Meet Dr. Jen Wenzel, New Psychological Sciences Professor

Meet Dr. Jen Wenzel, New Psychological Sciences Professor

The Department of Psychological Sciences is pleased to welcome Jen Wenzel, PhD, as the newest faculty member joining the department. She comes to USD from the Division of Neuroscience and Behavior at the National Institute on Drug Abuse where she served as a Health Scientist Administrator. Her research of interest is neurobiology of motivation. She hopes to develop classes centered on psychopharmacology and the neuroscience of addiction.

Academic career

My interest in Behavioral Neuroscience began as an undergraduate at Arizona State University. At ASU I had the opportunity to volunteer in a laboratory that uses rat subjects to investigate brain mechanisms of compulsive cocaine use. Wow! I had no idea such interesting research was going on right on my college campus! I was hooked. That experience encouraged me to pursue a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At UCSB I continued to conduct research on the neurobiology of substance use disorder-related behaviors. I then went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. During this time, I also worked as an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Towson University. After my postdoc I joined the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a Program Officer where I administered biomedical research grants and developed funding opportunities for neuroscience researchers.

Recognitions, awards, or achievements you would like to share: 

As an undergraduate I received a research fellowship from the ASU School of Life Sciences to work as a research assistant in a behavioral neuroscience lab. I encourage students to get involved with research on campus and check out our office of undergraduate research for funding opportunities ( At UCSB I was awarded the Harry J. Carlisle Award for outstanding work in Neuroscience and Behavior and I received a Dissertation Fellowship to complete my graduate work. As a postdoc I was funded by the University of Maryland School of Medicine T32 Training Grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as well as an F32 Postdoctoral National Research Service Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Which courses are you teaching and what are you interested in teaching?

This year I’m teaching Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience and the Advanced Research Methods Behavioral Neuroscience Capstone. I look forward to developing courses on Psychopharmacology and the Neuroscience of Addiction.

What type of research are you involved in? How can students join your lab?

My research examines the neurobiology of motivation – the brain’s push for organisms to seek out rewards, like delicious foods, and to avoid anxiety-provoking or dangerous situations. I’m particularly interested in how experiences throughout development (e.g. stress or drug exposure) affect both brain function and behavior. To address such questions, we use rat subjects along with cutting-edge neuroscience technologies and behavioral procedures. Send me an email if you are interested in learning more about opportunities to join my Neurobiology of Motivation Lab.

What has it been like joining USD during the pandemic?

Both exciting and strange. It’s been a delight to interact with students and colleagues via Zoom, and we’re lucky to have such sophisticated technology for virtual communication. But, I look forward to real, 3D, interactions in the classroom, around campus, and in the laboratory!

What are some of your hobbies?

I love hiking, kayaking, hanging out with animals, home brewing, cooking, social sports, gardening, watching horror movies, and road tripping. I’m hoping to get into some more ocean hobbies now that I’m so lucky to live in SD - maybe surfing, sailing, and scuba diving are in my future!

Fun Fact:

Hmm, this is a little silly, but I love trying new snack foods, especially regional cheese curls.

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