Faces of AWNY: Bridget Callaghan

Bridget Callaghan moved to New York over two years ago to pursue post-doctoral research at Columbia University as a neuroscientist. We caught up with Bridget to learn more about what she does, and see how she spends her time in New York when she isn’t studying the brain, winning fellowships or organizing AWNY’s charity efforts as Charity Co-Lead.

What brought you to New York?

I moved to New York with my husband, Beau, in August 2014. We moved for my work as I had landed a position as a post-doctoral researcher in the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Lab in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University.

callaghan_headshot_aaa_whitebackgroundCan you tell us more about your work?

I study how the brain develops normally in children and adolescents, and how it develops following stress. For example, we study youths who have been internationally adopted following institutional/orphanage care abroad (which is a very stressful situation for infants and children). I am interested in how early experiences like these influence how children think and feel. In addition, I study how the internal environment (i.e., gut bacteria) influences brain and emotion development – in other words, I analyze poop. We are actively recruiting, so if you have kids (between 4-17 years) send them our way!

How did you get into your job in New York?

I met my lab head (Dr. Nim Tottenham) at a conference. She was doing amazing work in humans and my rodent research at the time was converging with some of her findings. We started talking and kept in contact. When I finished my Ph.D. I contacted her and said I was interested in working with her and she invited me to come to New York.

You recently received a fellowship from the American Australian Association – congratulations! Can you tell us more about what you won and how you are going to use it?

I was really honored to receive a Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship from the American Australian Association this year, which will support my postdoc at Columbia University. As I mentioned earlier, my research there focuses on the developing memory system as a potential pathway leading from early stress to anxiety. Despite how central memory is for our everyday lives, and it being consistently disrupted in anxiety, we still don’t know much about how memory neurobiology is affected by early adversity. Having the AAA recognize the importance of the work through the fellowship is really an amazing experience

Where do you live and why did you choose that area?

When we first arrived we lived in Fort Greene. We absolutely loved that area, but it was quite a trek to Columbia (the G was a nightmare) so, after a month, we settled in Park Slope and we haven’t moved since. We were initially drawn in by the prettiness of Park Slope, all the brownstones, tree-lined streets, dogs, Prospect Park. After we spent some time here we fell more and more in love – the people are friendly, the restaurants and bars are awesome, the gym is close, the public transport is great (2/3 and B/Q are two blocks away), and all of our other favorite places in Brooklyn (Crown Heights, Boerum Hill, Red Hook are close by). It helped that we accidentally managed to land a rent-controlled apartment!

What are some of your likes and dislikes about living in New York?

I love everything about living in New York. I feel like there is always something to do and somewhere to explore, the people are great, and it feels like you are really in the center of it all. The work opportunities for me are amazing – there are so many brilliant scientists living and working in New York, so it is really academically stimulating. My husband has also gotten a band together here (The Voms) and they have played some shows, which is a bit of a ‘pinch-yourself’ moment for me.

Can you tell us about an ‘only in New York’ moment?

I have this moment all the time and it is when I see people putting themselves out there, with seemingly little concern for what others think. Whether that is singing loudly while walking down the street, busting a move listening to a band in the subway, or doing stand up “just because”. People just do it here and I love that!

As a professional working in New York, what differences have you noticed to working in Australia?

This is so hard to answer – sometimes nothing, sometimes everything. Mostly I think I worry about how people see me and that makes me self-conscious, but in reality I think most people are far too busy to really notice anything beyond a fun accent.

What’s your favorite New York spot?

Red Hook – my husband and I love riding our bikes around that part of town. Feels like we stepped back into the ‘Old Brooklyn’.

Anything you miss about Australia?

The beach and the relaxed life – but the Rockaways are pretty decent (when you wear rose colored glasses).

What are your top 3 tips for friends visiting New York?

  1. I see people come here all the time with these huge lists of things to tick off. New York is an adventure, wander around and discover it for yourselves.
  2. Spend a lot of time in Brooklyn – it is the best!
  3. Get a bike

What is your favorite New York brunch spot?

Too many to choose – I love a good dumpling, best eaten standing up in the street on a freezing cold New York winter night.

What is your favorite New York cocktail spot & cocktail of choice

I love The Clover Club on Smith St, Cobble Hill. In the winter they get the fireplace going and it is a delightful place to tuck away some scotch while snuggled on the lounge.

What do you like about being part of AWNY?

It is a community where I can switch my self-consciousness off when I walk in the door. There is something very special about Aussie ladies.

What’s the biggest challenge or roadblock you’ve been faced with since being in New York and how do you overcome it?

Once I saw this cartoon of the Empire State Building pulling someone in for a big warm hug and punching them in the face at the same time. That is how I felt when I first moved to New York. Now the hug days outweigh the punch days.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about living/working in New York?

“If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere”. My grandfather. I think it was an original quote.

Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in New York who are currently on your radar?

All the Aussie women living in New York are doing amazing things – it totally blows my mind. One of my favorites I met through the AWNY committee – Jacinta Stewart. I had met her only once before, and was going to her house to discuss charity as we are both Charity Leads on the committee. A bottle (or two) of vino later we were laughing like old friends, discussing Australian birdsongs, and looking at family photos. She is a truly brilliant artist and her New York story and dedication to her art absolutely inspired me. Jacinta is really ‘doing it’ here and I love to see it!

Another is Ashlee Bowring who moved here from Sydney via Amsterdam. She married the boy I used to live next door to and they have been traveling the world together. She works at TimeOut magazine as a Graphic Designer and her recent cover page was tweeted by Jimmy Fallon – JIMMY FALLON!!!

Connect with Bridget

Via twitter (@BridgetCallagh3), or check out her website.