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Categories:  Students

Neuroscience grad a researcher and role model

Natalie King

“What’s always piqued my interest is the novelty of discovery,” says new Ph.D. Natalie King. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Don’t limit yourself to just one dream, Natalie King says.

“It’s about being aware of what you want to do with your life,” King said. “’You don’t need to fit some mold.’

At age 26, King is one of the youngest students to graduate from UIC’s neuroscience doctoral program. She completed her coursework and research, including a complex study on autism, while pursuing a career as an international model.

King started college at 16 after combining her junior and senior years in high school. She received a degree in biology from Oakwood University in Alabama, then was recruited to the College of Medicine’s Bridge to the Doctorate Program for underrepresented minorities in neuroscience.

“Neuroscience was one of the subjects I really liked in undergrad and exploring the field at UIC, I fell in love with it pretty early,” she said. “What’s always piqued my interest is the novelty of discovery.”

King conducted her dissertation research with Mark Rasenick, distinguished university professor of physiology and biophysics. The researchers examined blood cells to determine the importance of serotonin and its receptors in children who have autism, King said.

“We’re trying to come up with a very simple screening to use patients’ blood cells to predict what therapies will be useful for kids with autism,” Rasenick explained. “Natalie was very dedicated to the problem and understood it from both a scientific and humanistic level.”

Her Ph.D. completed, King is now working with the Liautaud Institute as its senior research specialist. She develops leadership development programs that center on emotional and social competency. “We’re teaching executives how to be leaders,” she said. “Emotional intelligence is something you have to practice.”

She’s continuing to work as a model, a career that took off while she was in graduate school. She’s modeled for the globally distributed Johnson’s “Gentle Treatment” hair care products and Black Opal cosmetics, as well as at local events such as Chicago Fashion Week.

“I applied 100 percent focus to my studies and modeling,” King said. “Modeling is always a part of me, like science.”

She dreams of owning her own business and wants to pursue opportunities in motivational speaking and writing. She published her first e-book in 2013, “The Ultimate Graduate School Survival Guide.” “I want to give back through speaking,” King said. “I want to reach out to young girls, not only about science, but also about having a healthy body image.”

Women interested in science careers should find a good mentor and dive into research, King said.

“Get your hands dirty as much as possible,” she said. “I’m a really big advocate of mentorship — find someone who is doing what you think you want to do. Science is a pretty heavy field and make sure you know that’s want you want to do.”