Elizabeth Crofton, PhD is currently an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA. Dr. Crofton was a postdoctoral scholar in the UNC Chapel Hill Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education (SPIRE) program from 2017-2020. Dr. Crofton conducted her postdoctoral research in the laboratories of Dr. Melissa A. Herman and Dr. A. Leslie Morrow investigating the neurobiological and molecular mechanisms of alcohol. Through the SPIRE program, Dr. Crofton was a part-time instructor in the Biology Department at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T) in Greensboro, NC in 2019. Dr. Crofton completed her PhD in 2017 at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas A. Green investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of cocaine.
1. Tell us a little more about the work you are currently engaged in. What are your main job responsibilities?
As a tenure-track faculty member at a small primarily undergraduate institution (PUI), my three main job responsibilities are teaching, research, and service, with teaching and research being the main responsibilities. I typically teach 3 classes per semester, such as an upper-level neuroscience lab course for neuroscience majors, a course for psychology majors about the relationship between the brain and behavior, and an internship course for senior neuroscience majors. My research focuses on understanding the neurobiological and molecular mechanisms of abused drugs using mice and is designed to provide cutting-edge research experiences for undergraduates. Next year I will start advising students and serving on committees, but currently service consists of planning and organizing events for students and maintaining the department’s events calendar.
2. Please share a brief overview of your career trajectory. What steps did you take after leaving UNC to end up where you are now?
My career trajectory is essentially summarized above in my bio. After finishing my graduate work at UTMB, I came to UNC-CH as a postdoctoral scholar in the SPIRE program, and then came to Emmanuel last Fall.
3. What professional development resources and programs did you use or participate in while at UNC and how did these benefit you?
I was very fortunate to be a SPIRE postdoctoral scholar at UNC-CH. This is a teaching and research postdoctoral program funded by NIGMS (National Institute of General Medical Sciences) through an IRACDA grant (Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award). SPIRE scholars conduct research with a mentor at UNC-CH, are trained in undergraduate teaching, teach for two semesters at a partner minority-serving institution (in my case, NCA&T), and gain a variety of professional development resources, including participation in the CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning) program at UNC. I would not be the educator I am today without the training, experience, and professional development I received through the SPIRE program, including CIRTL.
4. What steps did you take when you were still a postdoc to prepare yourself for the job market/your industry?
I was interested in becoming faculty with significant teaching responsibilities, so I knew I would need a lot of teaching experience to be competitive. Besides teaching two courses at NCA&T through the SPIRE program, I also learned about high quality undergraduate education through the CIRLT programming. I took two CIRTL classes, “An introduction to evidence-based undergraduate STEM teaching”, which I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in teaching and “Planning a Teaching-as-Research Project”. I conducted a teaching-as-research project at NCA&T to assess the impact of the muddiest point activity in my courses.
5. What skills/competencies did you acquire in your postdoc that you apply in your job today or that have helped you progress in your career? (Examples can include specific technical skills and/or more general competencies).
I could write an endless list, but the main ones besides research is all the training and experience teaching. Participating in CIRTL was definitely helpful and is available to all graduate students and postdocs at UNC. I highly recommend applying to the SPIRE program for anyone that is interested in a faculty position.
6. What advice would you offer current graduate students or postdocs about professional development in general or career advice for your industry/position specifically?
Take advantage of the CIRTL programming! If possible, gain experience teaching in the classroom, either guest lecture, TA, or teach your own course.