Jane Flinn celebrates 50 years of service


George Mason University psychology professor Jane Flinn has achieved something few Mason faculty have: She’s celebrating 50 years of service. Flinn is only the second Mason professor to meet this milestone; English professor Don Gallehr was the first in 2016. Here are some fun facts we learned about her:

She was originally a physicist. Flinn started teaching physics at Mason in 1969. She could only teach part time on Tuesdays and Thursdays while her young daughter was in preschool, and she felt very fortunate to be hired “at a very new and very young” Mason. 

She was born in England and educated at Oxford. Flinn originally came to the United States for her graduate studies. While working on her PhD in physics at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., she was able to audit some psychology courses and loved them. She decided to pursue a second PhD, this time in social psychology at George Washington University (GWU), which she worked on part time while teaching at Mason. After completing her second PhD, Flinn taught in both departments for almost 10 years.

She created Mason’s undergraduate neuroscience degree program. While at Mason, Flinn served as chair of the Psychology Department and director of the undergraduate neuroscience program she helped to create, among other duties. She also has been recognized with numerous accolades and awards including the David J. King Teaching Award, the university’s highest teaching award, and a University Mentoring Award. She is currently director of Mason’s Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Program.

She loves her field of research. During a required physiological psychology class at GWU, she had an “a-ha moment” about her career. “I think that the professor and I were the only two people in the room who really understood the physics of neuronal conduction,” says Flinn. “I suddenly felt I had come home. I discovered the subject I love, which combines both hard science and behavior.” Flinn’s current research focuses on the role of certain metals in learning and memory, especially pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury.

She thinks you should get moving. Flinn is a huge advocate for brain health. One of her favorite classes to teach is one she designed: The Brain in Books and Film. “I think it is important to understand how your brain works,” she says. And that includes the essential role that exercise plays in brain health. Flinn recently started adding a five-minute break to her classes during which she and students exercise using a video by Wendy Suzuki, author of “Healthy Brain, Happy Life.” “Interacting with young people on a daily basis is something that is valuable and perhaps keeps one’s brain going,” she adds.

She believes education is transformational. Each year, Flinn mentors undergraduate and graduate students in her lab and says she finds it very satisfying when her students find success. “Education opens doors, and at Mason it opens doors for students who might not otherwise have this opportunity.”