Newsletter Editions

Published: 06/20/2017
Summer 2017

Graduate Program

Cognition/Perception Student Scores a Hat Trick of Honors

Brianna Yamasaki
Brianna Yamasaki

Brianna Yamasaki, currently completing her Ph.D. in Cognition and Perception with Dr. Chantel Prat, has been raking in the honors over the past year. Brianna descibes this remarkable year of awards below.

My research and teaching practices are guided by a passion for understanding and supporting individual differences in thinking and language abilities. This passion has led my program of research through a series of studies in which I explore the factors that lead to individual differences in reading ability. For example, my dissertation research investigates a novel model of second-language English reading ability. Many current models of second-language reading ability focus on factors that are known to relate monolingual reading ability. While it has been shown that these factors are important, one novel aspect of my model is that it incorporates aspects unique to the bilingual reader, such as the influence of having to manage two language systems and the cross-linguistic interactions between them. Looking forward, I hope that my work will provide a better understanding of the factors that may interfere as individuals try to read and learn in a second language. Hopefully, the understanding gained through my dissertation research will be used to develop interventions that can ease or eliminate the barriers students encounter in such situations. 

This last year, I was fortunate to receive the Stroum Endowed Minority Fellowship through the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) of the Graduate School at the University of Washington. This fellowship provided support so I could focus on my dissertation research this year. In addition, it provided networking opportunities and exposure to valuable university resources. GO-MAP facilitates writing groups for their dissertation fellows each year. My writing group provided an opportunity to get feedback on my own work from a diverse group of graduate students as well as exposure to a wide range of research being conducted by graduate students across the campus. Significantly, the group provided much needed peer support through the dissertation writing process from an interdisciplinary group of fellow graduate students. Recently, I was awarded the Earl and Mary Lou Hunt Endowed Graduate Fellowship from the Psychology Department. This fellowship will allow me to complete my dissertation this summer. The time and resources provided by the Stroum and Hunt fellowships have been, and will be, invaluable in helping me complete my dissertation and launch my career in psychological science.

My research experiences have helped to develop my strong appreciation for educational equity and my teaching philosophies have been built upon this perspective. Specifically, my teaching practices are guided by a goal of maximizing the learning success of all of my students. To accomplish this goal, I work to be creative in the ways in which I urge my students to engage with class material. Last summer, I taught a Cognitive Neuroscience course which paired traditional lectures on electroencephalography (EEG), with a tour of an EEG lab where students were able to talk to a researcher about the work her lab is doing with EEG, and an interactive in-class demonstration where students got the opportunity to record their own brain activity with an EEG cap.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is when you are working with a student, or a group of students, and you see that “aha” moment when they finally understand something they have been struggling with. These types of moments motivate my multi-media approach to teaching. My goal is for each student to achieve their “aha" moment by grasping concepts through the medium that is most accessible to them. Like my research, my teaching is aimed at identifying and breaking barriers that hold students back. Thus, my research experiences have helped to guide my teaching practices in this way. But, much of what I have learned about what it means to be an effective teacher has been through my experience working as a teaching assistant for a number of different courses and instructors in the Psychology Department. As a teaching assistant I have been exposed to many different models of teaching and through an active-learning process I have used this experience to guide my teaching practices. Given the number of amazing instructors and fellow teaching assistants I have worked with at the University of Washington, I felt honored to be awarded the Department of Psychology Distinguished Teaching Award in 2016. More astonishing, my students nominated me for and I received the University-wide University of Washington Excellence in Teaching Award in 2017. My mentors and teachers have played an immeasurable role in my journey as a graduate student, and when I get the opportunity to teach, I aim to make at least a small positive impact on my students. Being the recipient of these teaching awards means a great deal to me, as it represents me taking steps towards achieving this goal.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to engage as both a researcher and teacher at the University of Washington and I am so thankful to the people and programs that have provided support for me to do this!

Supplemental Reading:

First Year Student Awarded National Science Foundation Fellowship

Trent DesChamps
Trent DesChamps

The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is highly competitive and provides fellowship support for graduate students (master or doctoral) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Recipients are given a three year award consisting of a fellowship stipend and an education allowance, in addition to the powerful networking opportunities and resources afforded by being selected as a fellow. 

The Department of Psychology is fortunate to have several NSF fellows in our graduate program. Trent DesChamps, a first year student in Child Clinical with Dr. Wendy Stone, is our most recent recipient of this prestigious fellowship.

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

I grew up in Spokane and moved to Seattle in 2011 to finish my undergraduate degree here at the UW.

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

I applied to the UW program because the research and clinical training is top notch, the culture of the program is awesome, and I knew that Dr. Stone (my advisor) and other faculty would provide me with excellent mentorship. Also, given that the Pacific Northwest is arguably one of greatest places on earth, my wife and I liked the idea of staying in Seattle.

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

My primary research interest is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Specifically, I’m interested studying both brain and behavior to understand how disruptions in typical neurodevelopment contribute to the core social and sensory related behaviors that characterize ASD.

I kind of stumbled into the ASD research world. I was originally interested in social cognition broadly and was working with Dr. Sommerville here at the UW investigating social cognitive development in babies. Knowing that I wanted to continue to gain research experience, I took a job in a lab in psychiatry that focuses on ASD. I didn’t know much about ASD at the time, but I was eager to learn. After interacting with children and families, I was hooked – I knew I wanted to do research that has the potential to have a direct, positive impact on children and families.

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

As I worked in labs before entering the program I asked a lot of questions about the grad school process including funding opportunities. I knew the NSF GRFP was something I wanted to apply for and when I was accepted to the program my advisor was supportive. I wrote the application during my first quarter, which was a little challenging given the amount of coursework and other obligations associated with being a first year student in the clinical program. That said, I had a lot of fun doing it. My thought process was that it was a good opportunity to practice applying for funding and cultivate some research ideas. However, I didn’t have high hopes that I would actually receive the award so after I submitted the application I turned my attention to my semi-neglected coursework and didn’t worry about it for a few months.   

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

Shocked. The announcement was sent out a few weeks earlier than I expected so I wasn’t really thinking about it at all. It was a great email to wake up to!

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

The project title is “Early Development of Neural Systems Supporting Social Perception”. The source of funding is the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

How might your research change the world?

My hope is that my research will contribute to our understanding of what causes ASD and how it develops with the goal of informing intervention strategies that benefit children and their families. I don’t know if my research will change the world in a big way – science is a slow process - but I am firmly committed to the idea that we can slowly make change one dataset at a time, and more importantly, one person at a time. This is what intrigues me the most about clinical research - we get to do both.

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

For applying to the NSF GRFP, I recommend reaching out to other students who have applied before and bending the ears of as many faculty members as possible to get feedback on your ideas. It’s also really important that you demonstrate that your research and training will make a broader impact; that either through datasets and/or just becoming a better human being you will slowly become a leader of change in the world.

For graduate school in general, I recommend the same thing - ask other students and faculty a lot of questions, and always remember that you signed onto this journey because you want to leave the world a little bit better than how you found it.  

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

In the near future, I am planning on starting some research that will lay the foundation for my dissertation work. Given that autism research is a challenge that requires multidisciplinary and multimethod approaches, I also hope to initiate relationships with faculty and students in psychology and other departments that might provide opportunity for collaboration. Beyond the science stuff, I am looking forward to becoming more active in our department regarding the many issues facing our students and our broader community.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

In the past two years I started sailing and backpacking a lot. At this point, if I have free time I’m looking at weather forecasts to figure out if I can be on the water or in the mountains. As long as it’s not below 40 degrees I’m game to do either, rain or shine.   

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

I read a cheesy James Bond novel by Ian Fleming recently. It was ok. The most enjoyable part was when I was reading it next to a creek in the middle of the North Cascades.  

What you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

My plan is to take a sailing trip up the inside passage of Vancouver Island, get a post-doctoral gig, and pursue a faculty position.

Supplemental Reading:


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.

Supplemental Reading:

Updates from the Diversity Steering Committee

Sarah Edmunds & Arianne Eason
Sarah Edmunds & Arianne Eason

The Diversity Steering Committee (DSC) is wrapping up a busy year, a year in which we successfully moved forward on a number of major initiatives. 

During the 2015-2016 academic year, we created a Department-wide graduate student survey on diversity related experiences. Approximately 60% of graduate students from all areas in Psychology participated, which provided excellent representation of the Department. During a Graduate Faculty meeting in March, we shared the results of the survey. The faculty members in attendance were very receptive, and we have since been brainstorming and planning ways in which to address some of the concerns raised by the survey results. Our goal is to have students, faculty and staff work together to make this department a place in which people of all backgrounds can grow and thrive.  We would like to give a special thanks to Jane Simoni, Nancy Kenney, and Sheri Mizumori, who provided critical feedback and helped us prepare for our presentation.

In addition, we have been working with the Department Chair, Sheri Mizumori, and Nancy Kenney to create a Diversity Vision Statement for the Department. A finalized version of the statement is soon to come!

Sarah Edmunds (Child Clinical Area with Wendy Stone) and Arianne (Ari) Eason (Social Psychology and Personality and Developmental Areas with Cheryl Kaiser and Jessica Sommerville)'s time as co-chairs is coming to an end this year. Although this is undoubtedly sad for them, they are looking forward to seeing the DSC continue grow and impact the Department, under the leadership of Frances Aunon (Adult Clinical Area with Jane Simoni) and an incoming co-chair.

The DSC looks forward to supporting graduate students in exploring diversity science in their coursework, research, teaching, and other domains of engagement within and outside the UW.  Please contact us at psychdsc@uw.edu for more information.

Supplemental Reading:


Graduate Accomplishments

Autumn 2016

Our last newsletter issue was published before Autumn 2016 quarter was over, and these are the milestones to report! Of note, we had a higher than usual number of students who went for the optional master's degree, which is awesome (see below).

Liz Bird (Adult Clinical Area with William George) received an ADAI small grant ($20,000) for her project, "Investigation of Sexual Victimization Severity and Pre-Sex Drinking: The Roles of Sex-Related Stress and Sex-Related Drinking Motives."

Four students passed their general exam and advanced to candidacy: Elizabeth Ake (Developmental Area with Kristina Olson), Sarah Edmunds (Child Clinical Area with Wendy Stone), Lizzie Neilson (Adult Clinical Area with William George), and Roy Seo (Cognition and Perception Area with Chantel Prat).

Six students completed their master's degrees: Trevor Coyle (Adult Clinical Area with Marsha Linehan), Daniel Kort (Social Psychology and Personality Area with Cheryl Kaiser), Hilary Lambert (Child Clinical Area with Katie McLaughlin), Rosemary Meza (Child Clinical Area with Shannon Dorsey), James Kit Moreland (Cognition and Perception Area with Geoff Boynton), and Roy Seo (Cognition and Perception Area with Chantel Prat).

Two students completed their doctorates in Autumn quarter: Meg Grounds (Cognition and Perception Area with Susan Joslyn) and James Rae (Social Psychology and Personality Area with Kristina Olson). Meg is in User Research at Microsoft and James is completing a post-doc at Oxford University.

Winter 2017

In winter, we saw three child clinical students from the same entering year cohort complete their general exams: Melanie Klein (Child Clinical Area with Liliana Lengua), Kyrill Gurtovenko (Child Clinical Area with Lynn Fainsilber Katz), and Connor McCabe (Child Clinical Area with Kevin King). Connor was featured in a previous newsletter for his research on adolescence which received NRSA-funding.

Kyrill Gurtovenko (Child Clinical Area with Lynn Fainsilber Katz) also completed our optional Quantitative Minor, a specialty program available to currently enrolled graduate students. He is the 21st student to do so.  Congratulations! Information on the Quantitative Minor can be found here on their area website.

Two students completed an optional master's: Jose Ceballos (Cognition and Perception Area with Chantel Prat) and Matt Peverill (Child Clinical Area with Katie McLaughlin). Jose was fatured in a previous newsletter for his McNair fellowship-supported research on language.  Since then, Jose has also been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Colin Beam (Cognition and Perception Area with John Miyamoto) defended his disseration and graduated with his Ph.D.

Spring 2017

Valerie Tryon (Behavioral Neuroscience Area with Sheri Mizumori) is the Spring Hunt Fellow. Please check out her research feature!

Ashley Ruba (Developmental Area with Betty Repacholi) received a Travel Grant for Early Spring 2017 from the Graduate & Professional Student Senate (GPSS).

Trent DesChamps (Child Clinical Area with Wendy Stone) was selected to receive a National Science Foundation Fellowship award. Please check out his research spotlight in this issue. 

Brianna Yamasaki (Cognition and Perception Area with Chantel Prat) is the recipient of the University of Washington's Excellence in Teaching Award for 2017 and the Psychology Department's Hunt Fellow for Summer 2017. She has provided her perspective and observations on teaching and research in another article in the graduate student section. 

Megan Ramaiya (Adult Clinical Area with Jane Simoni) received the Thomas Francis Jr. Global Health Fellowship to support her work in Nepal this summer.

Four students were selected as the 2017 Summer Alcor Fellows funded by the Alcor Endowment in Psychology, Adrian Andelin (Behavioral Neuroscience Area with Jaime Olavarria), Prerna Martin (Child Clinical Area with Shannon Dorsey), Kelsey McCune (Animal Behavior Area with Renee Ha), and Rosie Walker (Adult Clinical Area with Lori Zoellner). These treasured awards were created by Harry E. Peterson and Claire Garlick Peterson, who were Puget Sound residents with interests and ties in Psychology, Music, and Astromony. We appreciate the stewards of the Alcor Endowment in Psychology and Music for continuing to provide support to our graduate students as they complete their academic goals.

Since 2015, the Psychology Department has been providing summer funding awards to their students, recipients of which are called Psychology Department Scholars. Our 2017 Psychology Department Scholars are Robert Mohr (Animal Behavior Area with Joseph Sisneros), A. Paige Peterson (Adult Clinical Area with Corey Fagan), and Erika Ruberry (Child Clinical Area with Liliana Lengua).

Sarah Edmunds (Child Clinical Area with Wendy Stone) received a Population Health Initiative’s Graduate Student Conference Travel Award in order to attend the International Multisensory Research Forum in Nashville, Tenneesee, in May 2017.

Annie Fast (Developmental Area with Kristina Olson) was just awarded the Graduate School Presidential Dissertation Fellowship. This is a one quarter award to be used during the 2017-2018 academic year.  The purpose of this award is to relieve graduate students of their teaching duties or other employment not directly related to the dissertation in order to devote their full time to writing the dissertation.

We honored the achievements of many of these outstanding graduate students at the inaugural Psychology Awards Luncheon in May. Please check back with us in the winter, where we will go over our end-of-the-year events, such as Research Festival and our Ph.D. Hooding Ceremony, along with the usual accomplishments and milestones. Have a wonderful summer!