The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is recognizing one University of New Mexico student, and is paying to have even more people recognize her. 

Tia Donaldson. a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology, has been awarded an NIH Travel Fellowship to attend the 2023 International Conference on Learning and Memory (LEARNMEM2023). 

The $2,000 fellowship will allow Donaldson to not only enjoy and learn from the conference, but to be a part of it. She is only one of five early career researchers to get this travel fellowship. 

“I feel extremely honored to be chosen for this event. It's a great feeling to be recognized for all my hard work in science and the community,” she said. 

She will chair a symposium called "Neurobiological Basis of Reference Coordination for Spatial Learning and Memory." Only four speakers were chosen for that symposium, to showcase the latest research on spatial navigation and the underlying neural circuits responsible for these behaviors. 

“I am grateful to be able to share my research at the conference and showcase the work of experts in the field during the symposium,” Donaldson said. 

Donaldson will also present her thesis, and additional research from her doctorate. She has focused on effects of acute ethanol exposure on path integration, by studying the impact of binge-level doses of alcohol on rats and a brain region called the hippocampus. That’s the brain’s learning and memory center. 

“The type of navigation, path integration, that I am studying is unique in that it relies on self-motion cues generated internally and is used when environmental cues are unavailable or unreliable, such as during the dark,” she said. 

Donaldson has always had a passion for understanding memory and the dangers of alcohol. In addition to earning her bachelor’s at UNM as a Psychology Honors Program student and Ronald E. McNair scholar, she volunteers with the New Mexico Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and participates in STEM literacy programs. Donaldson is also a mentor for UNM’s Project for New Mexico Graduates of Color, and is an editor for UNM's Limina.  

“I chose this topic because I wanted to gain a better understanding of how alcohol affects our brain and body under different contexts,” Donaldson said. This is an important topic because binge drinking is a common occurrence in society and the most common drinking pattern. Many people drink to socialize or cope with stress and often binge drinking patterns do not reach the classification of an alcohol use disorder.” 

Donaldson says her research is the first of its kind to analyze the impacts of binge drinking exposure and path integration. 

“The results from my work will add new information to the field and hopefully contribute to developing better treatments and improving health outcomes,” she said. 

Donaldson says she could not have reached this achievement without the help of Associate Psychology Professor Benjamin Clark. He helped her apply, knowing how innovative her research was. 

“This travel fellowship and chairing the symposium is an amazing accomplishment and will provide Tia an opportunity to discuss her exciting dissertation research with top experts in her field of study,” he said. 

LEARNMEM2023 takes place April 26-30 in Huntington Beach, Calif.