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T32: Training Grant

February 8, 2021

In Spring 2020, the Department of Psychology received a Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award (T32 Training Grant) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The purpose of this grant, awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is to help institutions prepare pre- and post-doctoral trainees for research careers. Professors Monica Luciana and Scott Vrieze are co-directors of the training program.

This year to date, two graduate students were selected for the program, Sam Klein and Kelly Duffy, as well as postdoctoral fellow, Gretchen Saunders.

The T32 Training Program specifically focuses on genetic and neurobehavioral mechanisms of addiction; all trainees have a unique background and interest in the subject matter. This program will provide them with mentorship and resources to expand on this knowledge, learning how to take advantage of large-scale genetic, neuroimaging, and psychophysiological data to understand the nature of addiction. Duffy plans to develop new methodologies that leverage behavioral genetic designs to characterize the developing brain in large-scale datasets, and better understand how brain function and environmental influences affect risk for addiction. Saunders will use genome-wide association studies to understand how different gene variants affect substance use and addiction. Klein will use multimodal imaging techniques to elucidate how neurodevelopmental changes in dopamine projection regions such as the striatum and prefrontal cortices from pre-adolescence to early adulthood relate to motivation, impulsivity and hedonic homeostatic dysregulation that may predispose individuals to initiate problematic substance use.

The T32 Training Program provides a focused research experience, the opportunity to conduct longitudinal research, and robust support and expertise from a team of faculty mentors. The current participants noted the access to their faculty mentors, who are in the top tier in their fields, as being an especially appealing reason for others to consider applying.

This program is an excellent way to gain quantitative skills necessary to work with large data sets, ranging from thousands to millions of participants, while at the same time advancing research geared toward the understanding of mechanisms of problematic substance use. 

Headshot of Sam Klein

Sam Klein, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, is one of the three participants in the T32 Training Program in Genetic and Neurobehavioral Mechanisms of Addiction. Klein got his undergraduate degree at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and had Drs. Mark West in Behavioral Neuroscience, Shana Cole in Social Psychology as research mentors. Klein’s specific area of study is within the Clinical Science and Psychopathology Research Program (CSPR), where his advisors are Drs. Monica Luciana and Scott Sponheim.

Headshot of Kelly Duffy Kelly Duffy, a graduate student in quantitative/psychometric methodology (QPM) in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, is excited to be participating in the T32 Training Program. Duffy received her undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she was mentored by Drs. Kathleen Gates and Jessica Cohen.
Headshot of Gretchen Saunders Gretchen Saunders, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, is looking forward to working with mentors of different research backgrounds to learn new skills and knowledge and to continue to develop her research interests through participating in the T32 Training Program. Her primary area of study broadly includes behavior genetics, large scale genomics, and causal inference. Saunders earned a doctoral degree in psychology with a specialization in behavior genetics, and a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Minnesota.


Composed by Flora Pollack, communications assistant.