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Once an Academic,
Always an Academic

Written by Marissa Poulson

Research psychology is an immensely rewarding profession. Just ask Nicol Moreland, Ph.D., adjunct faculty for NCU's School of Psychology.

Nicol Moreland (Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, School of Psychology)

"My specialty is health psychology," relates Moreland, who researched Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for her master's and Alzheimer's disease (AD) for her Ph.D. "I find great pleasure in those moments when I discover something new about behavior and effectively changing that behavior to the extent that my community benefits from the change."

Moreland spent 10 years working in psychobiology labs at various universities. Highlights include receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) while in New Mexico and studying fear conditioning while at the University of Wisconsin.

"My research interest focused on brain preservation, more specifically cellular preservation," she explains. "Both fetal alcohol and AD patients lose brain cells and matter. I was interested in preserving those areas [of the brain impacted by these two diseases]."

Moreland utilized rat models to carry out her research in both areas.

"With regard to the fetal alcohol research, we tested cell theory showing that we were capable of saving cells from dying off in the corpus callosum (bunch of neural fibers that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres)," she notes. "We did this by protecting the outer cell membrane integrity by introducing a fetoprotective agent (Bioflavonoid Silymarin (SY)) at different times during the rats’ pregnancy."

Moreland's research showed that SY helped relieve some of the negative effects of ethanol on the developing corpus callosum of the fetal rat brain.

"With regard to the AD research," she continues, "we wanted to protect the rats’ ability to remember. We introduced another agent, Cerebrolysin, at different stages of the lifespan to see if early intervention worked to save the memory of aging rats."

As fulfilling as her work was, after a decade in academia, Moreland decided to transition into government work. Since 2005, she has researched gender, mental illness and racial disproportionate contact within prisons and detention centers.

“A few years after leaving academia, I found I missed the intellectual contact of fellow psychologists and my students.”

Nicol Moreland, Ph.D., (Adjunct Faculty, School of Psychology)

"I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to research both the theoretical and applied basis of human behavior," relates Moreland. "I have the opportunity to present locally and nationally every year on criminal justice reform. I have presented to judges, politicians, state legislatures, and even the Department of Justice in Washington D.C."

But something was missing.

"A few years after leaving academia, I found I missed the intellectual contact of fellow psychologists and my students," reveals Moreland. "Before NCU, I taught a statistics course at Northwestern University and found it very difficult. I was a bit nervous jumping into the online teaching field again, but I am very happy that I decided to work for NCU. My experience has been wonderful and the University really provides all the support a faculty member needs to effectively teach students."

In fact, Moreland sees quite a bit of herself in her NCU students.

"I was a single mother working feverishly towards my Ph.D.," she says. "I feel like mentoring my students is a way to pay it forward. I was extremely lucky to have worked with wonderful supportive faculty during my time as a student and want to do the same for my students."

Moreland acknowledges that the learning process is an inspiring journey for everyone involved, but it also takes passion, commitment and a lot of hard work.

"I love when students gain new awareness about what it means to test theory and how excited they get during the data gathering stage of the dissertation," she smiles. "But like anything else, if your heart is not into your learning journey, you will probably not succeed. Earning a Ph.D. is a lot of work. If you do not really enjoy the challenge, this is probably not for you."

"It takes pure love for what you are doing," she continues. "We all get frustrated now and again, but don't let one mountain you have to climb keep you from succeeding when it comes to something you are truly passionate about."