Featured Alumni

Tamara Phillips, PhD '86

Dr. Phillips received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology in 1986 from the University at Albany, with special training in Behavioral Genetics. While at Albany, she worked with Dr. Bruce Dudek, studying the pharmacogenetics of ethanol (alcohol). She is currently a Senior Research Career Scientist with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland, OR and Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland. Her laboratory is conducting genetic dissection of behavioral traits thought to influence risk for the development of alcoholism and drug abuse, using genetic animal models to study acute and chronic drug and alcohol effects associated with drug reward, behavioral sensitivity, and neuroadaptation.

Dr. Phillips has published over 120 articles and has received significant funding for her research from various agencies, including the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Department of Veteran Affairs, and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Early in her career, she received funding from the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation (ABMRF), and she credits this foundation for jump starting her career as an independent scientist. She has mentored many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and received the John A. Resko Faculty Research Achievement and Mentoring Award from the School of Medicine at OHSU, as a testament to her achievement in this area. She also serves as the Director of the Animal Core of the Portland Alcohol Research Center (PARC) and as Scientific Director of a Methamphetamine Abuse Research Center (MARC).

Dr. Phillips was recently awarded the 2010 Distinguished Scientist Award by the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society (IBANGS). This award honors her lifetime achievements in research on the genetic contributions to alcohol and drug sensitivity through studies that have mapped and identified specific genes affecting risk for alcohol and methamphetamine abuse. For more information about this award please go here. Additionally, Dr. Phillips was honored with the OHSU Brain Institute Festival of Lights Award for Productivity and Innovation in Neuroscience in 2008. She also holds several Excellence in Teaching Awards from OHSU in addition to having received the Research Society on Alcoholism annual Young Investigator Award early in her career (in 1991). To learn more please visit Dr. Phillips’ OHSU faculty page here.


Sid O'Bryant, PhD '02

While at the 2010 National Academy for Neuropsychology Conference in Vancouver, BC, I had the opportunity to catch up with a few alumni. I had the pleasure to sit down with Sid O’Bryant a 2002 graduate from the Clinical Psychology program. Sid was a part of Dr. Robert J. McCaffrey’s Neuropsychology laboratory and is currently working at Texas Tech Health Sciences as the director of research for the F. Marie Hall Research Institute for Rural and Community Health as well as an assistant professor in neurology. In 2009, Sid received the Early Career Award from the National Academy of Neuropsychology and was co-recipient of the Nelson Butter’s Award from the National Academy of Neuropsychology. Below are a few excerpts of my conversation with Sid.

- Jessica Gunner, Clinical Psychology Doctoral Candidate ‘14

J: What does your research focus on?

S: My research focuses on biological factors that are of causal importance for cognitive dysfunction during aging. My primary emphasis has been looking for a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease. From the rural health stand point it has been focusing on cardiovascular factors that influences change in memory and thinking over time among rural adults, elders, and Mexican-Americans.

J: You recently published an article in Archives of Neurology about a blood test to detect Alzheimer’s disease (AD); where do you see this research heading?

S: There is an incredible need for rapid and cost-effective means for identifying AD early where treatments are most effective. Great strides have been made in neuroimaging and cerebrospinal fluid analyses; however, neither of these offer increases in access to care. Our blood-test can be offered to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It has the potential to offer screenings to everyone beyond a certain age that can trigger follow-up evaluations. Our diagnostic accuracy is incredible, but we still need to cross-validate it before we can seek FDA approval. We will then start looking to see if it can identify Mild Cognitive Impairment, a precursor to AD. In the long run, I hope to utilize this to predict risk for AD years in advance, though that is some time away.

J: What path did you take to get where you are now?

S: I got my PhD in Clinical Psychology in Dr. Bob McCaffrey’s neuropsychology lab. I went to the University of Mississippi Medical Center for internship and then did my fellowship at the New Orleans VA. I was recruited to Lubbock because of my cross-cultural emphasis in Neuropsychology. Once recruited to Tech, I got involved with a large group of people from various fields and nobody spoke the same language. What I realized was, that as a psychologist and a neuropsychologist, I had the perfect skill set to walk in and become that synergistic bridge and I became a translational scientist.

J: What skills helped you to succeed?

S: First and foremost is just that passion for science, you either have it or you don’t. Then it is the inquisitive nature and that deep analytical curiosity. I also think creativity allows you to step up to a problem and not be afraid to look at it from a different standpoint.

J: Is there anything that you would have done differently?

S: I would have taken additional course work as a grad student in different areas. The coursework I had at UAlbany was great and I learned an incredible amount, but I wish I had taken the time to expose myself to different disciplines.

J: What do you think benefited you most at UAlbany?

S: The real push on understanding the research. I don’t think people really appreciate it, but when you leave, you can look at a research project and pick up the methodology immediately. That is what allowed me to adapt to the setting I am in now.

J: Do you have any advice you would give to students?

S: Get the training to do translational projects. The only way we are going to address some of the epidemic problems in society is by approaching them from a multidisciplinary standpoint. As psychologists one of our biggest weaknesses is that we spend time learning how to speak with anybody to help understand them, but we don’t spend time on how to speak with and understand our own colleagues.

J: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

S: I am very proud of coming from Albany. I received incredible training from the entire faculty. All of them, in their own way were very helpful in allowing me to be where I am now, and I am eternally grateful to them.

For more information watch this Texas Tech youtube video on Dr. O'Bryant's research