Marisa M. Silveri ’95 studied biology and psychology (interdepartmental major) at Union College before earning a master’s degree and Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience from the State University of New York at Binghamton. She is now director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health in the Brain Imaging Center at McLean Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Marisa’s research investigates the neurobiology of adolescent and emerging adult brain development, and the identification of neurobiological markers of risk for addictive disorders and mental illness. Passionate about community outreach, she chairs the National Advocacy and Public Education (NAPE) committee for the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA). Marisa is also public education liaison between the RSA, the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and the journalist outlet, Newswise. At Harvard Medical School, she serves on the Psychiatry Research Committee, was a member of the inaugural LGBT Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and was faculty chair of the Joint Committee on the Status of Women. Marisa is the recipient of McLean Hospital’s Jack H. Mendelson Research Recognition Award and the Anne M. Cataldo Mentorship Award.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
The biggest challenge in my career is procuring funding for my research, typically from the National Institutes of Health. Federal funding is extremely limited and highly competitive. Most grants are not funded on the first, or even second, submission. This process requires significant persistence, and the ability to accept criticism and to continually improve one’s work. Receiving NIH funding is the hallmark achievement of scientists. It has been extremely rewarding to have been continually funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism branch of the NIH since 2004, as principal investigator on five grants. The most rewarding aspect of my outreach work is to arm the community with science – peer-reviewed empirical data that will help reduce suffering associated with substance use and psychiatric illness. The process of having peer-reviewed science articles accepted is also highly rewarding. I have over 75 publications to date, with the last five years reflecting more the work of my mentees.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
Professor of Psychology Carol Weisse was my advisor at Union. She was critical in my discovering the research career path. Carol and I now are colleagues who enthusiastically talk science and cooperatively engage students in learning about careers in neuroscience. Had I not met Carol, I would not be where I am today. Linda P. Spear, distinguished professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton, was my graduate mentor. Over my five years in her lab, she molded me into a rigorous and ethical scientist. I also am inspired by recent Union alumnae. I have been fortunate to have Anna Seraikas ’16 serve as one of my top research assistants, and Bretta Beer ’18, Katie Monahan ’18 and Sara Chojnacki ’19 work as undergraduate summer interns in my lab. All have incredibly bright futures. It was a pleasure to provide guidance and mentorship to these alumnae.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Ask questions and learn to negotiate, as uncomfortable as it can be. Seek information, look beyond what meets the eye, meet people and talk about alternative approaches to everything. Accept that there is no one way, or best way, to accomplish something. Be willing to change your opinion or perspective as needed.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
Playing collegiate volleyball at Union. I’m thankful to have been recruited by then head coach Joanne Little, now Union’s senior associate director of Athletics. Volleyball provided me with lifelong friends and an opportunity to play a great sport, and gain experience in leadership. As a two-year co-captain, I gained skills necessary for team building. I returned to Union this past fall to play in the first annual women’s alumni volleyball game. It was amazing! Another formative experience at Union was going on the National Health Care Systems term abroad (to Holland, Hungary and Britain) to compare health care systems with the U.S. As one of the only non pre-med students on this term abroad, my goals were somewhat unique as I focused on the psychiatric care at the institutions we visited. This early exposure has been ingrained in my work at McLean Hospital, ranked America’s top freestanding psychiatric hospital by U.S. News & World Report. Finally, Union provided me with an incredible family of friends. Our group has continued to gather every single summer since 1992 at an event we affectionately refer to as Jordofest (held at classmate Jordan Bergtraum’s family home). My Union friendships are unparalleled.