Melissa Malvaez

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What does it mean to be named as a Most Promising Future Faculty Member? For Melissa Malvaez, a doctoral candidate in Neurobiology and Behavior  in the School of Biological Sciences, it means fostering a collaborative environment in which students are set up for long term academic success. 

To be considered for the Most Promising Future Faculty Award, a student must be in outstanding in each of the three areas of Teaching, Research, and Service. For Melissa, her teaching methods have helped to engage students such that they feel comfortable with both their instructor and their peers.  She has also done groundbreaking research in the new field of behavioral epigenetics, i.e. how environmental factors can produce long-term alterations in behavior. She has shown that drug craving is lessened by treatment with a drug that blocks epigenetic changes, indicating a potential  therapy to treat addiction. Her research has already led to two federal grants and, most recently, was highlighted in a National Institute of Health drug abuse newsletter.

"My years at UCI have taught me that research, teaching, and service are all interconnected. I can use the knowledge from my research to teach others and serve the community," Melissa notes. She is the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Ziskind-Somerfield Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry for the top research of 2010.

As an underrepresented minority, Melissa not only benefitted from the Minority Science Program (MSP) here at UCI, where she obtained her undergraduate degree in 2006, but she has also been a mentor to undergraduate MSP students, providing guidance both on research and on pursuing graduate education. "When I first started graduate school I broke open a fortune cookie that said 'If you understand what you're doing, you've not learning anything,' that really applies to everything including my research, teaching, and service," she says.

For Melissa, taking this concept and sharing it with those whom she mentors has become a cornerstone of her approach to life in general. "There's always room for improvement, especially when things do not go according to plan.  I really enjoy learning new things and I see everything as a learning opportunity. That fortune has continued to motivate me up to this day."

Melissa credits her family with helping her to keep balance in a very exacting science and academic schedule. "I am lucky to have grown up locally in Los Angeles and have my family nearby. This makes it easy to maintain balance between my career and personal life; being surrounded by the people I love and enjoying every achievement with them. No achievement is ever too small to enjoy."