Honoreé Brewton is a fourth-year doctoral student within the Behavioral and Integrative Neuroscience Program, and her research focuses on discoveries that could lead to new treatments for alcohol use disorders. Her career plans include a research position in industry. “I also hope to show other Black youth the opportunities that are available in science,” she says.
What made you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study?
Funny enough, attending UNC was not in my original plan. During my last year of undergraduate studies at Howard University, I applied to other graduate programs, with the University of Kentucky being my top choice. I was so certain that it was my dream school. However, I was heartbroken to find that I had not been accepted into their program. After some thought, I decided to search for a postbaccalaureate (postbac) fellowship and learn new research techniques before applying to grad programs the following cycle.
I asked a string of professionals about any available postbac opportunities, and one person from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) connected me with Dr. Todd Thiele at UNC-Chapel Hill. We shared similar research interests, but I ended up taking a postbac opportunity at the NIH. Todd encouraged me to apply to UNC’s grad program. I felt that I could thrive in his lab, so I applied, and here I am now! I believe it was destiny.
Tell us about your research.
The Behavioral and Integrative Neuroscience Program mainly focuses on addiction research. My research centers on the neural mechanisms involved in alcohol use disorder. Specifically, I use a mouse model to investigate the role astrocytes play in escalated alcohol consumption.
Astrocytes are glial cells that were previously regarded as the “glue” holding neurons together, but research has proven astrocytes can do so much more, such as regulate neurotransmission, maintain memory processing, support immune response, etc. Throughout my graduate training, I have learned that astrocytes are involved in the regulation of alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking behavior can lead to decreased astrocyte functionality in certain brain regions. This can disrupt the brain’s neurochemical balance, further exacerbating neurocognitive deficits. My research aims to find a potential target for therapeutic properties involving astrocytes.
How have you built community as a graduate student at Carolina?
The Black Graduate and Professional Student Association has been my haven and main source of community at UNC. Being an alumna of a historically Black university, I have always found that learning alongside other people who look like me brings me so much joy! Through this organization, I have formed some beautiful friendships that I will continue to cherish.
The Initiative for Minority Excellence has also been a big part of my UNC community. Kathy [Wood] and the rest of the IME team are amazing! The events they organize have truly helped me find the light during my darkest days. I am so grateful for the warmth and nurture they provide.
What are you hoping to accomplish with your Carolina degree?
After graduating, I would like to find a job in industry. As an alcohol researcher, I am interested in finding new ways to treat alcohol use disorders; this has led me to consider a position in the drug development field.
I also hope to show other Black youth the opportunities that are available in science. There is such low visibility of Black individuals in neuroscience, so I want to be an example for those children who may be interested in becoming a scientist of any kind, or for those who want to obtain a Ph.D.