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Student Q&A: Grace Bellinger, NUIN/PPH

Grace Bellinger

Grace Bellinger, a fifth-year PhD/MPH candidate in the Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience (NUIN) program, studies motor impairments that emerge following stroke in the Investigational Technologies in Stroke Recovery Laboratory. She is advised by Michael Ellis, PT, DPT, associate professor of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences and of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Bellinger also conducts public health research under the supervision of Lauren Beach, JD, PhD, research assistant professor of Medical Social Sciences.

Where is your hometown?

I was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. Growing up around the Mayo Clinic, I developed a strong interest in biomedical science at a very young age.

What are your research interests?

My dissertation research is in stroke rehabilitation. Specifically, I am interested in the impairments that develop after stroke and how they impact reaching function throughout early recovery and into the chronic phase. As part of my public health education, I have developed an interest in health equity and am currently studying the cardiovascular health of gender minority populations.

What exciting projects are you working on?

I am preparing to launch the final study of my thesis. This project involves measuring various post-stroke impairments longitudinally. I will be recruiting individuals who survived their first stroke and assessing them out to 3-months post-stroke. This study will give rehabilitation researchers a better understanding of the development of weakness, spasticity, and abnormal muscle co-activation patterns as well as how the impairments interact over time to impact reaching function.

What attracted you to your program?

I chose to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience at Northwestern University because of the motor neuroscience community. NUIN is one of the best programs to study motor control, especially in the context of neurorehabilitation. Additionally, I love Chicago and felt a strong sense of belonging with both the current and prospective students during my interview weekend.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

One of the best decisions I have made at Northwestern was adding a Master of Public Health degree to my training. While I entered the dual degree program much later, as I was beginning my 4th year in NUIN, there has never been a better time to be in public health. I entered the MPH program in fall 2019, unaware that public interest in the field was about to surge. I have especially enjoyed my training in health equity. As a clinical scientist, it is important to understand the healthcare system, social determinants of health, and health inequities when working with patients.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

The Feinberg faculty are phenomenal! Northwestern has experts in every area of neuroscience, and I have enjoyed learning from leaders in the field. I have been particularly impressed by faculty within the Program in Public Health and how they have responded to the pandemic and other recent events. I felt very supported while taking virtual classes and the instructors always acknowledged current events and created space for discussion.

What do you do in your free time?

As a kinesiologist-by-training, physical activity is an important part of my life. I enjoy various forms of exercise such as dancing, cycling, and weightlifting. I also love trying new foods and exploring places around Chicago.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan on remaining in academia for the rest of my career. After graduation, I plan to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in motor neuroscience. I hope to study motor control in animal models, which would allow me to explore the neural control of movement more directly than is possible in humans.