Neuroscience grad student lands National Science Foundation fellowship

Closeup of Julianna Brutman
Julianna Brutman

Julianna Brutman, a graduate student in the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Neuroscience Graduate Program, was awarded a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

The fellowship recognizes and supports graduate students in STEM who are pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees at accredited institutions.

This is the eleventh consecutive year a Coug has received the award.

“It was right in the midst of quarantine chaos; I was cooking dinner and the email notification popped up. The first person I called was my research mentor since 2015, Dr. Jon F. Davis,” Brutman said. “We just started yelling and celebrating.”

In addition to an annual stipend and a tuition allowance, Brutman said the fellowship allows student researchers to pursue their ideas and encourages students to seek science outreach opportunities in their communities.

Brutman’s interest in neuroscience came at age 9 when she started volunteering for RideAbility of Minnesota, a therapeutic horseback riding center for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

“I started to have a lot of questions about human cognition,” Brutman said.

Brutman is a Coug through and through. She entered WSU in 2015 as part of the Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies (STARS) program and earned her Neuroscience B.S. in 2018.

STARS is WSU’s accelerated biosciences B.S./PhD. program, which provides students the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. in as little as seven years after high school.

Now in WSU’s Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience Graduate Program, Brutman is on track to graduate with a Neuroscience Ph.D. by 2022.

At that time, she hopes to move on to a postdoctoral research position. Brutman’s end goal is a career in academia.

“I want to represent underrepresented students in STEM,” she said. “You can’t be it if you can’t see it; I want to be a visible mentor for students in that situation.”

Brutman said her mentor for her seven years at WSU, Dr. Davis, was a significant driver in her ambition to mentor students.

“He says if his students end up better than he is, he has done his job correctly. That is what I want to aspire to as well,” she said. “If the people who come after me make even better advancements, then my work will have been meaningful.”

Brutman’s research primarily focuses on how the brain controls energy homeostasis. Specifically, she investigates how mRNA processing impacts metabolic and behavioral phenotypes.

With this fellowship funding, Brutman aims to investigate if physiological signals impact alternative polyadenylation, a key RNA processing mechanism, in neurons that control energy homeostasis.

The epigenetic research conducted by WSU professors Patricia Hunt and Michael Skinner were intellectually attractive for the Seattle transplant.

Brutman said WSU’s STARS program roped her in for undergrad; the ability to build on that research and the relationships with her Coug colleagues kept her here.

She enjoys being out of the city, too.

“It’s really cool; we have world-class research and world-class facilities, in more or less, the middle of the wheat fields,” she said.

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