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STUDENT LIFE: Sleepless in … Iowa City

Alyson Hanish

Alyson Hanish is merely weeks away from successfully completing a monumental academic hat trick at the University of Iowa. 

Hanish, who grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has already earned her BSN and MSN from UI’s  College of Nursing and will be defending her dissertation (late November) en route to graduating with her PhD in December 2014.

She recently took time out of her hectic schedule, including final preparations for her defense, to talk about and her experience at the UI, the intricacies of her dissertation research, as well as post-graduation ambitions.

Why did you select UI’s College of Nursing to pursue your PhD?
I had a wonderful experience as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, and I enjoyed working as a pediatric nurse at UIHC. I was accepted into the BSN-PhD program at UI’s College of Nursing, and given my positive undergraduate experience I thought it would be a good fit!

What is a GPP Fellow, and When did you Become One?
The National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) is a doctoral fellowship program that coordinates training and funding for PhD students attending a school of nursing. I started on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland in July, 2011.

How has this fellowship impacted your academic life and your professional development?
The GPP at the NIH offers a unique opportunity for graduate student to enjoy both the academic environment of a university, while at the same time utilize the extensive research resources of the NIH. Through this program, graduate students complete their coursework at their university and then transition to the intramural programs at NIH to complete their dissertation research. My fellowship at NIH has given me the opportunity to conduct team-based research in a unique setting, which offers an expansive graduate community with a plethora of career and professional development services. I am fortunate to have been trained by and worked alongside some incredibly gifted and motivating individuals who are devoted to training the next generation of scientific leaders.

What is the subject of your dissertation?
The general topic of my dissertation is sleep in adolescence. My fellowship at NIH gave me the opportunity to study sleep in patients with rare genetic disorders. Given the potential role of the PAX6 gene in pineal development and circadian regulation, adolescents with an abnormality in the PAX6 gene may be more likely to experience sleep-related problems compared to adolescents without these deletions or mutations. The purpose of my dissertation was to determine if adolescents, who have an abnormality in the PAX6 gene, have sleep problems and to describe the sleep-related phenotype. Sleep was measured using sleep questionnaires and actigraphy, a wristwatch device that estimates sleep patterns based on movement. Although my research was focused on rare genetic disorders, describing sleep-related phenotypes in this population contributes to knowledge of assessment and treatment of sleep disorders in general (e.g., preliminary validation of age-appropriate adolescent sleep questionnaires), facilitating their use in additional adolescent populations. 

What are your career plans for after you graduate?
I am currently in the process of applying for postdoctoral positions. My overall goal is to become an independent investigator at an academic institution. I plan to continue my research in sleep in children and adolescents with a neurodevelopmental disorder (e.g., autism spectrum disorder), another population that may be vulnerable to sleep problems.

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NIH GPP Fellow
The National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) is a doctoral fellowship program that coordinates training and funding for PhD students attending a school of nursing. The program combines the academic environment of a university and the breadth and depth of research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The goal of the program is to encourage and support the training of nursing doctoral students who are motivated to undertake careers in basic or clinical research. More information can be found here


Posted On: 
Nov 13th, 2014