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Faculty Highlights: Ted Nelson, Ph.D. (Dept. of human Science)


Ted Nelson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Science at Georgetown and teaches Human Biology and Health Topics in Neuroscience. He received his B.S. in Psychology from Colorado State University and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Maryland. Following the completion of his degree, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia on the genetics of taste.

Involvement in Research:

Dr. Nelson is currently the Principal Investigator of the Ted Nelson Lab, which prides itself on being a low pressure, exploratory environment that introduces students to scientific research in an engaging and  educational style. Its general areas of interest involve learning and synaptic plasticity, the physiology of sensory neurons, and chemosensation. Using Caenorhabditis elegans, or nematodes as a model system, they apply various techniques in the lab, including behavioral assays, neural ablation, and heterologous expression of genes, in order to investigate patterns of gene expression. Nematodes have several sensory systems similar to humans, providing insight to similar mechanisms in higher organisms. By manipulating nematodes, they have learned more about the pathways of learning and the influence of insulin dysregulation on cognitive abilities. To learn more, feel free to email him at [email protected].


Dr. Nelson spent his childhood in the countryside surrounded by pets ranging from small guinea pigs to large livestock. While he never grew up in a scientific household, he was naturally inquisitive as a child, using his pet cats as his first research subjects. By placing two cats together in a box at a time, he observed which ones got along the most to explore how animal behavior changes in different situations. It was not until he took a psychology class in high school that he was introduced to the “formulaic way” to study behavior through the scientific method, which sparked his love for science. However, Ted didn’t stop there, as he felt like he was always missing the “why” behind certain behaviors. In his search for this “why,” he became fascinated with genetics and its link to behavior, which he claims has motivated everything he’s done with science to this day. He furthered his interest in grad school, where he worked in a project that bridged behavioral psychology and molecular genetics. Specifically, he looked at the genetics behind our aversion to bitter tasting molecules and the overall mechanisms behind the sense of taste. Following his postdoc experience with mice, he realized he desired a career with more human interaction, leading him to academia and teaching. 


Looking back on his career, Ted noted that he always took advantage of opportunities in front of him, even if it was not necessarily something he expected to be passionate or excited about. He found that putting himself out there opened a lot of doors that he would never have expected. Therefore, his only regret was initially following a strict career plan that prevented him from branching out sooner. He wished that he was more present in the moment rather than pursuing projects for the sake of delayed gratification, in which he was always stressing about “what’s next.'' Reflecting on his academic position, not only is Ted extremely appreciative of the chance to share his research passions with students, but he is also grateful for the opportunity to learn from students' perspectives, taking new directions in research that he would not have otherwise thought of on his own.

Advice for Students:

Ted emphasizes to students to always take advantage of what is available to them, as they will never know when or where they will discover their future passion. He hopes that students will pursue science to have fun exploring their interests and not always put so much pressure on themselves to know everything from the start. It is okay to start small, as he believes that a good way to dip your toes into research as an undergraduate student is to start by shadowing students that are already conducting research. Finally, Ted assures that the most important lesson  that a scientist can learn is to embrace failure and learn from their mistakes