The Psychology Department of Boston College is home to many outstanding brains. Professor Alexa Veenema is no exception to this, and is additionally equally fascinated by how the brain works. Her coursework and research focuses on many facets of human brain function. “I started to become intrigued by the brain when I studied Biology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands,” said professor Veenema.
Professor Veenema arrived in the United States as a post-doctoral researcher at UMass-Amherst in March of 2009. When asked about her choice to move from Europe to America to pursue her career, she explained, “Most countries in Europe only have full professor positions. Until you become a full professor you do not get to work independently. America also fascinates me because I see it as a very important place for science in general, and neuroscience in particular.”
Boston College is Dr. Veenema’s first teaching position as a professor. Her course “Neurobiology of Stress” is her first course offered as a professor of behavioral neuroscience. The BC community has, unsurprisingly, welcomed this brainy professor with open arms. Professor Veenema did not hesitate to comment on BC’s warm reception. “Boston College feels like a family. BC might be a small University, but they use that to their advantage. I instantly felt at home here and in the Psychology Department. I also like to interact with students. I would classify BC students as very bright, hard working, and motivated, even at 9:00am when my class begins!”
Professor Veenema’s current research focuses on the fascinating study of how the brain controls social and emotional behaviors under healthy and stressful conditions. Her various lines of research include understanding how the brain regulates social behavior in childhood.
It is this very research for which she recently received a grant from NARSAD, The Brain and Behavior Research Fund, which allows her to continue carrying out her research on the Boston College campus. The mission and progress of this research corporation can be found at www.narsad.org.
Veenema explained the specifics of what her studies entail, elaborating, “this research focuses its study on two neuropeptides: oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is vital for maternal behavior and has long been considered a female hormone. Now we know that both peptides are released in the brain and are important for regulating social behaviors in both men and women.”
These neuropeptides are particularly applicable to the study of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by severe social dysfunction. “Using rats as a model system, we recently found for the first time that vasopressin and oxytocin function differently in the immature brain compared with the adult brain. If we want to develop treatments for autism, we need to know how social behavior is regulated in the juvenile brain, not just the adult brain, since autism is diagnosed during childhood.” Both NARSAD and Boston College have recognized the cutting edge brain studies that professor Veenema has initiated and praise her for her continued contribution to the field of behavioral neuroscience.
Students particularly interested in both Biology and Psychology may be interested in registering for professor Veenema’s new course, “Neuroscience of Psychopathologies,” which will be offered next semester. Professor Alexa Veenema may be new to Boston College, but her brilliance in the study of neuroscience and her ability to interact with students and colleagues in the academic field render her a successful entrepreneur of the intellectual world.