Over the Moon

Picture_MARC_from SROP2

Da Yeoun Moon, also known as Hanna, is a curious, captivating, cognitive neuroscience graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas. She grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles after immigrating to America from Korea with her family when she was 10-years-old. Now she’s tackling research on the aging brain. Hanna says she decided at a young age to study this field for somewhat philosophical reasons.

“I was broadly fascinated by human behavior and how we are able to study the human brain as it relates to our cognitive patterns. But I was also really intrigued by the concept of death and aging, and how our self-narrative around the end of life (and subsequently, the meaning of life itself) changes as we get older–how we come to accept it, how we deal with it throughout our lives and how it affects our time here on earth.”

Hanna spent time volunteering at nursing homes and talking with residents who were experiencing cognitive changes. She says that spurred her curiosity about aging.

“These conversations made me reflect on how important cognition is in discerning and forming our self-identity. If we lose these core memories that led us to who we understand ourselves to be, are we still the same person? All in all, the combination of all these experiences and questions lead me to be interested in the broader field of aging and brain research.”

Hanna at the University of Nebraska presenting her summer research during the National Science Foundation and Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

Hanna earned her B.A. in Psychology at San Diego State University with minors in Statistics and Interdisciplinary Studies. She says the decision to attend UT Dallas for her graduate studies was due to her mentors, Dr. Karen Rodrigue and Dr. Kristen Kennedy, and their research.

“We were happy to have Hanna join our research efforts in the lab. She has both a strong academic record and a strong history of service to the community,” says Dr. Karen Rodrigue.

Hanna currently works in the Rodrigue and Kennedy labs at the CVL.

 “I loved that there was an entire center dedicated to aging research, with researchers focusing on different aspects of aging with diverse modalities. I thought it would be such a great opportunity to diversify my questions since there are so many faculty members and researchers with expertise all across the discipline.”

Hanna at the University of Michigan during the Summer Research Opportunity Program presenting her research on the Contribution of White Matter Hyperintensities in Alzheimer’s Disease.

Hanna recently received the Nancy M. O’Neil and John Q. Stilwell, JD, Ph.D. Fellowship in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. The fellowship was established in recognition of the CVL’s 10th anniversary.

“We are delighted to have Hanna as the first recipient of this fellowship and wish her the very best in her studies,” says Nancy O’Neil, CVL Advisory Council member.

A fellowship is a big deal for most graduate students, but Hanna says it’s particularly meaningful for her.

“Having financial support, especially as a student from a low-income background, is the most helpful and meaningful support I can receive. Graduate students often struggle with financial insecurity which can significantly impact their mental health and overall well-being, so this scholarship was tremendously valuable in relieving some of these financial burdens and stresses that come with it.”

Hanna says while academia might be in her career path, she’s also interested in pursuing public policy or science communication careers.

“I think our current system of communicating and disseminating scientific research often lacks accuracy, transparency, and accessibility, so I would love to partake in disentangling and improving these methods.”