Krislen Tison

Krislen Tison, PhD student, genetics

Uncovers genetic source of schizophrenia

“Krislen is not only a productive and collaborative scientist, she also works to build the bridges and ladders necessary to grow pipelines to recruit minoritized students into computational genetics and stem cell science, through both individual mentorship and broader advocacy efforts. She brings a unique perspective and voice to the University of Iowa and to her scientific field as a first-generation (both high school and college) Afro-Caribbean woman.” -Aislinn Williams, MD, PhD, assistant professor, psychiatry

Hometown: Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Faculty mentor/advisor: Aislinn Williams, MD, PhD, psychiatry, Carver College of Medicine

What is your degree program and expected graduate date? Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics, 2024

Please describe your research: I am a member of the Williams lab where we investigate the genetic factors that contribute to complex brain disorders. My research is focused on understanding the gene transcriptional changes that occur in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia across neurodevelopment in the cerebellum, the region of the brain responsible for muscle control, balance, and movement.

In simple terms, why does this research matter? Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that affects up to 1% of the world’s population. It is associated with cognitive dysfunction and poor quality of life, and up to 30% of patients are resistant to currently available treatments. These treatments do not improve cognitive function, which significantly impairs quality of life for people with schizophrenia. I hope that the research I conduct will further contribute to identifying rational targets for therapeutic and diagnostic strategies in psychiatric disorder management.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research?  Almost immediately through my rotations.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? I have had to face many obstacles during my predoctoral training, but I have not let the setbacks cloud my passion for research. Through the mentorship and academic support provided at UI, I am equipped with the tools I need to deepen my knowledge and reach my research goals. Participating in research at UI has also allowed me to help other students, especially Black scientists dealing with similar adversities during their doctoral journey.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I would like to use my knowledge from academia and apply it in an industry research and development position. Outside of my career, I am very passionate about outreach and would like to continue to participate in diversity initiatives to increase minority access to bioscience.

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