Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Hunter College

 

How did you narrow in on your field of study?

I find people endlessly interesting, so psychology was a natural fit. I read voraciously as a child, and I was always fascinated by the inner worlds of the characters. Over time I realized that how people experience the world is the theme running through my many questions, but that it’s actually quite difficult to accurately self-report many of our own experiences. During my graduate and post-doctoral training the availability of methods to measure basic behavior and brain function exploded, and I became most interested in leveraging these methods, such as brain imaging and neuroendocrine assays, to better measure the interaction of how people feel with what and how they see.

Please tell me about your research.

I am working to understand what happens in the brain during normative stress states (the same stress states we all experience) and in pathological stress such as what often is experienced after trauma exposure. For example, most people intuitively realize that what we see affects what we feel, but it’s also true that what we feel literally affects what we see. On the positive side, this means that feeling good allows us to see more of what is around us. On the not-so-positive side, stress states limit the scope of what we experience, and extreme stress states such as trauma-related stress can interfere with daily functioning. In my lab we combine clinical interviews, basic behavioral tasks, neuroendocrine assays, and fMRI brain scans to try to understand how stress states such as hypervigilance impact a person’s experience of her environment.

 

 

 

How has your research challenged old ways of thinking?

I think mostly my work challenges old ways of measurement. Instead of relying on the research methods of a single subfield, such as self-report questionnaires of symptoms, I integrate methods from cognitive science, clinical science, neuroendocrinology, and affective neuroscience. A truly integrated approach, in which study design and data interpretation are driven by a very thorough understanding of the theoretical assumptions and methods of multiple subfields, still is relatively unusual. There are many amazing collaborative research teams whose members represent different subfields, but each member of those teams has to just trust that the integration is conceptually and methodologically sound.


What is the potential impact on humanity?

More than half of all people will be exposed to trauma at some point in their lives, and although most people are quite resilient and do not develop lasting symptoms, some people do. My work, including a recent finding that we can use a simple inexpensive and non-invasive saliva sample to predict overactive brain activation in people with trauma-related hypervigilance, hopefully will help us with diagnostic precision and treatment tailoring.


What is one or a few books you’ve read that you’d recommend to your closest friends?

I just finished The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and it’s stunning. I think what made the story so compelling to me was the perspective; Nguyen used the device of having the Vietnamese narrator writing his story for an audience of one other specific Vietnamese character, which removes the automatic explanation/translation/justification that usually is necessary when a minority voice presents a narrative to a majority audience. The result is a completely frank switch of perspective without a majority voice filter, or buffer, if you will.

 

Is there a book you’ve read that you’d recommend universally (ie. to everyone you meet)?

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky. It’s not literature, and it’s an oldie, but it’s my go-to public service announcement. Stress can be really, really bad for you, and the book explains clearly, humorously, and scientifically exactly why.


What musicians are on your favorite playlist of the moment?

Right now Stevie Wonder, Susan Tedeschi, Bruno Mars, and whatever Spotify throws at me. It’s a weird mix of comfortable classics, a little bit of exploration, and songs that have just the right tempo for running.


Favorite past or current SNL cast member?

Bill Hader. I admire his versatility, but also there is something so completely gleeful about seeing him break character and laugh – it reminds me of every time I’ve found myself laughing helplessly with someone else, and particularly when the context made laughter inappropriate.


Are you on social media? Why or why not?

Minimally. I have a Facebook account that I value for the connections with sets of people from different periods of my life, and I found it extremely useful for connecting with new friends and staying in touch with others during my year-long sabbatical abroad last year. I don’t use other platforms, and now that I’m home in New York I am returning to old habits of checking Facebook once a month or so. I’m an introvert, so although social media obviously (and unfortunately) is a step removed from actual social interaction, I still feel no desire to constantly express myself to an audience or to be a constant captive audience for the expression of others.


How is our culture changing now that we have control over the aspects of ourselves that we present to others?

I think authenticity and presence are harder to find. One of the things I value the most about my close friends is that we actually talk (in person!) with each other about our lives, good and bad and confusing, and we all (mostly) manage to keep the phones off when we’re spending time together.


What regret to you think our culture will have in 20 years related to the rise of the internet and social media?

Paradoxically it often seems that the exponential growth of information available via the internet and social media is negatively correlated with critical thinking. People passively consume a high volume of information without any apparent discrimination between levels of quality and validity, and I find that concerning. I think this tendency will eventually translate into a culture that not only is at very high risk for manipulation, but also is hampered in societal progress, because progress in any area requires critical and original thought.

 

What personal belief do you hold that’s the most empowering?

I want and deserve to be surrounded only by people who lift me and help me to be more, and it makes me very happy to do the same for them.


What’s a belief you used to have about the world that no longer holds up?

I used to believe that to be kind and compassionate required sometimes tolerating poor treatment for the sake of the other person, who usually would be acting out of fear or pain. I now realize that it is completely possible to be compassionate and caring toward another human from a distance.


When it comes to how you react to and interact with others, what’s your rule of thumb?

I try to make sure that my default is to be kind and to be proactive and not reactive. Life is simpler when I have a clear idea of who I want to be in every interaction, and act accordingly. It is true that everyone wants to be better than someone, and although that urge leads many people to become good people who are excellent in many ways, it pushes others to take the easy route of trying to drag others down. I have learned to gently disengage from anyone who tries to make me or anyone else less than who we are.


I find that the more myself I become, the less I’m like other people. Which is an interesting experience that can be isolating at times. Do you relate to this?  What’s been your experience as you embody, embrace and act on more of your ideas that differ from other peoples?

You know, I initially thought that first statement was “the more myself I become, the less I like other people”. Both are true! What I really mean is that I’ve always perceived myself as a bit different from most people, so I’ve never had a single group within which I fit best, for example. Over time I became fairly comfortable in “the space between”, and I’ve learned that it’s often quite easy to connect with people who are very different if I approach them with genuine curiosity and interest. I’m very comfortable with doing my own thing, I have often felt lucky to find members of “my tribe” around the world, and I love a character!

The End

 

Mariann is wearing Roucha

     Look One 
     Ecru Deep V-Neck Jumpsuit     

     Vintage Dries Van Noten Fringe Blouse
     Gold Rings

     Look Two
     Nude Jumpsuit (Coming Soon)
     Vintage Celine Floral Blouse
     Navy Robe Coat 
     Silver Rings
 
     Look Three     
     Ecru Button Back Blouse
     Ecru Deep-V Neck Dress
     Silver Rings

On location in the hallways of Mariann's buildling
Photography by Charlie Schuck
Hair by Ezio Diaferia
No makeup
Styling and Interview by me (Jill)

 

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Killer Snail Chemist and Professor at Hunter College

 

What sort of problems do you find the most interesting to solve?

In science I don’t think we solve problems necessarily, I think we discover what the laws of nature are and that means finding the unknown. I like to find things that are novel and figure out how they work. Which is a leap of faith into ignorance that more and more requires an interdisciplinary approach to science.

No one subject - chemistry, biology, physics, math - can truly explain how cells work, or how stars are formed. Problems that require a combination of expertise interest me because it means you’re going to find out things that are more applicable as they are not coming from a siloed view.

 

Please tell me about your research.

I’m a venom scientist. I study the evolution of venom in predatory marine snails and use this as a roadmap to identify venom compounds that can be used to manipulate cell signals involved in disorders like pain and cancer. I was recently described as a “Killer Snail Chemist,” which I think is a succinct and accurate description as it combines the biological and chemical components of my research.

My killer snails, which are predatory marine snails, produce a venom arsenal similar to snakes and scorpions, which they use to feed on fish, worms, and other snails. These snail venoms can also kill humans, if you’re an unlucky diver or snorkeler. But in a twist of nature, this same venom can also be used as a cure if we can isolate and characterize the function of the compounds in the venom arsenal. Venom compounds make great therapeutic drugs because they are fast acting, potent, and specific – all the things you want a drug to be. 

 

 In my research we are looking for new drugs for treating pain and cancer from the venom of killer snails. In fact, the first snail drug is already on the market and is being used to treat chronic pain in HIV and cancer patients. It’s called Prialt and comes from the snail Conus magus. So the sea feeds us with seafood, helps us breathe by producing oxygen from phytoplankton and now we’ve learned the seas can also help cure us with new medicines.

 

What is the potential impact on humanity?

The impacts of the research being done in my group would get us closer to explaining the biodiversity of venomous animals we have on our planet and how these animals can help us find new cures for diseases and disorders. We are trying to explain how venom evolved over time in terebrid killer snails and apply this to venom evolution in other species to explain why we find a similar ingredients list of compounds in the venoms of snakes, spiders, sea anemones, and other venomous creatures. The compounds we find in terebrid venoms can be used as triggers for manipulating cell function such as turning a signal off or on. Typically turning signals off is how we prevent disorders like pain signals or tumor cells from spreading.

 

Why did you decide to unite female scientists at Hunter?

We started the Women in Science at Hunter, or WISH, initiative to have collective impact and get our voices heard. We have an awesome group of exceptional scientists at Hunter and they aren’t being recognized. Our scientists are leading their fields, like radiochemist Lynn Francesconi, cancer biologist Jill Bargonetti, Diana Reiss, who’s dolphin research is teaching us a about recognition and vocalization, and Jayne Raper, who studies trypanosomes to make disease resistant cattle. These are badass women and Hunter has a history of badass women scientists like Maria Tomasz, Jeannette Brown, and Rose K. Rose.

Hunter’s produced two Nobel Prize winners, Roslyn Yalow and Gertrude Elion. The only institution to have two female Nobel Prize winners. We’re doing amazing things and the world needs to know it. Hunter was founded as a women’s only institution and was a haven for bright, immigrant, and economically challenged women. We let men in now, but Hunter’s still a top-notch institution for women and the female scientists are proving that. The aim of WISH is to find private donors who want to provide support for named laboratories, undergraduate and graduate women in science fellowships, and travel awards.

 

Are we underrepresented? If so, what’s your personal experience or understanding of why?

I’m a woman of color and a scientist in chemical marine biology and drug discovery. I’m a bit of a unicorn. I don’t want to be a unicorn. I want to be a racehorse. Unicorns are rare, racehorses are plentiful and the best ones win. I want a field of women of color scientist racehorses running wild and competing with everyone else. How we get there isn’t easy, but I think it starts with a cultural change of perception. Specifically the perception of who can do want.

I don’t want to be a unicorn. I want to be a racehorse. Unicorns are rare, racehorses are plentiful and the best ones win.  

What is one or a few books you’ve read that you’d recommend to your closest friends?

I love the printed word. Books are amazing. I have three faves in no particular order: The Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Also anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Zadie Smith, or Isabel Allende.

 

Is there a book you’ve read that you’d recommend universally (ie. to everyone you meet)?

Any of the books I’d recommend to my friends and the Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis.

 

What’s your favorite film from the last year?

Black Panther. And not for the obvious reason in that it’s about a black superhero, which I think is an important achievement in changing cultural perceptions about black men, but it’s the women in the movie that moved me. They were strong, independent, emotional, nurturing, and fearless.

As a scientist, Shuri, the Black Panther’s littler sister who’s also his science and technology guru, stole the movie. She’s the Q to his Bond and she’s killer! She’s the face of women in science that I show my students and use in my talks. Role models are aspirational and help us put a name to the things we want to do and achieve. Shuri is naming a lot of things for women and girls of color and hopefully for all races.

 

Do you collect any art objects or literature? 

I collect old science equipment. I started doing so in graduate school at The Rockefeller University. Scientists at Rockefeller have done phenomenal things to advance science and the instruments they used to do so were still around in old labs and were going to be thrown away. I thought that was loosing scientific history, so I started bringing them to my apartment. When I left Rockefeller I had a mini museum of science equipment, which my brothers and boyfriend wanted nothing to do with the day I moved. I bribed them with their vice of choice to get them to move my instruments. Now my lab, office, and home have these instruments and more I’ve collected over the years. Tools are manifestations for how we get things done and having these instruments around me makes me feel like I’m getting things done.

 

What personal belief do you hold that’s the most empowering?

Anything is possible and everything can be negotiated.

 

Do you have a purpose or specific passion that you’re dedicated to?

Changing how science is taught. We’re not doing a good job of teaching science in schools and what we’ve learned is it’s not what we teach but how we teach that’s important. Together with my friends Jessica Ochoa Hendrix and Lindsay Portnoy we started a learning games company, Killer Snails. Our mottos are “games down to a science” and “learning through mechanics.” Games have been shown to be a powerful medium for learning and encouraging behavior change.

We’re a generation of gamers  -tabletop, digital, VR, AR - and we need to meet our students where they are. Our games use extreme creatures in nature to convey science concepts. Our secret sauce is supporting teacher engagement and real time assessment of student learning during game play. Our first game, Assassins of the Sea reflects my lab’s research with Killer Snails, hence the name of our company. I was very proud when Assassins of the Sea was considered for a MENSA and was awarded Best TableTop Game in 2016 by Playcrafters.  Our second game BiomeBuilder also won awards and we’re producing our first VR experience, BioDive. I know we can make a difference in how science is taught and ignite generations of students to the wonders of discovery and innovation.

 

The End 

 

Mande is wearing Roucha

     Look One 
     Navy Printed Silk Button Front Blouse     

     Navy Brushed Wool Wide Leg Pants
     Gold Rings

     Look Two
     Nude Deep V-Neck Tunic (Coming Soon)
     Vintage Dries Van Noten Floral Blouse
     Camel Brushed Wool Wide Leg Pants
     Camel Brushed Wool Tunic Sweater

     Look Three     
     Navy Button Back Blouse
     Navy Curved Leg Pleated Pants
     Silver Rings

On location in Mande's Lab and Surrounding Terrace
Photography by Charlie Schuck
Hair by Ezio Diaferia
No makeup
Styling and Interview by me (Jill)

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Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at Hunter College

 

At what age did you decide to pursue academia as a career?

32. Maybe a little later age to make a career call. Science was always my choice for the future, but I did not really envision taking the academia route. While still doing my post doctorate work, I was offered a unique opportunity — a faculty position that was unlikely to come again. I didn’t feel totally ready and, while it took me a while to accept, I “opened and walked through that door”; teaching and pursuing my research at a public university could not be a better fit for me.


How did you narrow in on your field of study?

I studied mathematics and chemistry and received doctoral training as a cellular biologist. My interest focused on RNA biology after my doctoral thesis work on fluorescence technology development and my postdoctoral research on small RNAs. My research program continues to grow across interdisciplinary lines.


Please tell me about your research. (I asked Diana to explain as she would to a fellow professor. I recapped in laymen's terms.)

For the past decade, my laboratory has been developing approaches to help resolve the composition and functional roles of large RNA:protein complexes via visualization of the movement of RNAs and proteins within a living cell. To this end, we are interested in unveiling mechanisms, now hidden, of the many ways RNAs can regulate gene expression, including translational repression, RNA interference, and RNA storage and turnover. 

 

 

Using the fruit fly as a model organism, we employ an interdisciplinary approach integrating genetic, molecular, biochemical, biophysical and chemical strategies, and engage in the development and advancement of imaging methods that enable unprecedented insights into the dynamic properties of RNAs.

However, our research on the lifecycle of intracellular nucleic acid informs a much wider range of topics than growth and development – from the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, to the development of pharmaceuticals targeting proteins to treat HIV infection.

Diana's lab is very cool. She has a small team of students breeding fruit flies. Thousands of them. In these giant temperature and moisture controlled refrigerators not used for cooling food. They use a table-sized microscope with Leica lens to visualize and make changes to the flies cells. They alter cells with a super fine glass nozzle that so small that it makes a needle look giant by comparison. The nozzle emits a slight amount of liquid, which is the amount of pressure needed to shift parts of the fruit flies cells, which impacts their biological makeup, including traits such as eye color, wing shape and body color. The focus of Diana's work is understanding the how-to process of changing cells and also what changes yield what results. 

 

Why did you decide to have (or not have) children and how big or difficult of a decision was that for you?

 

Growing up I aspired to be three things: a scientist, an athlete and a mother (funny how being a ‘wife’ was not one of them). As I turned 40, two of these life goals have been checked off — having a career in science and being an endurance triathlete.

Making the decision to become a mother was, of course, momentous, but especially emotionally challenging as a single parent. Today I am the mother of boy and girl twins (3 1/2 years old), who have my heart and soul in the palms of their hands!

Many say to me that I was brave, courageous, and strong to go thru the IVF process, but I believe it as exercising my greatest right and being the most important result of my life’s aspirations and work.
 


What musicians are on your favorite playlist of the moment?


Sia, Passenger, Cat Power, Ben Howard, James Blunt, The Sleepthief. These certainly change depending on my mood.


Where do you get your daily news?

Closely following the news is not part of my daily routine. I enjoy reading the New Yorker — mostly in hardcopy and, when I have time, I skim the online Top Stories of the NYTimes.


What was the last series you binge watched?


“This is Us” — because the characters of the boy/girl twins, who are central to the storyline, really intrigued me. The intertwined and dynamic relationships between all other characters make for a heartwarming series and I closely identify with their struggles as a parent of multiples.


I’m a huge standup comedy fan. Proximity to the Comedy Cellar was a major reason I moved to NY.  Any favorite comedians?


Trevor Noah, Ray Romano, and the late Robin Williams.

Sending you a link to Michelle Wolf. She's one of my current favorites and has a new HBO special.

 


What regret do you think our culture will have in 20 years related to the rise of the internet and social media?


A distinct loss of deep, personal connections. As a professor, I see how the impact on my students occurs in the physical classes and the lab, which does not exist when interacting via online courses. Many conversations that stem from physical presence do not occur.


What’s something new about yourself you’ve discovered in the last few years?


I have become a more patient person, something I would not have foreseen just a few years ago. I learned to expand my self-imposed limits and am now sometimes surprised by how much more I can handle and tolerate.


In what ways have you changed in the past decade?


After a cancer diagnosis in my 30s, I made sure that I could say that I chose my life and did not settle for it.


Do you have a purpose or specific passion that you’re dedicated to?


Being a good parent to my twins. Despite being a perfectionist, I know that being a parent is one job I cannot do perfectly, but one to which I am fully dedicated.


When it comes to how you react to and interact with others, what’s your rule of thumb?


I find my heart to be a big source of my intelligence and I interact with others through what they feel and value. I try to listen well.


What advice would you give your 16 year old self?


Well I immigrated to the U.S. from Romania when I was 16 — a tough age to enter a new country and culture and learn a new language. I experienced bullying first hand simply for not speaking English well. I would tell my young self to be bolder and not worry too much about what others think of me. And don’t worry about not being a typical American teenager.


What about your 30-year-old self?


Invest and cultivate more inner-self (mind and spirit) besides maintaining a strong body. Become financially literate and start saving for retirement!

 

The End 

 

Diana is wearing Roucha

     Look One 
     Black Robe Coat with Elastic D-Ring Belt
     Vintage Margiela Lurex Top
     Black Button Front Dress
     Black Pleated Pants with Drawstring Waist
     Vintage Raf Simmons for Adidas Sneakers

     Look Two
     Navy Robe Coat     
     Navy Deep V-Neck Tunic
     Navy Printed Silk Backwards Turtleneck Blouse
     Navy Pleated Pants with Drawstring Waist

     Look Three     
     Camel Robe Coat with Elastic D-Ring Belt
     Nude Deep V-Neck Tunic  (Coming Soon)
     Vintage Dries Van Noten Blouse

On location in Diana's office
Photography by Charlie Schuck
Hair by Ezio Diaferia
No makeup
Styling and Interview by me (Jill)

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ABOUT ROUCHA

**COPY UNCONFIRMED**

November 7 2017

I've dedicated my career to art and aesthetics by way of luxury fashion.  I've been a Founder, Creative Director, Buyer and Stylist in the industry for 15 years. I founded the luxury retailer Totokaelo in 2003 and grew it from a single door in Seattle to a bi-coastal and online specialty retailer globally acknowledged for curating the best in luxury fashion.

My interest in fashion and clothing has never been shallow. I engage because of fashion's ability to influence culture and the dominant social ideas.  The clothing we wear is a visual representation of our values, and that representation matters and influences the world around us.

Within fashion, I resonate with designers who represent female strength, intellect and irreverence. I've been inspired and influenced by, among others, Martin Margiela, Phoebe Philo, Rei Kawakubo and Dries Van Noten.

I love my job. I love attending Paris and Milan fashion weeks and runways shows. However with size 16 curves, finding clothing that I love and that fits, is a problem.  There's a major disconnect between what's happening in global fashion and the clothing that's available for women over a size 10.  

ROUCHA is my solution – along with my favorite and most personal project to date.

It's not a plus size collection, it's a rethinking of size and fit. I designed the clothing I want to wear — clothing that's missing from the market entirely. Clothing that's effortless and easy to wear. That drapes without clinging to my body. That's oversized without adding bulk. That flatters while still reflecting attitude and confidence.

I've spent thousands of hours in the fitting rooms of my retail stores styling women of all sizes, shapes, ages and colors. Everything I know about fit originates from the candid conversations had in these rooms.

While ROUCHA fits everyone, it's not designed for everyone. It's created for women who are strong, smart and who push against norms and expectations that we don't subscribe too or believe in. ROUCHA is for women who are ahead of the curve.

As a jumping off point, ROUCHA fits women who weigh between 100 to 220 pounds and who are between 5 feet to 6 feet tall.  All 150 styles are sized on ROUCHA's height-weight chart and most sizes are offered in two lengths (for shorties!). The clothing is photographed on models ranging from sizes 2 to 16, and we're regularly adding imagery of ROUCHA on more and varied body types.

Because this is a new concept, your trust is required. Trust in the size chart, the design, and the idea that clothing photographed on a size 4 can also flatter a size 14.  I'll get into the details of 'how' in subsequent blog posts. However, in the beginning, I'm asking for your trust. The clothing is dope and fits fucking awesome and I've tried every style on women sizes 4 to 18, apples and pears (1), and it works.

To thank you for your trust, if you purchase over $200 of Roucha clothing in the first 30 days, you'll receive free shipping for life (2).

I want Roucha to initiate change in the industry. For this to happen on a large scale, we need as much feedback on sizing and fit as you'll give us. I'll read every email sent to both hello@roucha.com and jill@roucha.com for Roucha's first 90 days. Please let us know what you love and what you don't.

If you resonate with the aesthetic and want to work with a stylist to find your individual voice within the collection, please email stylist@roucha.com. I have a sample set (Size C) in the studio and am taking select styling appointments. 

I hope I can rely on your feedback and conversation to help me keep creating clothing that's as strong, intellectually powerful and irreverent as the women who wear it.  

Best,

 

Jill Wenger

Founder

ROUCHA

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