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Ryan Makinson, PhD: UC Presidential Medalist of Graduate Student Excellence

Ryan Makinson, PhD: UC Presidential Medalist of Graduate Student Excellence

Published: 5/3/2018

Handling criticism well and thinking on one’s feet are two of many strengths Ryan Makinson, PhD, possesses, according to Kim Seroogy, PhD, past director of the UC Neuroscience Graduate Program and a professor and vice chair of basic research in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine.

Makinson, PhD, who recently earned his doctorate in neuroscience from UC’s College of Medicine, is one of only two 2018 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Graduate Student Excellence (PMGSE) awards, given to individuals who demonstrate the "ideals of the University of Cincinnati." This is the second year in a row that a student of the Neuroscience Graduate Program has received the PMGSE; last year the honor went to Jessica Ross, PhD.

"I feel extraordinarily honored to receive this award. Additionally, this distinction is made possible in large part due to the support from my family and community, for which I am eternally grateful,” says Makinson, noting that this achievement feels especially significant to him, as someone who is affected by a learning disability and dyslexia.

Makinson presented his dissertation before Seroogy and other committee members in November 2017. His research focused on the interactions between the early-life development of the brain and the immune system, specifically on the adverse effects of immune activation in the brain on cognition later in life.

Seroogy noted that Makinson’s defense was well prepared and said that he passed the dissertation defense with flying colors, requiring minimal revisions from the committee.

Currently Makinson has five peer-reviewed scientific publications, three as the lead author. 

A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, Makinson received his bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology from Emory University. Throughout his doctoral studies, Makinson was consistently recognized for his high academic scholarship, leadership and service to UC. His achievements while at UC include: securing funding as a recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, UC’s Research Council Graduate Research Fellowship, Sigma Xi Honorary Research Society Grant-in-Aid of Research Award, UC Graduate Student Government Association Research Fellowship, Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Young Professional Development Award and a NSF fellowship to conduct postmortem brain research for three months in the Netherlands.

While Makinson served as the Neuroscience Graduate Program student ambassador and as president and vice president of the Health Science Graduate Association within the College of Medicine, his leadership skills reached new heights when he was appointed by Ohio Governor John Kasich to serve on UC’s Board of Trustees as the Graduate Student Trustee where he contributes to financial decisions, curriculum changes and state-level policies and initiatives that affect UC.

"Working with the board has been an invaluable experience as a graduate student. Additionally, the ability to work closely with UC’s trustees has been a unique opportunity to grow both on a personal and intellectual level,” says Makinson.

In his recommendation letter to the PMGSE committee, Iain Cartwright, PhD, associate dean and director of the Office of Graduate Education at the UC College of Medicine, listed many of Makinson’s achievements within the doctoral program, but most notably, "The fact that Ryan was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship for his graduate studies is an extremely competitive and difficult honor to obtain; I can only think of one other student who received this honor in my 30 years here.”

Cartwright describes Makinson as enthusiastic, but with a calm and measured demeanor, "More importantly, he has the gift of being a good listener … being an effective leader requires people to warm to both your ideas and your personality, and I believe Ryan has both those qualities.”

As a robust advocate for the funding of science and a devoted practitioner of public science communication, Makinson was an Early Career Policy Fellow for the SfN. As such, he traveled to Washington, DC, for SfN’s Capitol Hill Day where he and other members met with senators and congressmen to advocate for enhanced legislative support and sustained funding for biomedical research. Seroogy praised Makinson for his ongoing advocacy work in this area.

On the local front Makinson worked behind the scenes to arrange for neuroscience lab tours with U.S. representatives Steve Chabot [OH-1] and Brad Wenstrup [OH-2] as well as a tour and discussion with Senator Rob Portman, to highlight the important of biomedical research funding for advancing research in treatments for neurological diseases.

"What is truly unique about Dr. Makinson is his success both as a scientist and as a science advocate. His success in both domains is a testament to his ability to combine and manage significant demands on his time and attention,” says Teresa Reyes, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and Makinson’s graduate thesis advisor.

Now, Makinson is considering pursuing a career in either clinical research or science policy. But it’s clear, to Cartwright, that wherever he ends up, "he is poised for strong success and achievement in his chosen future field of health and science policy.” 

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