James Auwn completes neuroscience research fellowship at McGill University

BOONE, N.C. — James Auwn, a senior biology and psychology major from Cary, spent the fall 2023 semester completing a research fellowship at McGill University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada).

Auwn's fellowship was funded by the U.S. Department of State's Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, named after the late congressman Benjamin A. Gilman from New York. The Gilman Program enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, providing them with skills critical to national security and economic prosperity. Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray eligible study or intern abroad costs. The Institute of International Education has administered the program since its inception in 2001.

At McGill University, Auwn worked in Dr. Jesper Sjöström's laboratory. Sjöström is an associate professor at McGill's Centre for Research in Neuroscience, where his team explores brain plasticity in health and disease. 

“I am investigating the mechanism of the putative antidepressant hydroxynorketamine, a derivative of the better known drug ketamine. Currently, the way in which hydroxynorketamine acts upon neurons in the brain is highly disputed," explained Auwn. "In the Sjöström Lab, my project aims to propose a new way in which hydroxynorketamine may act, and hopefully will contribute to the ongoing debate of how this promising drug affects how neurons speak to one another.”

Prior to his time at McGill, Auwn spent the summer conducting research at Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada) with the Fulbright-MITACS Globalink Program. At Queen's, Auwn worked in Dr. Nader Ghasemlou's laboratory, exploring pain chronobiology and neuroimmunology.

“My time at Queen's University was highly productive and incredibly formative for my development as a fledgling neuroscientist. I was able to complete experiments that investigated living and non-living sensitizers of pain sensing neurons in the Ghasemlou Lab. This work helped advise my future goals in understanding how short term injury can lead to long term pains,” said Auwn, who thanked Johnna Reisner Desantis with Nationally Competitive Scholarships for her assistance applying to the program.

A recipient of the 2020-21 Chancellor's Scholarship and member of the Honors College, Auwn has conducted neuroscience research under the mentorship of Dr. Andrew Bellemer, associate professor and assistant chair in the Department of Biology, since his freshman year at App State. Auwn credits Dr. Bellemer, as well as the Honors College, Department of Biology, and Department of Psychology, with preparing him for his positions at Queen's and McGill University.

“The rigorous and encompassing education and training I have received from the Honors College, Department of Biology, and Department of Psychology at Appalachian State University has prepared me exceptionally well to conduct research in the high powered labs at Queen's and McGill University. Further, the mentorship I have received from Dr. Andrew Bellemer while conducting research in his lab has been indispensable in navigating the world of academic science.” — James Auwn

Deploying his international experiences at McGill and Queen's University, Auwn serves as a member of Reach the World, a nonprofit organization that makes the benefits of travel and global engagement accessible to classrooms. “As a Reach the World Traveler, I was able to reconnect with a favorite teacher of mine from Cary High School and serve as an ambassador for international travel and scholarship,” shared Auwn. “Writing weekly articles for Reach the World and meeting with the classroom brought me immense joy and affirmed to me that I'd like to serve as an educator in some fashion during my career.”

Auwn's passion for teaching and research led him to serve as a peer educator for App State's Wellness and Prevention Services, educating students and organizations about health and wellness issues. His main focus lies in food insecurity and harm reduction efforts. Further, Auwn serves as a peer advisor for the Health Professions Advising Office, helping pre-health students with their academic and extracurricular goals, and a member of the Honors College Vanguard, meeting with prospective students and representing the Honors College at events.

Auwn will graduate in May with bachelor's degrees in cell and molecular biology and health studies psychology and a minor in chemistry. In addition to graduating with both university and department honors, Auwn is the recipient of the Department of Psychology's 2024 Outstanding Senior Award. Auwn has been accepted to several prestigious neurobiology doctoral programs and is currently a semi-finalist for the Fulbright Germany Research Award.


About the Department of Biology
The Department of Biology is a community of teacher-scholars, with faculty representing the full breadth of biological specializations — from molecular genetics to landscape/ecosystem ecology. The department seeks to produce graduates with sound scientific knowledge, the skills to create new knowledge, and the excitement and appreciation of scientific discovery. Learn more at https://biology.appstate.edu.

About the Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology
Appalachian State University’s Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology serves more than 1,400 undergraduate majors seeking the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, as well as 90 graduate students across four graduate programs: experimental psychology (MA), industrial-organizational psychology and human resource management (MA), school psychology (MA/SSP) and clinical psychology (PsyD). Learn more at https://psych.appstate.edu.

By Lauren Gibbs
March 20, 2024

James Auwn, a senior biology and psychology major from Cary, spent the fall 2023 semester completing a research fellowship at McGill University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada). Photo submitted
Published: Mar 20, 2024 11:30am