Newsletter Article

Stroum Dissertation Fellowship Winner Starts Post-Doctoral Work at NIH

Ashwin Bhandiwad

The UW's Graduate School Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) provides diversity fellowship awards which support students during their graduate training. This past year GO-MAP awarded a full-year Stroum Dissertation Fellowship to Animal Behavior student, Ashwin Bhandiwad to facilitate completion of his dissertation! Ashwin was mentored by Prof. Joseph Sisneros throughout his training.  Ashwin defended his dissertation and was awarded the Ph.D. in Psychology in Spring 2016.  He is now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).   

Where are you from and where did you complete undergrad/masters?

I grew up in Bay City, MI, and attended Johns Hopkins University for my undergraduate degree in Biophysics. I followed that with a Master’s degree in Marine Biology at Northeastern University. 

How did you wind up at UW/why did you apply here? What do you think about living in Seattle?

I was very interested in studying sensory systems in animals during my master’s degree and I became very interested in studying how the auditory system functions. My advisor, Dr. Joe Sisneros, was recommended to me by a former PI, and when I visited UW and the lab during a conference in Seattle, I was easily convinced to come to UW.

I love living in Seattle. I’d never lived west of Michigan until I came out here, but I took to the climate and culture very quickly! Now that I’m leaving, it’s hard to imagine a place that’s going to be as good of a fit for me as Seattle. 

What is your research interest and how did you get into it (what inspires/motivates you)?

I’ve been interested in the neural systems underlying sensory input and sensorimotor transformations. I’m always blown away by how animals (including humans) can get so much information about their surroundings from light and sound waves. When I first started graduate school, I was really interested in how female midshipman fish could find their mates by sound alone. As I progressed throughout graduate school, I became more interested in how the environment affected sensory function. For my dissertation, I have studied the effects of loud noise on auditory behaviors in larval zebrafish. What I love about it is that these fish, which are less than a millimeter in size, are affected by loud sound in some of the same ways that we are!

How did you learn about your funding opportunity and tell us about the application/waiting process?

Jeanny, our awesome graduate advisor, forwarded me an email about this fellowship. After consulting with my advisor, I decided to apply for funding. It was not only a great funding opportunity, but it also allowed me to connect to other graduate students through GO-MAP. The application process was very straightforward, but I didn’t know whether I was eligible to apply, so the waiting process was slightly distressing. But to GO-MAP and the Psych department’s credit, they were very transparent and helped me throughout the process. 

How did you feel when you learned that your application was accepted and that you will receive funding?

I felt very humbled and excited. I was not only able to free up time to write my dissertation and finish some projects I’d been working on throughout my graduate career, I also had the pleasure of meeting students from other departments and learn about their dissertation work.  

What is the name of your project and the funding source?

The name of the project is “The effects of noise exposure and genetic background on auditory-evoked behaviors in larval zebrafish” and it is funded through the GO-MAP’s Stroum Fellowship. 

Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for others who may apply to this opportunity? About graduate study in general?

I can’t speak highly enough about this fellowship. As part of this fellowship, the GO-MAP offers a dissertation writing workshop run by Ralina Joseph and Tim Thornton, which really helped me stay on track and address issues throughout the process. As for graduate study in general, there really isn’t one piece of advice that applies to everyone. I would say try to find something that works and critically analyze why it works.

What do you hope to accomplish with the funding and/or while in the UW Psychology graduate program?

The funding and dissertation writing group has helped me finish my dissertation in a timely manner. I’m happy to say that I’ve just graduated!

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I suppose I enjoy doing everything people in their late 20s do. Recently, I’ve started to travel more. One thing I enjoy doing, especially in Seattle, is to go for walks in random neighborhoods and try to guess something about the personality of the person or family that lives in that house. I’m not sure if that’s quirky or creepy. 

The last book and/or movie you saw and enjoyed?

I recently finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, which is an excellent novel about space. I really like it because most of the characters are scientists or engineers and they’re all really good at their jobs. The last movie I saw and enjoyed was The Big Short on a red-eye flight. 

What you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

I’m beginning a postdoctoral fellowship at the NIH very soon studying how neural systems filter sensory stimuli. 

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