Doctoral Dissertation Fellows 2023-2024

Congratulations to the following psychology graduate students for receiving Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships (DDF) for 2023-2024: Zi Gao (Cognitive and Brain Sciences), Shirelle Liu (Biological Psychopathology), Yi Ni Toh (Cognitive and Brain Sciences), and Sarah Volz (Social Psychology). 

The Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, administered by the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School, offers highly accomplished PhD candidates an opportunity to devote full-time effort to an outstanding research project by providing time to finalize and write their dissertation during the fellowship/academic year. During the fellowship year, recipients receive a $25,000 stipend, tuition coverage, health insurance coverage, and a $1,000 conference grant. 

Zi Gao

Gao is a fourth-year candidate in the Auditory Perception and Cognition Lab. Their advisor is Dr. Andrew Oxenham. Gao’s ongoing research is on the contextual effects in auditory perception - how the sounds we just heard affect how we categorize incoming sounds. The study aims to understand how our ears and brain work together to process sounds effectively and efficiently, even in the face of ambiguous sounds.

Shirelle Liu

Liu is currently pursuing biological psychopathology, under the co-mentorship of Dr. Jonathan Gewirtz and Dr. Phu Tran. Her thesis focuses on understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying individual differences in vulnerability to opioid use disorder (OUD) using rat models. Through this work, Liu aims to identify biological markers that can be used to develop more effective and personalized preventions and treatments for OUD.

Yi Ni Toh

Toh is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Cognitive Brain Sciences area under the mentorship of Dr. Vanessa Lee. Toh studies how brains perceive, focus, remember, and learn visual input. Specifically, Toh’s dissertation seeks to reduce perceptual errors in medical imaging by optimizing attention.

Sarah Volz

Volz is a fifth-year graduate student in the Social Psychology area, with a focus on health behavior engagement in the co-mentorship of Dr. Alex Rothman and Dr. Traci Mann. Her dissertation examines assumptions of a dual-process model used to explain health behavior engagement. Specifically, Volz uses a detailed study of physical activity to understand which aspects of motivation and deliberation impact someone’s engagement in physical activity. The study examines whether the relationship between these factors is straightforward, how people’s participation in physical activity can affect their motivation and deliberation, and if these findings are consistent over time and for different individuals. 

Composed by Madison Stromberg, communications assistant.

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