Mallory Stephenson recipient of Smriti Bardhan Award of Excellence in Genetics Research

April 8, 2024

Author: Lynne McCarthy

Her research focuses on genetic and environmental influences on alcohol use and suicidal behavior.

Mallory Stephenson
Mallory Stephenson

Mallory Stephenson, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Center for Integrative Life Sciences Education (CILSE), is a recipient of the Smriti Bardhan Award of Excellence in Genetics Research. She is the second Ph.D. candidate from CILSE this academic year to receive this honor. The competitive VCU award was established by Tripti Jena, M.D., and Purusottam “Puru” Jena, Ph.D., former and current faculty of the university. The award provides financial support for professional development opportunities to doctoral students with demonstrated excellence in genetics research in the health sciences.

Stephenson was also the recipient of a Research Society on Alcoholism Graduate Student Grant in 2021.

Her interest in behavioral science developed as a child growing up in the Roanoke Valley, where she attended the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School.  She obtained her undergraduate degree at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia as a double major in Biochemistry and Psychology. Her aha moment was during her junior year in a clinical psychology class where she was introduced to the connection between genetics and psychology. “It was the first time I learned about gene environment interaction and became interested in that area,” states Stephenson.

That moment led her to VCU, where she obtained a Master of Science in Developmental Psychology in 2020.  Her primary focus was on alcohol use, and how misuse can manifest from a genetics perspective. After obtaining her M.S., she was accepted to the Integrative Life Sciences (ILS) program at CILSE to obtain her Ph.D.

Her research as a doctoral candidate transitioned to studying genetic and environmental factors involved in the development of suicidal behavior. Some of her work has focused on understanding what specific genetic factors contribute to the overlap between suicidal behavior, alcohol use and problems, and impulsivity. Stephenson says she is also interested in how social relationships play a part. “Having a supportive partner could buffer against the development of some of these behaviors,” she says.

Stephenson is part of the Behavioral & Statistical Genetics Program at VCU’s Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, and conducts her research in the lab of Alexis Edwards, Ph.D. Stephenson credits Edwards in helping her develop new analytical skills and building a methodological tool box to better conduct her research.

Stephenson will be receiving her Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences, concentrating in Behavioral and Statistical Genetics, in May.  

“I am so thankful for the training and opportunities I have received as a graduate student at VCU, including the Smriti Bardhan Award,” says Stephenson. "I love what I do, and I’m excited to continue my study of suicidal behavior from a genetics perspective.”