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Life and Work with Brianne Bettcher

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brianne Bettcher.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Growing up in a small town in rural Texas, limited resources and information were available for individuals facing neurological disorders. As a result, I observed the devastating impact of brain diseases and injuries on a small community and my own family. That led to a keen interest in the brain, but I wasn’t initially sure what career paths might fit my specific strengths. I was fortunate to take two courses in college that were formative to my career: 1) Literature and Aging, which focused on how the aging process is experienced by both older adults and the family along with the medical systems that care for them; and 2) Neuroscience, which focused on the structure and biology of the brain. My exposure to these courses helped me envision a career path in which I could delve deeply into biological sciences, while also staying connected to – and directly engaged with – aging communities.

I completed a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a specialization in neuroscience. My work led me to the University of California, San Francisco, where I completed my fellowship at the Memory and Aging Center, and developed expertise in assessing and working with older adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and other progressive brain conditions.

In 2015, I decided that it was time for both a professional and personal change. From a professional lens, I wanted to help shape the vision of a new aging and Alzheimer’s disease research center. On a personal level, work-life balance for me includes being outdoors as much as possible. My family and I began looking at places that would combine these needs. And we found the Denver area ideal for both.

Fast forward to 2019, and I am now leading neuroscience of cognitive aging research lab at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and I spend my weekends’ hiking, skiing, and exploring everything the Rocky Mountains have to offer.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Failure and rejection are part of every successful path, including my own. I have had numerous grants rejected, manuscripts declined, and ideas labeled as “too ambitious.” Each failure teaches me something important – sometimes about myself, and other times about the greater academic, socioeconomic, and medical systems to which I belong. I learn from it, but I try not to dwell on it. My advice for young women entering the field would be to: persevere, seek mentorship, and go after your “reach” goals.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am a neuropsychologist and neuroscience researcher at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. I specialize in the neuroscience of both healthy aging and brain diseases associated with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and primary progressive aphasias.

I am incredibly proud to be a part of an interdisciplinary group of clinicians and researchers at the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Disease Center. I believe what sets our work apart from others is our collaborative approach to identifying, understanding, and ultimately changing the factors that may predispose someone to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. We are one of the few laboratories in the country which is studying how inflammation – and dysregulation of the immune system more broadly – might underlie changes in memory and thinking as we age. Our mantra is that we have as much to learn from “healthy” aging adults as older adults who are experiencing memory problems. We want to harness the protective factors we see in some older adults to help stave off cognitive decline. And we are accomplishing this by studying the intersection of immunity, memory, and brain health in late life. We also strongly believe that the knowledge we have gained, and continue to gain in this field needs to be disseminated. We have a wonderful opportunity at the University of Colorado to reach, educate, and treat aging adults across numerous states.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
The disparity between men and women serving in the top ranks of academia, particularly full professorships, is striking. It is unfortunately similar to the worrisome statistics showing a lack of female representation at the CEO level of businesses. I feel fortunate to work in a department where my skills, experience, and scientific knowledge are valued by my colleagues. Reflecting on the entirety of my career thus far, however, I have been often been told that “my time will come.” My own ideas have sometimes been treated more positively by an audience when they were spoken by my more senior male colleagues. In systems with long-standing hierarchies, this is all too common. But as young women it’s critically important to know that we not only belong ‘at the table,’ but we can lead it (and have!) effectively at all ages. From a programmatic level, we should strive to provide opportunities for female leadership at all ages. This begins at recruitment but also extends to promoting women within an organization. As colleagues, we should increase the visibility of women in our groups and identify opportunities to recognize women’s contributions and successes.

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Image Credit:
Robert King Photography

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