Cynthia Bulik

Cynthia Bulik is the Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, and director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program. A clinical psychologist, her research includes treatment, laboratory, epidemiological, twin, and genetic studies of eating disorders and weight regulation.

Portrait of Cynthia Bulik in the lab.Photo courtesy of Cynthia Bulik
January 20th, 2016

When you were a little girl, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I went through a lot of phases: astronaut, diplomat, journalist — but never psychologist!

What made you want to be a scientist?

When I was a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, I was placed (against my will) into an Introductory Psychology course. I actually went to see the Dean of the Freshman Year of Studies to get out of the class because I wanted to study international relations. The dean, in his wisdom, looked out the window with me at the golden dome and said that psychology was actually a very important topic for any diplomat to study. He did not let me drop the class. I went to the first lecture, had the most dynamic professor of my entire career: John Cacioppo, who is now at the University of Chicago. Within a month, he invited me to sit in on his research team meetings. Soon thereafter I started doing research with two other professors in the department and declared my major. I was hooked! Given that I collaborate with individuals in over 20 countries, I figured out a way to merge my interest in psychology and international relations.

Describe your research in five words.

Discovering causes of eating disorders.”

What’s the funniest thing that happened while you were doing research?

The night before my oral exams at Berkeley, I got a call that my primary mentor — Sheldon Korchin — was hospitalized (he had multiple medical complications from childhood polio). I thought we were going to have to cancel. Shelly called me from the hospital and said: “No way are we going to cancel; you can come to me.” So the next day, my whole committee set up in Shelly’s hospital room where I was thoroughly grilled on my work. Anticipating a positive outcome, they snuck in a bottle of champagne and Shelly joined us in a congratulatory toast — against physicians’ orders! Lessons learned: Expect the unexpected, be flexible, and, like Shelly, go to any measure to foster the success of the next generation of scientists.

Photos courtesy of Cynthia Bulik Cynthia Bulik and David Tsai celebrate their bronze medal win in ice dance at the 2012 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.

Photos courtesy of Cynthia Bulik
Cynthia Bulik and David Tsai celebrate their bronze medal win in ice dance at the 2012 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Merge passion with profession. Passion breathes energy and creativity into your science and allows you to be vigilant for things that you might miss if you are uninspired. Think and read broadly and laterally, and never be afraid to take your thoughts in directions that other people might think are crazy. Push the boundaries of knowledge, read outside of your field, don’t get comfortable with what you know. Focus more on how much more there is to learn. Support, mentor, and sponsor other women!

UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2016. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.

Check out our 2016 Women in Science Wednesday Infographic!