Austin A. Coley

Posted in 40 under 40 2021

Austin A. Coley, 34

PhD neuroscience ’19


Postdoctoral fellow, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and instructor, University of California–San Diego

austin coley

Austin Coley would love nothing more than to focus on his experiments in the laboratory and teach his neuroscience course. But exposure is the best way to change attitudes, says Coley, who is currently co-founder and chair of the Black Association at Salk. “People need to see that there are successful Black scientists in academia,” he said in an interview with the Salk Institute. “I need to do everything I can to improve the scientific ecosystem for the next generation.” Raised in New Jersey, the former high school football star advocates to promote STEM opportunities in underrepresented minorities because “it is important to promote scientific interests as well as social justice activities outside of the lab,” he says. As a postdoc in Dr. Kay Tye’s Laboratory at The Salk Institute and an instructor in neurobiology at the University of California San Diego, Coley is studying the neural circuits and mechanisms involved in schizophrenia and depression. In particular, Coley is using calcium imaging to examine the neurons that are associated with anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure, a common symptom of these conditions. There is a stigma around mental health in the Black community, Coley says, and he wants to change that. “When I was growing up, my uncle was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but we didn’t talk about his condition in my family,” he recalls. He was drawn to Drexel’s College of Medicine for his PhD in neurobiology because he wanted to work with Professor Wen-Jun Gao in a lab that studied the underlying mechanisms involved in schizophrenia. In 2019, he was awarded the highly-competitive International Brain Research Organization-US-Canada Regional Committee Fellowship. In addition, in 2017, he received the NIH F99/K00 Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award.

In his own words….

My Greatest Accomplishment: Completing my PhD and becoming a research-scientist, during which I received national and international awards, was published in scientific journals, and gave invited seminar talks to universities and national conferences.

How Drexel Helped Me: Drexel provided me the support in a comfortable environment to focus on my academics and conduct my research. The faculty collaborated well with one another and prioritized student success and accomplishments. Drexel was instrumental in my success as they promoted and encouraged me to achieve my career goals.

What Success Looks Like to Me: Anything promoting Black excellence.

How the Past Year Has Influenced Me: It allowed me to recalibrate and focus on the important things in life.

My Top Post-Pandemic Plan: Go to the Staples center arena in L.A. to watch my Lakers win another championship.