Kristy Johnson and Shannon Johnson participate in inaugural McGovern Institute Story Slam


Gretchen Ertl

Gretchen Ertl

By Julie Pryor | McGovern Institute for Brain Research

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. While the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible to hold a large, in-person event as planned,  a series of virtual events helped create a sense of community and bring neuroscience researchers from across the institute together to celebrate this institutional milestone. 

On November 12, 2020, McGovern hosted its first-ever story slam, inviting seven graduate students, postdocs, and staff members from across the McGovern Institute to share five-minute tales around the theme of resilience with an audience of researchers, supporters, and the general public.  

The event was moderated by Kirsty Bennett, founder of MIT’s storytelling group MITell, and stories were judged by Maddie Sofia, host of NPR’s daily science  podcast ShortWave, and Tina Hesman Saey, senior writer at ScienceNews. Judges selected their winner based on three criteria: relevance to the theme, clarity of scientific concepts, and originality of story.

Sofia and Saey selected Kristy Johnson (Affective Computing) as the winner of the slam, for her story about how her son’s diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder changed the trajectory of her personal and professional life.

Shannon Johnson (Synthetic Neurobiology) also participated in the slam. A full list of the participants can be found below.


Jill Crittenden  |  Scientific Advisor, McGovern Institute
Dipon Ghosh  |  Postdoctoral Fellow, Horvitz Lab
Kristy Johnson  |  Graduate Student, Gabrieli Lab / Media Lab
Shannon Johnson  |  Graduate Student, Boyden Lab / Media Lab
Heather Kosakowski  | Graduate Student, Saxe and Kanwisher Labs
Ola Ozernov-Palchik  |  Postdoctoral Associate, Gabrieli Lab
Mahdi Ramadan  |  Graduate Student, Jazayeri Lab

“This has been an unprecedented year for us all,” says McGovern Institute Director Robert Desimone. “It has been twenty years since Pat and Lore McGovern founded the McGovern Institute, and despite the challenges this anniversary year has brought to our community, I have been inspired by the strength and perseverance demonstrated by our faculty, postdocs, students and staff. The resilience of this neuroscience community – and MIT as a whole – is indeed something to celebrate.”

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