2015 Graduate Student Research Awards

The Kinsey Institute is pleased to award research grants to Jennifer Staples, of University of Washington, and Kristyn Sylvia, of Indiana University. With a stellar pool of nominees, Juliana Friend, University of California at Berkeley and Niki Fritz, Indiana University, were awarded honorable mentions.


Jennifer Staples, Department of Psychology, University of Washington

Research area: Health Disparities among transgender individuals particularly with regards to alcohol abuse, suicidality, and non-suicideal self-injury.

Health disparities among transgender (trans) individuals are increasingly evident, particularly regarding alcohol abuse, suicidality and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Trans is an umbrella term referring to a diverse group of people who experience incongruence between their gender identity and gender assigned at birth (Bockting, 2013). Results from a national survey indicate that 41% of trans people have attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population. Furthermore, trans individuals who attempt suicide are more likely to report excessive use of alcohol (Mathy, 2002). Despite these disparities, there is a dearth of research investigating etiological factors contributing to alcohol use/abuse, suicidality, and NSSI among trans people.

This study is guided by two theories, the Minority Stress Model and the Psychological Mediation Framework, which postulate that marginalized groups experience elevated stress as a result of anti-minority prejudice, contributing to negative mental health outcomes (Hatzenbeuhler, 2009; Meyer, 2003). Research reports that 63% of trans people have experienced a severe act of gender discrimination, and a history of discrimination increases the likelihood of attempting suicide. Furthermore, 1/3 of respondents reported having used alcohol/drugs to cope with the discrimination (Grant et al., 2011). However, less attention has been paid to internalized prejudice in trans people.

Kristyn Sylvia, Indiana University, Department of Biology; Evolution, Ecology & Behavior Graduate Program

Research area: Investigating the physiological, neural and behavioral effects of postnatal stressors and the mechanisms by which these changes may occur.

Early life environmental stressors have the potential to disrupt development in ways that could severely impact fitness and reproduction. The mechanisms by which these external stressors affect reproductive physiology and behavior, however, are not well understood. The reproductive axis is strongly affected by physiological responses to external stressors, such as immune activation and inflammation (Knox et al., 2009).

Kristyn is interested in how postnatal immune challenges may affect the reproductive axis in Siberian hamsters and the consequences of these perturbations later in life, specifically focusing on the role that the RFamide peptide, kisspeptin, plays in regulation of reproductive function. Siberian hamsters are seasonal breeders that use environmental cues to alter reproductive physiology and behavior to coincide with optimal times to reproduce. Because of this, they are extremely sensitive to environmental stressors, and are a model species to investigate how acute stressors (sickness) can affect the development and function of the reproductive system.

Kisspeptin plays a critical role in the up-regulation of the reproductive axis and control of the onset of puberty in mammals, and recent studies have demonstrated that animals exposed to postnatal immune challenges show signs of delayed puberty (Knox et al., 2009). Various human studies have also shown that kisspeptin is an essential gatekeeper.

The Kinsey Graduate Research Awards are made possible by generous gifts of donors to the Kinsey Institute. Please contact Herb Caldwell to learn more about this opportunity for advancing graduate research on human sexuality.


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