Alumni Spotlight

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Marie McNeely

Neurosciences, 2012; lab of Dr. Gammon M. Earhart
Co-Founder of Unfold Productions 
Co-Founder and Host of People Behind the Science 
Co-Founder of Pug Box

Honors and awards:
Centene​​ Corporation, Key Contributor Award (2013)
World Parkinson Congress Travel Award (2016) 

What is your current occupation?

Currently, I am a small business owner and science communicator. I am co-founder of Unfold Productions, which is a media company that specializes in the areas of science, technology, education, and entrepreneurship. Also in the area of science communication, I am co-founder of People Behind the Science and host of the People Behind the Science podcast. This podcast aims to make science interesting and accessible for everyone, as well as show the human side of science. In addition, I am co-founder of Pug Box, a monthly subscription box for pugs and the people who love them.​

What was your career path like after graduating from Washington University?
After graduating with my PhD from WashU in 2012, I wanted to gain industry experience, so I accepted a position as a Health Economics Analyst within Clinical Programs at Centene Corporation in St. Louis. While at Centene, I expanded my coding skills, learned more about managing and querying large datasets, and honed my skills at presenting data to varying audiences. I was promoted to Senior Health Economics Analyst about a year later, and I continued to work on a variety of different projects.

In spring of 2014, I was ready for a new challenge. I left Centene to co-found People Behind the Science, and for about six months, we published daily podcast interviews with scientific experts in a variety of research fields. I was then recruited back to WashU as a faculty member, and in October of 2014, I accepted a position as Instructor of Physical Therapy and Neurology at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. There, I taught Neuroscience in the Physical Therapy doctoral program, guest lectured for the Movement Science PhD program, and conducted research on movement impairments in people with neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson disease.

In 2016, I was promoted to Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and Neurology at WashU. Throughout this time, I maintained my interest in entrepreneurship. I continued my involvement with People Behind the Science, and I also co-founded Pug Box in 2016. Unfold Productions was established in 2017, and in the summer of 2017, I left WashU to pursue these entrepreneurial endeavors full time.

Why did you choose Washington University DBBS for your PhD training?
The WashU Program in Neurosciences was my top choice for graduate school because of the many exceptional scientists who were conducting research in a wide variety of areas in neuroscience. I had identified several researchers in whose work I was very interested, and speaking with some of these faculty members during interviews convinced me that this program was a good fit for me. Further, compared to other programs I considered, there were relatively fewer required courses in the WashU Neurosciences curriculum, and I found this emphasis on research very attractive. I wanted an experiential learning environment where I could learn science by doing research and interacting with other scientists. 

How did your time at WashU prepare you for your current career?
There were many things I learned during my time at WashU that have been beneficial at different stages of my career. Rigorous training in thinking scientifically and logically to solve problems has been helpful across all of my industry, academic, and entrepreneurial positions. Also, at WashU, I gained experience in communicating and presenting complex ideas and data through teaching, journal clubs, poster presentations, and oral presentations. These skills have been particularly valuable in my current science communication and media endeavors. Further, gaining exposure to the grant application process and the financial side of running a lab helped prepare me to launch my own small businesses.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at WashU? What was your favorite part about living in St. Louis?
I'll never forget when our lab went out for a karaoke night at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC in 2011. I'm a terrible singer, but it was fun to see everyone, including our PI, really getting into it!

Another wonderful memory was during my first year in the program, I hosted a Thanksgiving party for our whole class the week before Thanksgiving. Everyone brought different delicious dishes to share that ranged from the traditional Thanksgiving fare of mashed potatoes to home-made potstickers. It was fun to get the whole class together and get to know everyone better.

Some of my favorite things about living in St. Louis have been Saturday morning walks in the Botanical Gardens with friends, shopping at the Soulard Farmer's Market, and all of the fantastic restaurants!

What hobbies do you enjoy?
During free time, I love traveling, spending time with friends, and playing with my adorable pug. Another hobby I enjoy is reading a wide variety of books that includes fiction, biographies, the history of science, and literature classics. Also, about once or twice a year, I dust off my violin and play a bit.

What is your favorite quote?
I have two favorites right now: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” – Albert Einstein

“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” – Stephen Hawking

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
My ideal superpower would be the ability to see into the future. You face a lot of uncertainty as an entrepreneur, and it would be great to be able to inform my current decision-making and business priorities using advance knowledge of what is to come.

Who is your biggest role model?
I have had many role models and have been inspired by the stories of so many different people. One of these is Rita Levi-Montalcini. Rita was a Nobel Laureate who sought truth through hard work and dedication, persevered in the face of immense challenges, and contributed to the betterment of our world and human life.

What advice would you give to both prospective and current graduate students?
Your time in graduate school will go by quickly, so be sure to make the most of it. Put in the effort to develop a strong network of people who will celebrate your successes with you and who will be there to support and encourage you when you're going through the inevitable failures and challenges. Also, remember that there are many exciting possibilities to consider when thinking about the next steps of your career. You may end up finding great success and happiness following an unexpected path. Keep an open mind, and pursue the things in life that captivate you.​

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