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Merridee Lefner, Graduate Research Assistant and Neurobiology Ph.D. Candidate
By Ryan Schoensee

Harlingen, TX
Class of 2021
B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Neurobiology
Currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in Neurobiology

Through her scholarly research, Merridee hopes to push the boundaries of neuroscience and expand on what is currently known about the human brain.

Merridee chose to attend UTSA as both an undergraduate and graduate student because of the university's distinct research environment and its advancements in neuroscience.

"I believe UTSA is unique because it's a smaller and younger university, so the research environment here is very collaborative and growing rapidly."

As a researcher, Merridee studies how the brain encodes changes in preference and motivation for rewards. During an experiment, she observes how rats adapt their behavior after rewards are either delayed or altered in size. She then records changes in dopamine release because the dopamine system is known to be heavily involved in reward-related behaviors.

Merridee is currently lending her research expertise to studying a novel region of the brain, called the retrosplenial cortex, which also led to her recently being awarded a $30,000 grant from the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio. This research will shed light on the areas of the brain that control changes in reward preference and motivation, which can then be used to better understand the cognitive processes that influence our decisions.

Working under the mentorship of the College of Sciences Associate Professor Dr. Matthew Wanat, Merridee has learned how to be more thoughtful with the research she conducts.

"Dr. Wanat encourages me to spend time thinking about my research from many different angles so that we can make more connections and accurate interpretations with the results," said Merridee. "This has helped me grow into a better scientist and it's prepared me for a future in academic research."

Merridee has been a Roadrunner for nearly 10 years and admits that a lot has changed since she started her academic journey. She can't wait to see where the university will go from here.

"I've had the interesting experience of earning both my undergraduate and graduate degrees at UTSA, so I've observed almost a decade of growth at this university," said Merridee. "Watching the increase in both the quantity and quality of research performed here has been inspiring, and I look forward to what the next decade will bring to UTSA."

 


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