Annik Yalnizyan-Carson

Annik Yalnizyan-Carson

Where did you grow up and what’s your background?
Grew up in Toronto, between the Danforth/Greektown and Midtown. I’m half Armenian (parev!), which is where my unusual name comes from.

Where did you study before coming to UTSC?
I did my undergrad at the St. George campus of U of T in Neuroscience and Mathematics. I did my Master’s in Cell & Systems biology and split my time between Melanie Woodin’s lab on the St. George campus and the LINC lab at UTSC. Now I’ve fully transitioned to UTSC for my PhD in the LINC lab.

What is your main research project?
I'm interested in how memory influences decision making behaviour in reward learning tasks. Our brains receive a tremendous amount of information from the external world, and must somehow make sense of it in order to effectively make decisions just for basic survival. When the rules of our environment stay relatively stable, we can effectively learn how to make good choices either by explicitly reasoning through available options (goal-directed behavioural control) or by establishing prescribed responses to specific stimuli (habitual control). The real world often presents us with rapidly changing environments, yet we can effectively learn anyway. I focus on how memories of specific autobiographical events (episodic memories) can help to bootstrap goal-directed and habitual control systems so that we are still able to make choices effectively even in changing environments.

Why science? If not science, then what?
I couldn’t really imagine my life without science. According to a reputable source (my mom) I have been asking the tough questions -- “Why are there infinity numbers?” and “What’s under Barbie’s skin?” -- since I was a young kid. Maybe it was just meant to be. But if not science then probably something creative and hands-on, like a carpenter or a chef or someone who builds Rube Goldberg machines (is that a job?).

The best restaurant in Scarborough is...?
Saravanaa Bhavan. Full disclosure: my sample size for Scarberian restaurants is small, but I know a yummy dosa when I meet one.

Your favourite place in Toronto is…?
Edward’s Gardens or St. Lawrence Market

Your favourite place on the inter tubes?
Wikipedia. You can spend a lot of time learning about stuff!