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Childhood Fascination Drives USU Neuroscientist to Study the Brain

D.J. Bradshaw standing in front of a research board.

By Vivian Mason


D.J. Bradshaw’s mom has often told the story of how he discovered neuroscience at just 9 years old. When he was in fifth grade, D.J. came home from school and said, “Mom, I’m going to do brain stuff when I grow up.” She wondered exactly what a 9-year-old knew about the brain, but found out there had been a science day at his elementary school where the brain was presented that spurred his sudden interest. 

“I remember seeing an actual model of the brain, hearing about the wonders of the brain, and looking at some really amazing brain images. It seemed so cool! From then, I was hooked,” Bradshaw says. “So, the 9-year-old me carried this love all the way through high school and then undergrad. I knew I was going to have a career in neuroscience.” 

A posed photo of D.J. Bradshaw looking at a petri dish.
D.J. Bradshaw's fascination with neuroscience from
a young age led him to pursue a PhD at USU.
[Image Credit: Courtesy of Akea Brown]
That fascination and wonder led him to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) in August 2016, and four years and nine months later, he is now Dr. D.J. Bradshaw, neuroscientist. 

Bradshaw’s interest in both research and medicine led him to seek a path where he could draw a straight line from his research to some kind of clinical value. So, for him, USU jumped off the page when he was applying to graduate schools because just about everything USU does has a direct tie to improving the health of the warfighter. 

“That held a ton of appeal,” says Bradshaw. “There are a lot of patients who suffer from TBI, but we don’t have any good way to treat them other than managing their symptoms. This is a big issue that needs answers, but there are very few.  I feel as if there’s a huge opportunity for big breakthroughs and that’s really exciting because I view this as a kind of open field in which I have a chance to plant my flag, so to speak.”

Bradshaw enjoys investigating traumatic brain injury (TBI). He specifically worked on preclinical target therapies to treat injuries. Currently, there’s a huge Department of Defense emphasis on developing next-generation therapies for major health issues (e.g., cancer, depression, posttraumatic stress syndrome [PTSD], TBI), and that has driven his focus on developing models and therapeutic strategies for treating TBI.

According to Bradshaw, part of the allure of USU is that students are educated well enough to branch off and pursue their own interests. He’s always enjoyed thinking about the strategic side of things. He will soon start a new job as a consultant for an independent, life science-focused strategy company in Boston. 

“This is very exciting and totally different,” he notes. “When I was looking for a job, I was primarily
looking for positions that would apply my training in a broad and strategic kind of way. Consulting was always on the table. USU did a great job preparing us for the post-academic world. I know a lot about neuroscience, and I felt very prepared for the job market because there’s this breadth of skill that the university has helped me to develop.” 

A photo of two models of brains
USU neuroscience graduate D.J. Bradshaw has been fascinated by the brain since he was five years old. (Photo credit: Rob Margetta, National Science
Foundation)

When thinking back on his PhD journey, Bradshaw believes that it took a lot of perseverance and support. He admits to having had amazing classmates and supportive professors in his corner who helped him deal with achieving his goal. He acknowledges that the toughest part for him was just buckling down to do the hard work and knowing that it was going to pay off. “It’s not easy for everyone. It certainly wasn’t easy for me,” he confesses. 

Even after nearly five years of study for his PhD, he’s enthusiastically looking forward to his next journey and is excited about his future. 

“I think neuroscience is a little bit young in its research state. I really think that big break- throughs in this field could be made in the next 25 to 30 years, depending on how good our technology is. There are millions of really smart people working on these problems, and they are going to figure these things out, but they just need the right tools.”