Nicole Russo-Ponsaran, PhD

Assistant Professor
Behavioral Sciences, Rush Medical College
Roles: Researcher, Faculty, Administrator (Research Director at Rush NeuroBehavioral Center)
Joined Rush in 2008


I received my bachelor’s degree in biology from Loyola University Chicago in 2000 and my doctorate in neuroscience, with an emphasis on auditory neuroscience and autism, from Northwestern University in 2008. I then became an Assistant Professor and full-time researcher in the department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center, working at a satellite section, Rush NeuroBehavioral Center (RNBC) in Skokie. Since that time, I have advanced to the role of Research Director at RNBC. My research focuses on the social-emotional health and well-being of children with and without clinical diagnoses. I aim to understand the mechanisms behind children’s social-emotional competencies and to develop improved methods for measuring social-emotional skills and helping children who have social and emotional challenges. Clinical populations include children with autism spectrum disorders, fragile X syndrome, ADHD, and learning and language problems, among others. I have received federal, foundation, and internal Rush funding over the years. Most notably, I have been invited to national events sponsored by the White House and by the National Assessment for Educational Progress. I have authored over twenty articles and over forty peer-reviewed abstracts; I have presented at international, national, and local conferences. I also participated in peer review for the Institute of Education Sciences.

What inspired you to get into your field?
After learning about autism, I knew I wanted to be involved in clinically-relevant research to help advance science and practice for children who have social-emotional challenges.
What excited you about your work at Rush?
I have been able to work across disciplines and with both researchers and clinicians to address important issues on behalf of children. I have been developing novel tools for assessment and novel programs for intervention and have always felt supported in my work through my department.
What is your opinion of mentoring and sponsorship? Please comment about your experiences.
I believe it’s integral to a career in academic medicine. I learned so much from my early mentors at Rush and also from the mentees. I was able to form a bond with other faculty who were at the same stage as me, which provided me with a lot of support. I do not believe I would be successful in my career in academic research if I had not participated in the mentoring program here at Rush.
Do you have tips or advice you would recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Get experience before you commit to clinical or research tracks. Find a mentor for professional development. Be creative and flexible in finding funding opportunities for your work.
What are your hobbies? How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy being outside in nature and spending time with family.