PhD student Dani Kang secures NIH fellowship

with co-sponsors Professors Catharine Fairbairn and Kara Federmeier

Date

10/19/20

Dani Kang has been awarded a NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship for her work investigating alcohol's effects on threat sensitivity in a social context. She is sponsored by Professors Catharine Fairbairn and Kara Federmeier.  Her research uses event-related potentials (ERPs) to assess stress responses in a social context either after drinking a moderate does of alcohol or a non-alcoholic control beverage.

Dani is currently a Clinical/Community Psychology PhD student in the Alcohol Research Laboratory here in the Department of Psychology. Below is a discussion with Dani.

  • Could you briefly describe the study?

Yes! Alcohol’s ability to reduce stress has been thought as a core underlying factor reinforcing drinking. But measuring “stress” among intoxicated individuals has been a longstanding challenge, because alcohol not only affects emotions but also cognition, and so there is no guarantee that self-reports of emotions will always be accurate or reliable. In my study, I use the electroencephalogram (EEG) technique to directly measure individuals’ neural activity. Using the EEG technique and an alcohol administration paradigm, the study aims to improve the understanding of mechanisms underlying alcohol’s anxiety-reducing effects.

 

  • Can you give some advice to other grad students about the grant writing process?

Grant writing is indeed a massive process... I made sure I made use of all the available resources on campus—above all, the psychology department’s Writing Center is quite amazing! I attended the weekly grant writing support group, and found it very helpful. You not only get various writing tips and (importantly) the motivation for writing, but your peers are also great experts in psychology who can give useful critique for your research proposal. I also highly recommend seeking co-sponsors/consultants outside of your program area. My co-sponsor, Dr. Kara Federmeier, is a faculty member in Neuroscience program, and her feedback and comments on my research proposal greatly helped improve my project design.

 

  • What drew you to Dr. Fairbairn and the Alcohol Research Lab?

I have ALDH2 deficiency, more commonly known as the alcohol flush syndrome. The gene prevents my body from metabolizing alcohol, and so I am not able to experience the “rewards” of drinking. I’ve always wanted to understand what drives some people to drink alcohol despite all the short-term and long-term negative consequences.

Dr. Fairbairn is an amazing researcher in this field. I have known her since my undergraduate years, and she has always been willing to provide valuable feedback on every aspect of my professional development.

 

  • How does this experience help develop your future career path?

The grant writing process itself was a big learning experience for me. It definitely shaped how I envision my future career path. Although it was  massively time- and effort- consuming work, I enjoyed every aspect of the process, from generating new research ideas that could fill the gap in the literature, to designing a study paradigm and data-analysis plans! It was another opportunity that allowed me to feel the joy of research, and spiked my motivation to pursue a research career path.

 

  • How has the current COVID-related situation affected compiling research, positively or negatively?

We had to pause data collection completely for a couple of months since March 2020 to ensure everyone’s safety. We used the time to brainstorm new, safe ways to continue research amid COVID-19. Also, the COVID-19 situation allowed us to rethink how our research could benefit the community and the society more directly! Our amazing undergraduate research assistants were able to come up with great ideas about promoting mental-health awareness on campus and disseminating our findings to the community, and we are starting to implement the ideas! (https://www.instagram.com/alcoholresearchlab/?igshid=194bmrcl56cdh)

 

  • If you are still looking, how could someone participate in your study if interested?

I am currently running a 2-week ambulatory study that looks at the associations between alcohol consumption level and drinking settings. We are recruiting participants over 21 years of age who drink regularly. For more information: https://alcoholresearchlab.com/participate-in-study-of-alcohol-in-everyday-life-200/