Newsletter Article

Hunt Fellowship Facilitates Completion of Dissertation Research

Valerie Tryon
Valerie Tryon

Valerie Tryon (Behavioral Neuroscience with Sheri Mizumori) graduated from our program at the end of Spring quarter 2017! While a student in our program, she was supported by a variety of funding opportunities, including Department Teaching/Research Assistantships,  and an NIH Biology of AgingTraining Grant.  Her last quarter as a graduate student was supported by an Earl and Mary Lou Hunt Endowed Fellowship for Graduate Students in Psychology. We asked for her responses while on the Hunt Fellowship.

Let's start with the basics, where are you from and where did you complete undergrad/masters?

I was born in Sacramento, California, and lived there all my life until I moved to Seattle for graduate school. I completed my undergraduate degree at the California State University in Sacramento.

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

When applying to graduate programs in psychology, I had a pretty specific idea in mind about what I wanted to do, which was study the neurophysiology underlying learning and memory processes in rats. Therefore, I was very interested in working with Dr. Sheri Mizumori and even met with her at a conference before submitting my application. I was prepared to move anywhere in the US, but was very excited that the work I want to do just happened to be in a great city as well. I love living in Seattle and I am going to miss it.  

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

My original research interests were in the neurophysiology underlying learning and memory processes in rats, and that has become a little bit more specific over my years in graduate school. Currently, I am most intrigued by what type of information is encoded by specific neural circuits during naturalistic behaviors. I have always been fascinated by the brain, and I always want to know more about how it mediates observable behaviors.

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

I heard about the Hunt fellowship through previous graduate recipients, award events, and department emails. The application process itself wasn’t difficult as there are always resources within the department for figuring out how to best prepare (thanks Jeanny!).

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

I was riding the bus to work/school when I received the email that my application was accepted. I was excited and just felt a sense of relief and gratitude. My funding source at the time was just about to expire and with my busy last quarter ahead I felt very grateful to have my application accepted for this competitive opportunity.

What is the name of your project and the funding source? How might your research change the world?

The title of my project is “Altered risk-based decision making with age” or more currently “Ventral tegmental area hypofunction may contribute to altered risk-based decision making with age” and the funding source is the Earl (Buz) and Mary Lou Hunt Endowed Fellowship for Graduate Students in Psychology, better known as the Hunt Fellowship. The aim of the project is to better understand the subtle changes in decision making behavior and underlying brain physiology that occur with normal aging. This type of research can help us adapt successfully as our world population has increasingly more people that are over the age of 65.

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

My advice to those who are applying to this opportunity is to plan ahead and not let the deadline sneak up on you! It is nice to have a well-thought out proposal. My tips for graduate study in general is to always work hard, but not so hard you burn out early or become depressed. Just continue to make progress!

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

This is my planned last quarter in the psychology graduate program and with this funding I hope to complete all the analyses for my final project in my dissertation.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I love to cook and try new recipes! When the weather is nice, I usually try to go outside and hike, bird watch, or garden.

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

I usually don’t have time for lots of pleasure reading but I find that when I do, I gravitate toward nonfiction. The last book I read and enjoyed was The Great Mortality, a history on the black plague. Sounds a little gruesome but it was honestly an interesting insight into that historical time period.

What you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

After I complete my PhD I will start a postdoctoral position at the Salk Institute in San Diego.

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