Featured Student: Jeanne Savage

Jeanne Savage is a student in the Psychiatric, Behavioral, and Statistical Genetics PhD program. Her interest in psychiatric genetics began as an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri when she took a behavioral genetics class while working toward her bachelor’s degree in psychology. “I discovered what I felt had been missing from the traditional academic perspectives I had experienced – an integrative and comprehensive framework for how biology, psychology, and society all come together to influence human beings across development,” she explains. Her overall goal is to use the research tools and philosophies of behavior genetics to try to learn why not all people are equally at risk for developing mental illness, and to better understand the causes of psychiatric disorders. Because people are not one-size-fits-all, she further explains that she “hopes to use this research to eventually inform the development of personalized prevention and treatment programs that take into account individuals’ unique profiles of genetic and environmental risk factors.

Although Jeanne has a wide range of research interests, her current interests broadly include identifying heterogeneity (at the person level or construct level) of psychiatric disorders and related traits, evaluating endophenotypes, and exploring developmental trajectories of how substance use and internalizing traits unfold, individually and jointly, across the lifespan. More specifically, her dissertation work focuses on the intersection of substance use/dependence and “internalizing” psychopathology, such as anxiety disorders and depression. The primary aim of her dissertation project is to investigate the genetic and environmental etiology of drinking motives to determine whether the risk factors for alcohol problems in college students who drink to relieve anxiety/sadness (negative reinforcement motives) are different from those who drink for pleasurable or rewarding sensations (positive reinforcement motives).

“Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’ Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul.’ Say rather, ‘I have met the soul walking upon my path.’”

Kahlil Gibran

Thus far in her program, Jeanne has consistently demonstrated excellence across both coursework and research activities. Impressively, Jeanne has five first-author publications that have examined internalizing disorders and substance use disorders. She is committed to unofficially mentoring younger students in the program by helping whenever she is needed, and also serves as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate Spit for Science class. For all of her efforts, Jeanne was recently awarded the 2015 Kenneth S. Kendler Award for Excellence.

When she is not working, Jeanne enjoys music, photography, reading, and cooking. She also enjoys spending time with her cat, January.


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