A professor at the College of William & Mary has been awarded a highly competitive fellowship in the field of psychology.
Pamela Hunt, professor of psychology and associate director of interdisciplinary neuroscience, is one of three recipients of the 2011-2012 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowships. Since 1974, the fellowships have provided professors with a supplemental sabbatical allowance, allowing them to extend their leave time and research efforts. Hunt is the first William & Mary professor to receive the fellowship.
Beginning in July 2011, Hunt will use her one-year sabbatical to develop a zebrafish model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in order to better understand how prenatal alcohol exposure affects humans.
“What I would like to do ultimately is learn how to use these fish as a model of what’s called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” she said. “The main problem would be fetal alcohol syndrome, but just any exposure to alcohol prenatally can result in problems with cognitive performance and attention and some other things.”
During the first semester of her sabbatical, Hunt will work in Robert Gerlai’s laboratory at the University of Toronto-Mississauga.
“He has a number of paradigms and techniques that he uses to look at fish behavior and some simple forms of learning, and so my intention would be to go up there and learn about his paradigms and exactly what you do when you work with fish, because I never have before, and then come back to my lab and try to develop those procedures to look at alcohol effects on learning,” Hunt said.
During the second half of the sabbatical, Hunt will begin a zebrafish colony in her own lab with the intent of transforming the lab to support zebrafish as a new research area. Hunt also plans to spend much of her sabbatical writing articles for publication and a grant proposal so that she may obtain the necessary equipment to transform her lab.
“The things that I do in my research lab are behavioral, looking at learning and memory and attention,” said Hunt. “To potentially be able to look at changes in gene expression or changes in neural structure that occur with early alcohol exposure, I may be able to do that in collaboration with her.”
Hunt is delighted to have received the fellowship, and she is looking forward to being able to explore a new research area.
“It’s something new and different,” Hunt said. “I’m going to learn this whole new field that I really don’t know much about, so it’s almost like I’m going back to graduate school.”