In all honesty, I had a pretty undistinguished undergraduate career. I wish I had taken advantage of opportunities to get involved with research but it took a while for me to figure out that the science of psychology was what I was really interested in. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and I began college at the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science as a computer science major. After two years, I transferred to Drexel University, still as a computer science major. A summer job as a computer programmer convinced me that my real interests lay elsewhere.
I had always enjoyed reading books on philosophy of mind and on science so I changed majors to psychology, as it seemed to combine those interests. I conducted a senior thesis on the memory advantage of being able to mentally attach a name to shape, which was a fun little project. My interests were definitely in the domain of cognitive psychology, although I had no concrete plans to attend graduate school.
Graduate Studies at Temple University
Graduate student Meghan Eddy
After several years of working various jobs and reading books on philosophy of mind and cognitive psychology, I decided that I was interested enough in psychology and research that I should pursue graduate school. I was accepted into the Psychology Ph.D. program at Temple University in my hometown; I’m forever grateful that they took a chance on me, as I did not have much research experience. I began graduate studies fully intending to pursue human cognitive psychology but, along the way, I got hooked on neuroscience and then on the power of animal models to answer research questions about learning and memory. I was introduced to the virtues of using a simple form of learning and memory, eyeblink classical conditioning, to study behavior and brain and I’ve been using this technique in a variety of ways ever since.
Graduate student Meghan Eddy preparing the infusion pump
Eyeblink conditioning is a simple form of learning and memory that has the great advantages of requiring only simple stimuli (a tone and an eyeblink-eliciting stimulus) to produce learning as well as an easy-to-measure learned response (an eye blink). The simplicity of the stimuli and responses means that the task requires a very discrete neural circuit that has been relatively easy to map. My Ph.D. was earned at Temple under the mentorship of Dr. Diana S. Woodruff-Pak in 1998. Some of the research I conducted in her lab involved using eyeblink conditioning as a test of the effectiveness of potential drugs for treating Alzheimer’s Disease.
I was also engaged in research examining common properties between tasks, such as eyeblink conditioning, that require the cerebellum. I learned a great deal from Diana about both non-human animal and human research, including how to digest and synthesize a research literature and how to write a manuscript. I have to say that I really loved graduate school; the process of learning and discovery, and especially sharing discoveries with others in the form of papers, presentations, and discussions, became a passion in graduate school, and fuels my continued love of research and teaching, which taught me virtually all I know about fear and anxiety systems in the brain.
Postdoctoral Years at Indiana University
Graduate student Jason Fuchs
In 1998, I headed to Bloomington, Indiana to begin a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph E. Steinmetz. This proved to be a great decision and I spent a very productive five years with Joe. One line of research in which I was engaged involved a rat model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). We were interested in the impact on the cerebellum of developmental ethanol exposure and I conducted experiments combining eyeblink conditioning (as a measure of cerebellar function) with anatomical (neuron counting) and physiological (unit recording) techniques to answer this question.
Another line of research examined some basic properties of the cerebellar circuit engaged by eyeblink conditioning, to further our understanding of the role of the cerebellum in learning. For this line of research, I also used unit recording as well as tract tracing techniques. My years as a postdoc really immersed me, even more so than graduate school, in research. Along the way, I also learned quite a bit about the equipment used to collect data, which served me well when it came time to set up my own lab at UVM.
Undergraduate student Will Gove
As of this writing, I’ve been at UVM for almost 10 years, and I continue to be interested in the neurobiology of learning and memory. My animal model work moved on from FASD to animal models of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This work was directed at the question of whether the cerebellum might have a role in the symptoms of ADHD and we again used eyeblink conditioning as our measure of cerebellar functionality. In 2009, I receive an NIH grant, along with one of my fellow UVM Psychology Department clinical professors, Dr. Betsy Hoza
, to study the impact of voluntary exercise on behaviors (e.g., impulsivity; inattention) and brain areas (e.g., prefrontal cortex; striatum; cerebellum) related to ADHD. My lab oversees the rat model work while Dr. Hoza’s lab directs work with children.
More recently, my lab has begun a collaboration with Dr. Anthony Morielli in the UVM Department of Pharmacology. This project involves experiments directed at the broad question of whether regulation of voltage-gated ion channels is one of the neural mechanisms underlying learning and memory. Tony’s lab has been studying regulation of a particular voltage-gated ion channel, Kv1.2, that happens to be very highly expressed in the cerebellum. My long-standing use of eyeblink conditioning to get at questions of cerebellar function really facilitated this collaboration, and we have now shown that Kv1.2 in the cerebellum, and a regulator of Kv1.2 (the neuropeptide secretin) in the cerebellum, play important roles in this simple form of cerebellar learning and memory. My lab has been blessed with a number of great graduate and undergraduate students in my time at UVM, and conducting research with such bright and energetic folks has been a lot of fun.