Dr. Rebecca L. Cunningham
Associate professor and founder of a nonprofit organization
University of North Texas Health Science Center
Rebecca Cunningham took what she calls “the scenic route” to her career as an associate professor and researcher at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
That route was difficult to navigate as a young single mother during her years as an undergraduate and through part of her graduate studies, but she eventually completed her doctorate degree in neurobiology at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
After a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, she joined the faculty at UNTHSC in 2010 as a research assistant professor of pharmacology and neuroscience in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Now as a tenured associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, her research studies the role of steroid hormones.
She has received numerous grants and contracts in pharmacology and neuroscience and is an associate editor for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
She has received numerous awards and honors for work, including a $100,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Association.
As her career and professional recognition were growing, however, Cunningham was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a highly treatable condition but one requires a low iodine diet.
After she posted a list of low iodine food on her Facebook feed, thyroid cancer patients worldwide sent her friend requests. Besides advice on safe food to eat, they also wanted support and comfort.
Out of this, she founded the Low Iodine Diet (LID) Life Community, a nonprofit organization that provides support and information for thyroid cancer sufferers.
In 2016, she was invited as a speaker at the Laura Bush Institute for Women’s Health and she serves on study sections for the American Health Association and the U.S. Department of Defense.
– Marice Richter
What advice would you give young women rising to a position of prominence?
Take the scenic route in life. Do not be afraid of making mistakes, as those can lead us to something more spectacular than we imagined.
You could choose to spend your time many ways: why do you choose to spend it the way you do?
I love my research and know that the questions I am investigating can have a meaningful impact on someone with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in the future, albeit an indirect impact. However, my philanthropic activities allow me to have an individualized direct impact by helping thyroid cancer patients navigate their treatment journey. I am lucky to have a supportive husband that helps me in all these activities, but most importantly makes me laugh and enjoy how truly blessed we are by taking the scenic route in life.
Who is the most significant role model and/or mentor in your life?
There are so many. For my academic life, my most significant role models were my graduate advisor, Dr. Marilyn McGinnis, and my post-doctoral mentor, Dr. James Roberts. They taught me to pay attention to the small details and encouraged me to think outside the box. My personal life, my most important role models would be my family who have taught me perseverance regardless of any obstacles in my path. My philanthropy work, my role models are my fellow administrators that helped me build and maintain a nonprofit that helps individuals on an international basis.
What book, movie, TV series, or play influenced you growing up? Why?
I mostly read books. My favorite book series was The Chronicles of Narniaby C. S. Lewis. These books encouraged my creativity about the unknowns in life but also underscored that integrity and loyalty is important.
What would you like for us to know that we might now know to ask?
I am thankful to many people that supported my son and me during this time. During my graduate studies, I met my husband and my future children. He encouraged me to never give up in anything I do.