Dr. Katherine Roche Highlights the NIH-Brown GPP Partnership

Photo of Dr. Katherine Roche
Dr. Katherine Roche joined NINDS as an investigator in 2001. Her work focuses on neurotransmitter receptor expression and targeting to the synapse.

Katherine Roche, Ph.D., Senior Investigator in the Receptor Biology Section, served as the NIH-Brown Graduate Partnership Program (GPP) Director from 2005 to 2022, retiring from the position this past fall. In those 17 years, Dr. Roche welcomed neuroscience students into eight different NIH institutes to partner with NIH faculty on their predoctoral research. Initially, she was drawn to the reward of guiding young scientists in their early careers, but throughout her time leading the program, she herself became inspired by the phenomenal caliber of Brown students and faculty.

Dr. Roche credits the NIH-Brown GPP partnership with seeding important inter-institute interactions at NIH, and she emphasizes that working collaboratively with co-directors and the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) has been essential for the partnership’s success. Since the inception of the program, Brown students have made a large impact on the neuroscience community at NIH and beyond—in academia, industry, policy, and more. Read on to learn about the NIH-Brown GPP partnership from a person who was there from the start, Dr. Katherine Roche:

What do you think the NIH Graduate Partnership Program provides that would be difficult to experience through other Ph.D. programs? 

The partnership programs allow students to train at NIH and leverage the many resources of intramural laboratories, while still being part of a university graduate program. The Brown-NIH GPP partnership, in particular, is just outstanding. I think the commitment of the Brown faculty to training and mentoring GPP students through the entire Ph.D. process is fundamental to its success. This program combines the strengths of the Brown graduate school experience (including an exceptional neuroscience program with an emphasis on training and mentoring) with NIH’s large set of opportunities and access to advanced technologies. For these students, the sky’s the limit.                        

What do you see in the future for graduate student training in neuroscience research?

Neuroscience has always been a multidisciplinary endeavor—drawing on a wide variety of techniques and approaches. In many ways, neuroscientists are at the forefront of new technology. Just look at the NIH BRAIN initiative. This initiative is highly attractive to neuroscience graduate programs. Couple state-of-the-art imaging and optogenetics to probe circuit function with the mysteries of the brain, and you have something very enticing for young scientists.

What advice would you give to incoming graduate students and/or PIs mentoring graduate students in their labs?

Embrace the joys of research! I always tell people in my lab that it is such a privilege to be able to come in each day, ask questions, and design experiments. Scientific research is one of the most self-driven things you can do. I tell my trainees that the short-term goals are always the same—perform rigorous research and learn to communicate it clearly both in presentations (posters and talks) and in writing (manuscripts). Work on those, and you will have future options in academia, industry, science writing, or any other related careers.

What did serving as Director of the Brown-NIH partnership program mean to you?

It became part of my identity. Serving as the Director of the Brown-NIH GPP was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at NIH. Certainly, it was the best use of my time outside of my own laboratory and mentoring my own trainees. It was fantastic to interact with the smart and engaging students through the years, and my friends and colleagues at Brown made it enriching in every way.

Any parting thoughts on graduate student mentoring and its importance to our scientific communities?

Mentorship is what makes it all worthwhile. Training graduate students is such a fun and invigorating aspect of running a lab. Because NIH doesn’t have a graduate program, it is important to support the NIH GPP programs and individual graduate student agreements. The success of the Brown-NIH GPP is based on its support across NIH in many different Institutes and Centers. This is critical. Leadership at NINDS has always been at the forefront of supporting students in our institute. This has allowed a steady flow of students into NINDS labs, which enriches our research and our community.


Contributed by Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D., freelance science writer and former NIH postdoctoral fellow.