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January 2009  |  Return to issue home

Meet Susan McKay, Mary Gates Research Scholar

When Susan McKay first came to the University of Washington she had no idea that she would end up studying neuroscience and behavioral therapy. Yet two years later, the would-be English major is working in not one, but two research labs. 

Susan McKay
Susan McKay

Susan’s primary research focus is on treating the emotional use of alcohol among college students through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). As a Mary Gates Research Scholar, Susan has presented her work at UAA’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, as well as at three other academic conferences.

Susan is a single mother of three, the oldest of whom is also in college. When her job as the events manager for a local catering company came to an end, she decided to go back to school rather than look for more work in the same field. Susan has always loved the educational environment, but work and family commitments seemed to prevent her from following that path. 

When she returned to school and came to the University of Washington, her plan was to pursue a degree in English and become a high school English teacher. Then during her first quarter, Susan happened to enroll in a behavioral neuroscience course on drug addiction taught by Professor Jaime Diaz.  “I was like, where have you been all my life,” says Susan of her first exposure to neuroscience. By introducing Susan to neuroscience and behavioral psychology, this course, and this professor, changed Susan’s life. 

Susan’s research interests in this topic brought her into contact with Ursula Whiteside, her graduate student mentor. “I have learned so much from Ursula and from my experience in this lab under the direction of Dr. Larimer,” says Susan. It is in Dr. Larimer’s lab that Susan has done most of her research into DBT and its contribution to interventions for college student emotional drinkers.

Susan’s work ethic and discipline has resulted in her deep engagement with compelling research. The scholarships and mentorship she’s received from UAA programs and UW faculty have encouraged her along the way. She recently wrote:

I am so thankful to have been named a Mary Gates Scholar and to receive three quarters of financial support as well as the UG travel award. It is a wonderful honor and privilege to have received these awards and I will continue my research and training with great enthusiasm!  I also look forward to presenting new data in the spring at the Research Symposium.

I have had a wonderful experience at the university. I love the environment, and all of the wonderful learning and research that's going on here. I find it intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding. I feel most like "me" when I am immersed in this environment and earnestly hope to begin my graduate studies in the fall.


January 2009  |  Return to issue home

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