Graduate Student Awarded Howard Hughes Fellowship

Yu-Chieh “David” Chen receives one of 20 fellowships awarded across the country and will study insect learning and memory

Yu-Chieh “David” Chen in a lab.

Yu-Chieh “David” Chen is one of 20 recipients of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — A University of California, Riverside graduate student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Graduate Program has received one of 20 International Student Research Fellowships Program awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Yu-Chieh “David” Chen, who works in the lab of Anupama Dahanukar, an associate professor of entomology, will receive $86,000 over two years.

His research will focus on insects, including, butterflies, moths, and flies, that undergo dramatic changes in the nervous system during metamorphosis. They have shown remarkable retention of memory from larval to adult stages. However, the mechanisms by which information about larval experience transfers to the adult stage remain unknown.

Animals continuously perceive information about their natural environment through chemosensation, or sensing chemical stimuli, and produce appropriate behaviors based on both sensory input and previous experience.

A great deal has been discovered about sensory processing and behavior by identifying underlying chemosensory receptors and neurons, but little is known about how sensory experience acquired at earlier stages of life modifies subsequent behaviors through learning and memory. Chen plans to use the Drosophila pharynx as a model for exploring how memory is transferred from larvae to adults.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded research fellowships to 20 predoctoral students from 14 countries to help them complete their graduate studies in the United States.

HHMI established the International Student Research Fellowships Program in 2011 to support international students in the U.S. during their third to fifth years of graduate research in the life sciences.

International students in U.S. graduate schools usually are not eligible for such support, which is generally reserved for students who are U.S. citizens.

The institute chose to fund the third to fifth years of graduate school because, by this time, most students have chosen a graduate advisor, identified a research project and demonstrated their potential for success in the lab.

Students receive $43,000 during each year of the fellowship. HHMI has invested a total of nearly $23.4 million in the program, and is currently supporting 251 students from 47 countries.

Fifty-seven Ph.D.-granting institutions were eligible to nominate graduate students for this year’s fellowships. Three hundred forty-four students submitted applications, which were reviewed by a panel of top scientists and graduate educators. Only institutions currently hosting one or more HHMI Investigators could nominate candidates.

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