Abby Paulson (23G) is not a typical member of the Emory community. As a seventh-year PhD student in the Emory University and Georgia Tech joint biomedical engineering program, Paulson spends most of her time not on Emory’s campus, but in the lab at Georgia Tech. We met at Kaldi’s Coffee at the Emory Student Center, and although she took neuroscience courses at the University when she started the program in 2016, our meeting was the first time she’d visited the new Kaldi’s.
Paulson studies neural activity involved in learning and memory and how it fails in disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The powerful information processing ability of the brain fascinates her.
“Memory, for example — how it can control our motor action, how it pretty much underlies everything that we do in life and how those things are altered in disease — I think is really interesting,” Paulson said.
This research is personal to Paulson, as her grandmother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Additionally, Paulson’s interest in biomedical engineering stemmed from her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Alabama.
“I always have really liked math, and I felt like it was a good application of some more quantitative skills but still having the opportunity to take some science classes because I had a feeling I still wanted to do something in science post-grad,” Paulson said. “It’s a good opportunity to have a taste of both worlds.”
Paulson’s love of math shows in her life outside of research. She has a silvery-gray cat named Pi, who has been her companion since the start of graduate school.
Paulson is well-spoken, often pausing to think before answering a question. Her elegant manner of speech came as no surprise when she mentioned her love of ballet, having done classical ballet through high school.
“I love to take a ballet class,” Paulson said. “The music is really calming.”
In addition to continuing to dance in her free time, Paulson enjoys running and walking the trails by the Chattahoochee River. Her favorite vacation spot, however, is the beach.
“A lot of nature can make you feel a little small and remember there’s so much more besides yourself,” Paulson said.
Paulson will graduate this summer after completing her dissertation. After graduation, she said she hopes to pursue a career in the biomedical engineering industry. However, she said she is not sure what that will look like exactly.
To undergraduates who are interested in a similar path, Paulson advised them to “keep persevering and moving forward.” Although she said that graduate school is a big commitment, “learning how to be a scientific thinker” is valuable.
“I think that mindset can apply to anything, but grad school can be a long road, and it’s important to have a positive attitude,” Paulson said.
When Paulson first replied to my interview request, she told me she wasn’t sure she was the best person for this project. However, as a researcher, student, mentor, ballerina, cat mom, new aunt and more, she truly represents the multifaceted beauty of the Emory community.
After graduation, one might find Paulson with her nose buried in a book or traveling. Although she said that she is open to staying in Atlanta and would also love to be somewhere near an ocean, she is not sure where her future job will take her.