College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – Psychology
Research Project: Studying effects of medication on effort-related symptoms of depression in rats.
Hector Contreras is a poster boy for motivation.
“Motivation is the master key to open any door. I am a product of motivation,” he says.
It’s no wonder, then, that his Ph.D. research focuses on motivation. He is studying how certain drugs affect effort-related decisions in depressed rats. The rats, trained to perform a task to get food, are then allowed to choose between performing that task or settling for a less-desirable food that requires no effort. Hector is investigating how particular medications affect the rats’ decisions.
“These studies could promote the development of novel treatments that are specifically targeted towards the effort-related symptoms of depression,” he explains. Those symptoms include lethargy, psychomotor slowing, and fatigue.
Hector received his B.S. degree in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez last spring. As an undergrad, he was involved in research on cognition, including how cognitive processes affect the academic performance of Hispanic children. A rewarding summer research experience in Dr. John Salamone’s lab the previous summer led him back to UConn in pursuit of his Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience.
After graduation, Hector plans to pursue a post-doc to learn more about research, writing grants, and how to properly run a lab. He has another overarching goal as well—to help minority students in STEM.
Hector, himself a UConn Multicultural Scholar, has already been involved in recruiting minority students to UConn. He traveled to Seattle in the fall for the SACNAS Conference (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) as part of a recruitment initiative.
“This training will enable me to give back to the system that helped me,” he says, “so that I can eventually provide support, mentoring, and research training for my own students in the future.”
In addition to his academic endeavors, Hector likes to wake up early and work out at the gym. He also enjoys debating topics of social interest. If you want to get to know Hector better, check out his blog, phdhispanic.com, in which he shares his personal experiences as a Hispanic Ph.D. student.
Biography done by Cathleen Torrisi