A girl with curly, medium-length blonde hair smiles at the camera. She wears a black dress and stands in front of a gray stone wall.
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To Capture the Whole Picture of Mental Health, Anna Douglas (C’24) Blends the Left and Right Brain 

Anna Douglas (C’24), an accomplished artist, equestrian and neuroscience researcher, has spent her time at Georgetown exploring the connections between art, neuroscience and therapy. 

With graduation just around the corner, she’s thankful for the space and time over the past four years to explore the ways her disparate interests overlap and complement one another. 

“I’ve come to the realization that there is no limit to education,” said Douglas, a neurobiology major and fine arts minor. “Georgetown’s liberal arts education encouraged interdisciplinary action in whatever way I found fit. There were many moments when I felt like my arts education at Georgetown supported my neurobiology pursuits, whether that was tackling a lab issue from a new angle or creating out-of-the-box graphics for papers.”

Connecting the Academic to the Personal

The road to Douglas’ course of study began long before she arrived at Georgetown. After witnessing the effect that neurological disorders had on close friends and family, she began investigating the mechanics of the brain in high school.  

“I became consumed with reading textbooks and research articles to try to understand exactly what was happening to me and my family—where exactly had the magical electrician who wires our synapses together gone wrong? But I was frustrated by the answer: the electrician hadn’t left any instructions about what they had done,” Douglas said. 

A girl in a white lab coat takes a selfie with a rat on her shoulder.

Anna Douglas (C’24) with a rat in the Ostroumov Lab.

An introductory neuroscience course in high school opened the door for Douglas to begin thinking systematically about the structure of the brain and mental health. 

“I was enamored with how the brain works but realized that we’d only scratched the surface of the electrician’s work in that class,” Douglas said. “The only option to learn more about this elusive electrical goop was to dive headfirst into understanding its very mechanics by majoring in neurobiology.”

At Georgetown, Douglas was able to explore the questions that had been nagging her, both in the classroom and in the laboratory. Since 2022, she has worked in Alexey Ostroumov’s lab, which studies the mechanisms of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders in rodents using molecular, physiological and behavioral techniques. 

“I loved getting to be hands-on with research, especially as I missed out on bench work during my freshman year because of the pandemic,” said Douglas. “I began research just as I entered my neurobiology gateway course and it was neat to be able to see what I learned in the classroom enhance my work in the lab.”

In the Ostroumov Lab, Douglas has collaborated with researchers examining the symptoms and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, the topic of her senior thesis. She has also worked in the Vanmeter/Raven Lab in the Center for Functional MRI, where she investigated the connection between brain iron levels and different psychiatric disorders.

“Anna is exceptionally dedicated to her research, she spends several hours in the lab every day, and she has helped to move our new Parkinson’s disease-related study forward to the point where federal NIH funding and publications can be obtained,” said Alexey Ostroumov, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology. “Anna possesses the motivation, curiosity and problem approaching skills that mark her as an exceptionally promising researcher.”

Pursuing Poignant Questions

In the classroom, Douglas found ample opportunities to pursue interesting research and ask poignant questions. 

“The professors in the neurobiology department truly want you to think like a proper scientist,” Douglas said. “In Prof. Maguire-Zess’ class on synaptic transmission, she asked us to complete a large literature review on any topic we liked that was related to synaptic transmission and my group chose to do a review on psilocybin and depression.”

Two people stand next to a poster board at a research conference. One, on the right, has curly, blonde hair. The other, on the left, has short hair and wears a button-down shirt.

Anna Douglas (C’24) with co-author Daniel Staas (C’24) at the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Conference.

Douglas’ research group developed a hypothesis about how psilocybin could correct depression and initiate neurogenesis, which ultimately led to multiple presentations and a peer-reviewed publication. That research was recognized by the Provost Undergraduate Research Presentation Award and Douglas presented the team’s findings at the National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University in 2023.

While studying mental health through a scientific lens, Douglas found time to investigate similar themes through her artwork. Under the guidance of Roberto Bocci, a photographer and installation artist, Douglas explored ideas that sprouted while investigating neurobiology.

“Apart from focusing across disciplines, I also focused my undergraduate art work across mediums,” said Douglas. “This past semester, I had the chance to take an independent study with Professor Bocci in photography and I focused my theme on judgment, perception and collective memory, partially as a nod to my neurobiology studies but also to reflect on the support that I have had at Georgetown from friends, professors and mentors.” 

Douglas realized that the unique community of faculty and friends on the Hilltop had empowered her at every step of her academic journey. Her independent study with Bocci gave Douglas the time and space to reflect and thank all of those people in her life. She worked to take portraits of as many Hoyas as possible, printing those images onto transparent film and then manufacturing sculptures and installations using those images. 

Three photos lay on gray concrete. The photos depict flowers in tones of blue and black.

A series of floral images captured by Anna Douglas (C’24) in a course on alternative photography.

“I am very grateful for my time at Georgetown and for those who have supported me along the way,” said Douglas. “I wanted to emphasize that thankfulness in my work while questioning what makes up our identity.”

For Douglas, her experiences in both fine art and neurobiology gave her an appreciation for the work that arises from individual passions. 

“Georgetown lets you take a hold of your education and form the path that you want to take, even if others may not initially see how it makes sense,” said Douglas. This has been immensely helpful in making me a more confident and empowered student.”

Fitting Everything In 

An accomplished academic, Douglas embodies Georgetown’s value of education for the whole person. She is a member of the United States Pony Club, receiving her “A” rating in 2020 — just one of four individuals across the country to do so that year. 

During her sophomore year, Douglas founded I Sex Ed, Unfiltered, a free sex education program for high school students. 

A girl wearing a helmet sits atop a black horse on a lush green field.

Anna Douglas (C’24) with her horse, Valenzio.

“We were a small group that initiated and led a free sex education program for high school students offering a direct point of communication between young people to freely discuss complex issues with a focus on intersectionality,” said Douglas. “We also built a custom, comprehensive and freely accessible curriculum while working with schools to implement permanent programs via virtual and in person formats.”

Douglas founded Hot Hoyas Walk, an athletic club that boasted 400 members in its first semester, and has also volunteered as a counselor with the Crisis Text Line. 

Emboldened by her time on the Hilltop, Douglas is excited to continue blending the arts and the sciences to better understand mental health. 

“Educating the whole person is something that I have come to embrace during my time at Georgetown,” Douglas said. “All of my professors have embodied and encouraged me to cross-pollinate my personal interests and academic studies. In my future educational endeavors, I will continue to do the same — this approach makes all forms of inquiry more rich and fruitful.”

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