Photo of Ciarra Smith
Ciarra Smith

by Emily Pschigoda


In just a few short months, the Social Science Research Center’s undergraduate assistant, Ciarra Smith will find herself in the Windy City at Northwestern University. Raised in Madison, Alabama, Ciarra’s dedication to biochemistry at Mississippi State University will carry her 670 miles north to Chicago.

“I’ve really appreciated the hands-on learning experience that I’ve gotten from my major [at MSU],” said Ciarra. “The biochemistry department spends a lot of time on labs that make sure you’re prepared for actually going into the workforce.”

Ciarra was recently laureled the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which has led her to the next chapter in Chicago, Illinois. The highly-competitive grant will allow Ciarra to pursue up to three years of graduate research in neuroscience, specifically studying molecular interactions and working with Northwestern’s community involvement and outreach programs.

Prior to receiving the NSF grant, Ciarra completed prestigious internships with Northwestern and Colorado State University, both looking at neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and coping with anxiety-related behaviors from a molecular standpoint. The goal of the projects was to analyze the brain on its most finite levels, in order to therapeutically aid and understand the specific conditions and diseases.

Through the diverse experience she’s gathered, Ciarra feels she is called to serve in academia or scientific communications. By educating the public about neuroscience and its impacts, she knows she can pave the way for groundbreaking research and awareness that will enlighten the community. Ciarra explains her interest in the communication of neuroscience with an eager edge toward the topic.

“I’d like to be able to take fresh-off-the-press articles that neuroscientists are writing for other neuroscientists, then be able to translate that information so that it’s understandable and digestible for public consumption.”

As an MSU student, Ciarra has been most impacted by mentorship from Dr. John Bickle, department head of the philosophy and religion department. Beginning her freshman year, the two have met once a week to discuss everything from basic neuron function to neuroscience and ethics.

As Ciarra’s career progressed, she sought after Dr. Bickle to more profoundly understand the divisions of neuroscience and its impacts in the world. The relationship they built truly helped shape her desire to learn about the field, as relating to public space.

Later, working directly with Dr. Holli Seitz in the SSRC’s Message Lab, Ciarra also garnered invaluable experience for her senior honors thesis. Her partnership with Dr. Seitz continued to open her eyes to the vastness of neuroscience research that can be directly correlated to the public, a passion she will carry into her upcoming endeavors in Chicago.

Ciarra will graduate from MSU this upcoming weekend with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. Alongside her studies in the Maroon & White, she also dedicated her spare time as the co-editor for The Streetcar, Mississippi State’s creative arts journal which is sponsored by the Shackouls Honors College and the College of Arts & Sciences. Ciarra plans to use her variety of experiences at MSU to graduate from Northwestern with a PhD in neuroscience.

SSRC Spotlight: Ciarra Smith