitive; I believe a major justification for funding certain projects should be the likelihood of the results contributing to the public well-being."