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From Undergrad to Post Doc: A Conversation with an Early Career Researcher at AAIC

From Undergrad to Post Doc: A Conversation with an Early Career Researcher at AAIC
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August 2, 2022
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Duncan Nowling has always been fascinated by the human brain. He started his undergraduate career at the University of South Carolina studying neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorders and ADHD.

Nowling was still just an undergrad when he began working in the labs to look at the different disorders that hinder normal brain development in childhood when he decided he would make a big leap once he graduated. He would go straight from a B.S. in Biology to a PhD path at the Medical University of South Carolina, and he would go from neurodevelopment to neurodegeneration as his area of study.

Why such a shift in direction? “It was really the idea of bringing my knowledge full circle," Nowling said. "Development is one side of the coin. Degeneration is the other. It’s not just about the minds of children and young people; it’s about the whole lifespan of a human being.”

This year Nowling is presenting a poster as a graduate assistant at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The poster he is presenting in the exhibit hall focuses on when subjective cognitive decline is actually an early indicator of measurable cognitive decline. In other words, when someone self-identifies difficulty in memory, communication, or other cognitive skills but still tests normally, is that an early indication of real, measurable, diagnosable changes yet to come?

Nowling's work is exploring the idea that changes may be occurring in the brain that are not yet perceptible to types of tests available at this time. Brain imaging (see examples below from his poster) is one technique that he is using in his research to help identify early changes in the brain that may indicate cognitive decline.

Our staff Research Champion, Taylor Wilson, was able to meet with Nowling in the exhibit hall at AAIC to hear all about his research. "What strikes me is his incredible knowledge about his study, but more than that—his passion for this work, for what his research can show, for the next steps they will take, and all that energy of a young person engaged in something amazing," said Wilson.

And this is why the support of the Alzheimer’s Association for “Early Career Researchers” is so inspiring. While Nowling isn’t yet eligible to apply for an Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant (those begin at the post doctorate level), he and all other undergraduates and grad students already have access to some incredible programs

1) Registration fees for the Alzheimer’s Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment (ISTAART) have been waived for all students. This means that students passionate in this area of study are granted access to the global Alzheimer’s and dementia science community before the ink dries on their degrees, including free virtual access to AAIC!

2) There is an ISTAART Ambassador program that provides a year-long volunteer engagement for students. This opportunity offers even higher levels of engagement with access to other professional conferences throughout the year and opportunities to present in communities on their work. (ISTAART Ambassador panel pictured below at AAIC 2022.)

ISTAART Ambassadors present at AAIC
The options for engagement with students doesn’t stop there! Undergraduate and graduate students can join their local Walk to End Alzheimer’s, be recruited to be community educators, and become more involved with “on the ground” work of the Alzheimer’s Association, the nonprofit with the largest investment in the world for Alzheimer’s and dementia research.  

When asked about his involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association, Nowling excitedly shared, “Our lab had a Walk team last year, and I think we are doing it again this year… and if I were invited to share my poster with the community or any of this research, I would absolutely take that opportunity."
Once those dissertations are defended, the next generation of Alzheimer’s researchers will find post-doctoral possibilities right at their fingertips as they continue the pursuit of a world without Alzheimer’s. Early Career Researchers can learn more at


Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.™ For more information, visit or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.

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