Doctoral students wearing formal black graduation gown with blue stripes on sleeves wait in line outside with White-Gravenor Hall in the background
Category: Graduate Fellowships and Awards, News

Title: A Neuroscientist, Historian and Social Cognitive Scientist Receive 2024 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award

Author: By Jessica Marr
Date Published: May 21, 2024

Three former doctoral students were honored on Thursday, May 16, with the prestigious Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award at the Graduate School’s 2024 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony. The award recognizes students who successfully defended their dissertations in 2023 in three categories: humanities, sciences and social sciences.

This year’s awardees are impressive alumni from interdisciplinary programs in neuroscience, history and psychology. Their dissertation topics range from examining connections between neurons and neurocognitive disorders, information on the crimes committed by Nazis in Soviet-liberated areas, and the neural basis of altruism and prosocial behavior. 

“Our Glassman Award recipients embody the level of academic rigor, research curiosity and scholarly passion that Georgetown University aims to instill in each of its doctoral candidates,” said Maria Snyder, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. “These awards serve as a testament to their continued contribution beyond the Hilltop to new knowledge and scientific foundations.”

Explore this year’s Glassman Award recipients and their work.

Double Hoya Neuroscientist


Headshot of Andrew Speidell
Andrew Speidell (G’16, G’22)

Andrew Speidell (G’16, G’22) is a double Hoya who came to Georgetown after completing his undergraduate degree at William & Mary in Virginia in 2009. He earned a master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology before entering the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience as a doctoral student.

Speidell was attracted to the smaller cohort size and the overlap of his research interests in neurological disorders and pharmacology with that of the faculty. He also felt that Georgetown’s biomedical training put greater emphasis on developing resilience among young academics, which he said has paid off in both his predoctoral and postdoctoral training.

Mentored by Italo Mocchetti, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Speidell was interested in conducting research on a specific neuronal receptor called p75NTR and how it might be involved in the loss of synaptic connections between neurons in the context of HIV-associated Neurocognitive Disorder. His dissertation leveraged three approaches – biochemical, histological, and behavioral – to better understand the mechanisms by which components of the HIV virus may alter brain function and thereby cause cognitive impairments.

Mocchetti noted that during Speidell’s time at Georgetown, which happened during the height of COVID-19, he authored five peer-reviewed publications and was a middle author for four more. Despite the reduced number of hours they were allowed to spend in the lab, Speidell’s experimental techniques, including genetic animal models, immunohistochemistry and statistics, among others, led to his receipt of a highly competitive grant from the NIH: the Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award.

“Winning this award will help secure NIH funding in my postdoctoral fellowship and future career in academic neuroscience by showing that I’m a competitive applicant who can shepherd research projects from formulating hypotheses to final publication,” he said.

Speidell is currently at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis completing a postdoctoral research fellowship on neurodegenerative disorders. His work is focused on epigenetic mechanisms underlying Huntington’s disease pathogenesis, which causes nerve cells in the brain to atrophy and die.

Andrew Speidell received the 2024 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Sciences for his dissertation, “Investigation of the Role of the p75 Neurotrophin Receptor in HIV-1 Gp120-Associated Synaptic and Neural Injury.”

Nontraditional Historian


Headshot of Paula Chan
Paula Chan (G’15, G23)

Paula Chan (G’15, G’23) first came to Georgetown in 2014 as a master’s student in Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies. Previously a digital archivist, she was drawn to the rigorous interdisciplinary focus of the program, which she knew would force her outside of her academic comfort zone.

Chan reflected on how grateful she is to have pursued an area studies M.A. instead of an M.A. in history, noting that the breadth of her coursework was crucial in leading her to pursue a doctorate. She views herself, however, as a nontraditional student given that she started her Ph.D. in the History program at age 35 and as a mom. “I chose Georgetown over other funded offers because I already knew how much I enjoyed my mentor’s style and the camaraderie among the Russianist Ph.D. students,” she said.

Her mentor was Michael David-Fox, a professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of History, and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies. Chan’s dissertation examines the impetus for and output of the Soviet Union’s Extraordinary State Commission which collected and disseminated information on the crimes Nazis committed in Soviet-liberated areas between 1941-1945.

“Historians were often forced to extrapolate analysis on the Soviet Union from anecdotal evidence,” Chan notes. “Now with the war in Ukraine and increasing repression in the Russian Federation, scholars must confront the return of certain Soviet-era research conditions.”

Diane Dumitru, the Ion Ratiu professor in Romanian studies, describes Chan’s dissertation as “a scholarly achievement of the highest order, challenging established narratives and enriching our understanding of Soviet history during World War II.” Additionally, David-Fox projects that future scholars in this field will inevitably benefit from the wealth of information collected within Chan’s meticulously researched dissertation. 

Before she defended in the spring of 2023, Chan was elected to a highly competitive five-year postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford University’s All Souls College.

Paula Chan received the 2024 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Humanities for her dissertation, “Eyes on the Ground: Soviet Investigations of the Nazi Occupation.”

Savvy Social Cognitive Neuroscientist


Shawn Rhoads headshot
Shawn Rhoads (G’22)

Shawn Rhoads’ (G’22) scientific career began in physics research. He received a dual bachelor’s degree in physics and psychology from the University of Southern California and worked in social and environmental advocacy. His focus evolved into an interest in the processes that underlie social cognition and behavior.

When Rhoads came to Georgetown in 2017, he found the research of Abigail Marsh, who focuses on the neuroscience of empathy and altruism, spoke directly to his academic interests. Rhoads ended up working in her laboratory conducting research at the intersection of computational, neurobiological and social sciences. As a Ph.D. in Psychology student with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience, he had two goals in mind for his research.

“The first is to achieve a better understanding of what improves or impairs the well-being of the self and others spanning multiple levels of analysis, e.g., neural, cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, societal,” said Rhoads. “The second is to translate this understanding for direct application in both policy and medicine.”

In particular, Rhoads’ dissertation research leveraged cutting-edge computational techniques grounded in principles of neuroscience and psychology. He independently funded three of his 13 research studies conducted during his doctoral training; five of those studies are first-authored peer-reviewed publications in top industry journals.

Marsh noted that Rhoads is, “the most intellectually impressive and accomplished Ph.D. student I have ever supervised in my career.” His investigation of the neural basis of altruism – defined as the selfless concern for the well-being of others – led to his identification of the neural correlates of prosocial learning, addressing profound and age-old questions about human nature.

During his time at Georgetown, Rhoads was the recipient of several notable awards, including an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Young Scientist Distinction and the Karen Gale Exceptional Ph.D. Student Award. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Computational Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. By the end of this year, he plans to begin taking steps to launch his own multidisciplinary research laboratory.

Shawn Rhoads received the 2024 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences for his dissertation, “Understanding Others and Valuing Their Welfare: The Neural Basis of Interpersonal Accuracy, Social Learning, and Altruistic Choice.”