Ph.D. student Tavita Garrett selected for prestigious 2019 Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study

Tavita Garrett, a Ph.D. student in the Vollum Institute/OHSU School of Medicine Neuroscience Graduate Program, is one of a select few from across the country to receive the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2019 Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study.

These highly competitive fellowships are awarded to exceptional doctoral students who are committed to increasing diversity among scientists. Awarded to Ph.D. students from racial, ethnic and other traditionally underrepresented groups in science, the Gilliam Fellowship program fosters the expansion of the fellows’ professional network and provides annual stipend support for up to three years. The program also includes seminars with HHMI scientists and mentoring beyond their institution.

“I am humbled and honored to be awarded the HHMI Gillam Fellowship for Advanced Study,” said Garrett. “I’m excited to interact with science mentors who are invested in increasing diversity, equity and inclusion within academic science. I hope this access to mentorship will help me improve as a scientist, in addition to developing my ability to mentor undergraduate students and early-stage graduate students.”

Garrett’s mentor is Larry Trussell, Ph.D., Vollum Institute scientist, and professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, OHSU School of Medicine, and faculty in the Oregon Hearing Research Center.

“I am very pleased and honored to be awarded the advisor portion of the HHMI Gilliam fellowship, along with my graduate student, Tavita,” said Dr. Trussell. “For me, this award includes required mentorship training sessions and workshops to be taken in the coming year, as well as discretionary funds to advance diversity efforts in graduate training here at OHSU. The Gilliam program is administered by an amazing group of people at HHMI headquarters in Maryland, and they have recruited talented and devoted educators to support the Gilliam fellows and their mentors.  It is exciting to be part of that effort.”

Garrett’s primary research technique is single-cell electrophysiology where she studies the electrical properties of neurons and how they communicate information via synapses. Her primary focus is the unipolar brush cell (UBC), which is a type of neuron only found in areas of the brain that process auditory and vestibular information.

“However, researchers don’t know how UBCs contribute to auditory and vestibular processing,” she said. “It’s possible that UBC function is abnormal in certain ataxias and in tinnitus (ringing of the ears). By using electrophysiology to study UBCs, I hope to clarify how these cells are involved in normal and aberrant sensory processing.”

Garrett is the third OHSU student to receive a Gilliam Fellowship. Antoinette Foster, Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, was the first, followed by Gabriel Romero, Ph.D. student in the Physiology and Pharmacology Graduate Program. Romero is also mentored by Dr. Trussell.

“HHMI has demonstrated a commitment to developing diverse leadership in academic science by providing funds to support diversity and inclusion at OHSU,” said Garrett. “I look forward to working with Dr. Trussell, previous OHSU Gilliam Fellows, Antoinette Foster and Gabe Romero, OHSU’s Alliance for Visible Diversity, OHSU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and other campus groups to advocate for populations that have been historically underrepresented in science.”

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