Dr. Nim Tottenham – the 2022 Flux winner of the inaugural Linda Spear Mid-Career Award.
Congratulations to Dr. Nim Tottenham, this year’s winner of the Linda Spear Mid-Career Award recognizing her outstanding contributions in developmental neuroscience! Dr. Tottenham is currently a Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, where she leads the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. Her research focuses on understanding brain development underlying emotional behavior, or as she puts it herself, “the brain development that helps support the massive changes in emotional behaviors that we experience throughout the first two decades of life and the powerful role that parents play in shaping that brain development.”
Dr. Tottenham has always been interested in the importance of caregiving for psychological well-being. “This interest, combined with a deep interest in biological mechanisms helped establish my program of research,” she says. Dr. Tottenham earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and then went on to earn her PhD in Child Psychology and Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Weill Cornell Medical College. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Tottenham is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, has earned numerous awards for both teaching and research, and has authored over 125 journal articles and book chapters in the field.
Currently, Dr. Tottenham’s lab is exploring the longitudinal development of the amygdala and its cortical connections, the impact of early life stress on brain development, and how children learn to respond to emotional or frustrating events from their parents. Dr. Tottenham shared that she believes an important future direction for the field, in addition to the many exciting directions that Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience is already taking, is “continuing to include experimental design (both within- and between-subjects designs) … [which is] an important means of understanding developmental changes in neurobiology at the level of mechanism.”
When asked about her proudest scientific accomplishment, Dr. Tottenham shared without hesitation that “Without a doubt, I am proudest of the students and postdocs that have trained in the lab.” She reflected on the importance of mentorship in her own research trajectory. “Perhaps most importantly for me, I had the privilege of training with world-class, intellectual giants in developmental science. From an early point in my training, I was exposed not only to the human behavioral, physiological, and neuroimaging literatures, but also to basic neuroscience research using animal models.” She expressed particular gratitude that her mentors showed her the importance and value of using a translational approach between animal models and human participants, which she says “has always played a large role in the work that we do.”
To the trainees in our community who are interested in pursuing developmental cognitive or affective neuroscience research, Dr. Tottenham shared the following advice: “Do whatever it takes to discover what research question is most exciting to you. I believe this is perhaps more important than anything else. Once you’ve figured out what your question is, it will fuel and motivate all of your other research endeavors.”
This interview was conducted by Arielle Keller and the Flux Communication Committee team.
Arielle S Keller, PhD
Neuroengineering and Medicine Post-Doctoral Fellow Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania