Presidential Fellowship in Neuroscience

Presidential Graduate Fellowship in Collaborative Neuroscience

The UVA Brain Institute, in collaboration with the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs and leadership of the Neurosciences Graduate Program, is pleased to announce the sixth round of the Presidential Fellowship in Neurosciences program to promote cross-ground collaborative neuroscience research. To this end, we seek to bring together Neuroscience mentors from different departments and/or different divisions to tackle important questions and perform transformative work that will differentiate our research enterprise. Proposed projects may be on any subject related to neuroscience. Evidence of prior collaboration is not required, and the creation of new partnerships is encouraged. 

Submitted proposals should provide evidence that a 3rd or 4th year graduate student will be jointly mentored in a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment on a synergistic project with the potential to generate transformative science. The fellowship will cover the stipend, tuition, insurance, and fees for the next academic year. Proposals may be for a 1 or 2 (with a requirement form competitive renewal) year period of funding. 

Application Deadline: June 1, 2022

Proposal Components:


  1. Biographical Sketches - include the specific expertise that each mentor and mentee brings to the project.
  2. Jointly written recommendation letter and mentorship plan. 

Mentors and Nominee

  1. Title of project
  2. Project Overview and Specific Aims (1 page)
  3. 1 paragraph description of each mentor's research program
  4. 1 paragraph addressing the following three (3) questions:
    1. Why does the project require a collaborative approach?
    2. How does the combination of mentors or disciplines (if applicable) enable science that the individuals could not accomplish alone?
    3. How does this project have the potential to be differentiating for the follow and for UVA? what would this enable the student to do that they otherwise would not be able to do? 
  5. Student Biosketch and Course Grades

Criteria for Evaluation:

  • Alignment with RFA - transformative, collaborative, multidisciplinary
  • Student's record of research productivity, academic achievement, and service to the neuroscience community
  • Alignment with student's future scientific career

Proposal Submission Format: 

  1. Please use 11 point Arial or Helvetica font with single spacing and 1 inch margins.
  2. Assemble entire application as one PDF titled: "Lastname_Firstname_2022NeuroFellowhip.pdf"
  3. Email application to
  4. Deadline: June 1, 2022

Award announcements will be made by mid-June and funding will begin in Summer/Fall 2022 depending on the school.

Questions? Email


2021 Fellows:

Samantha Brindley - Psychology | Mentors: Jamie Morris, PhD - Psychology; Teague Henry, PhD - Psychology; Kevin Pelphrey, PhD - Neurology.

Sam Brindley is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology and a member of the Morris Social Neuroscience Laboratory. Sam seeks to learn more about differences in social attention capabilities in adult participants. Social attention deficits characterize several developmental and psychiatric disorders and social attention is highly variable in the neurotypical population. Though imaging studies have helped establish candidate neural systems supporting this complex social capability, individual differences studies have shown less success. Here, using machine learning and predictive modeling approaches, Sam will establish procedures that uncover some of the natural variability within the population and allow us to begin to probe the brain networks that support the behavior.

Yuanyu Chang - Chemistry | Mentors: Jill Venton, PhD - Chemistry; Julius Zhu, PhD - Pharmacology.

Yuanyu Chang is a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. In the Venton lab, Yuanyu has examined how adenosine receptors A1 and A2A self-modulate adenosine release and measured the extent of adenosine signaling using dual channel FSCV. Moving forward, Yuanyu will combine electrochemical techniques and imaging techniques to simultaneously probe rapid adenosine neuromodulation in mice brain. Combining FSCV and genetically-encoded sensors will be advantageous for monitoring multiple neurochemical interactions and asking questions such as how rapid adenosine modulates neurotransmitters like dopamine or glutamate in real-time. The new tools developed from this project will be able to increase understanding of the effects of rapid adenosine on downstream neurotransmitter signaling and neuronal activity.

Sophie Cook - Chemistry | Mentors: Rebecca Pompano, PhD - Chemistry; Tajie Harris, PhD - Neuroscience.

Sophie Cook is a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry and a member of the Pompano laboratory.  The Pompano lab develops new tools to control the microenvironment around living samples of ex vivo tissue, which they call “hybrid tissue-chips.” Sophie has proposed a new, more elegant design for a microchip used to co-culture tissue samples. The new design for the chip makes it user-friendly and mass-producible, thus enabling better engagement with collaborators in the biomedical sciences. She developed a functional prototype of her proposed device, including a brand new 3D-printed impeller pump and a series of modular channels and culture chambers.

Joshua Milstein - Neuroscience | Mentors: Heather Ferris, PhD - Neuroscience; Zhen Yan, PhD - Medicine.

Josh Milstein is a Neuroscience PhD student in the Ferris and Yan labs.  Josh has designed a project focusing on the over-arching question, how does exercise slow the progression of neurodegeneration. Right now, exercise is one of the best treatments available for neurodegeneration, but the mechanisms driving these improvements are unknown. Josh will use mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and primary neuron cultures to dissect the molecular changes taking place in the healthy and diseased brain in response to exercise and the exercise mimetic, metformin.

Kristen Reynier - Center for Applied Biomechanics | Mentors: Matthew Panzer, PhD - Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Donna Broshek, PhD - Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences.

Kristen Reynier is a 4th year PhD candidate working with the Center for Applied Biomechanics. Her research focuses on medical device design and the biomechanics of automotive crash traumatic brain injuries. Her research will assess the sex-related differences in each of these biomechanical factors and any added effect on brain injury risk. Combining symptomology and computational brain biomechanics research can provide context for sex-related differences in brain deformation patterns. Findings from her work can extend to other injurious loading conditions, such as injuries from sports impacts, falls, and assault, such as intimate partner violence.

Tyler Spears - Electrical and Computer Engineering | Mentors: Tom Fletcher, PhD - Electrical and Computer Engineering; Jeff Liu, PhD - Neurological Surgery.

Tyler Spears is a PhD candidate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program. He has recently started working on a project to analyze the white matter pathways involved in chronic pain using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI). Under the mentorship of Dr. Fletcher and Dr. Liu, Tyler plans to develop a deep neural network for learning features from high-quality dMRI in the Human Connectome Project. The model will learn how to transfer these high-quality image features to clinical dMRI scans. This research will have significant impact in neurosurgical treatment of chronic pain, including in targeting transcranial focused ultrasound and in tracking changes to the brain white matter following a procedure.


2019 Fellows:

Joshua Danoff - Psychology | Mentors: Jessica Connelly, PhD - Psychology, Patrick Grant, PhD - Biochemistry.

Josh is a PhD student in Dr. Jessica Connelly’s lab in the Department of Psychology. His research focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms underlying complex behavioral phenotypes. Josh uses prairie voles, a monogamous rodent species, as a model for understanding human social behaviors. He combines molecular genetics, genomics, and neuroanatomy methods to study the effects of early life experience in the form of parental contact on gene expression and chromatin structure in the brain, focusing on the oxytocin system and autism risk genes. Josh is also interested in determining the role of gonadal hormones in mediating the effects of early life experience on the developing brain. These studies will elucidate the biological mechanisms regulating social behaviors and investigate how experience can alter the developmental trajectories of these behaviors.

Courtney Rivet-Noor | Mentors: Alban Gaultier, PhD - Neuroscience, Sean Moore, MD, MS - Pediatrics.

Courtney Rivet-Noor is a PhD candidate in the Gaultier Lab within the Brain, Immunology, and Glia Center in the Department of Neuroscience. Under the mentorship of Dr. Alban Gaultier and Dr. Sean Moore, she is working to understand the impact that stress has on the microbiome. Stress is known to cause significant changes to the microbiome, which can in turn influence the onset of several conditions, including autoimmune disease and mental health disorders. However, the specific ways in which stress mediates changes to the host and thereby the microbiome are currently unknown. Using both in vivo mouse and in vitro organoid models, Courtney is investigating how stress changes the expression of mucins in the small intestine. Mucins are the large glycoproteins that make up the mucus that lines almost every organ and epithelium in the body. Additionally, mucins provide an attachment point and food for the microbial species that inhabit our small intestine. A better understanding of how stress influences mucins will allow us to develop targeted therapeutic strategies that could prevent the onset of harmful human pathologies.

Ben Newman - Psychology | Mentors: Jason Druzgal, MD, PhD - Radiology, Tom Fletcher, PhD - Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Ben Newman is a PhD candidate working in Dr. Jason Druzgal's lab in the Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging. Ben's research focuses on developing novel analysis techniques to study brain tissue microstructure with diffusion MRI. One biomarker to be generated from this work, termed Free Water Signal Fraction, may be able to quantify changes in brain tissue due to causes as varied as age-related degeneration, tumor growth, or neuroinflammation. Under the supervision of Dr. Druzgal and Dr. Fletcher, Ben will investigate this biomarker using machine learning techniques developed by Dr. Fletcher's lab. This combined approach will be applied to the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, the largest study of its kind ever collected in the United States. The size of ABCD presents a unique opportunity to find differences between subjects with and without a history of mild traumatic brain injury.

2018 Fellows:

Amy Van Deusen - Neuroscience | Mentors: Eli Zunder, PhD - Biomedical Engineering, Christopher Deppmann, PhD - Biology.


Sebastian Giudice - UVA Center for Applied Biomechanics | Mentors: Matthew Panzer, PhD - Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Jason Druzgal, MD, PhD - Radiology.

Sebastian is a PhD student at the UVA Center for Applied Biomechanics. Over the last several years, Sebastian’s research has focused on understanding the biomechanics of the brain – how the brain deforms during head impact and how stress and strain relate to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Currently, Sebastian is developing novel techniques to develop subject-specific brain Finite Element models by leveraging MRI image registration techniques that are widely used in MRI image processing pipelines. This work will enable research to investigate how region-specific brain anatomy relates to injury risk across wide populations. More importantly, these techniques will bridge the gap between research being done by engineers and clinicians to establish a direct process to integrate brain biomechanics and functional outcomes in patients with TBI. In his free time, Sebastian loves cooking, playing and watching sports, and playing the guitar.

Meng Zhuang - Chemistry | Mentors: Cassandra Fraser, PhD - Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Jaideep Kapur, MD, PhD - Neurology.

Meng is a rising 4th year in the Chemistry Department.  Her current project is to develop and adapt novel oxygen sensing boron nanoparticles (BNPs) as functional probes of brain oxygen activity during seizures. She hypothesizes that oxygen levels measured using BNPs will correlate with cortical activity under normoxic and hypoxic conditions in mice brain during seizures. The use of BNP/camera imaging will allow for the construction of high-resolution maps of oxygen levels in the brain under physiologic and pathologic conditions.

2017 Fellows:

Sarah Coe-Odess - Psychology | Mentors: Jessica Connelly, PhD - Psychology, Rebecca Scharf, MD, MPH - Pediatrics.

Sarah is a Clinical Psychology PhD student in the Kids, Lives, Families, and Friends (KLIFF) Lab in the department of Psychology. Her project combines clinical psychology, longitudinal designs, interpersonal relationships, and epigenetics to identify and describe qualities of adolescents and factors of their social environments that promote development into healthy adults. Particularly, it examines the possibility that methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTRm) is a biological mechanism that moderates the relationship between aversive environments during childhood and adolescence and longitudinal changes in depression during adulthood. To do this, this project uses uniquely rich longitudinal data from a community sample of 118 individuals across ages 13-28 and has the potential to suggest an epigenetically-based diathesis-stress model.

Sushanth Kumar - Neuroscience | Mentors: Christopher Deppmann, PhD - Biology, John Lukens, PhD - Neuroscience.

Sushanth is a 4th year graduate student in Chris Deppmann's lab studying cell death and inflammation in Alzheimer's disease. He graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BS in biochemistry and BS in biomedical engineering. Sushanth aims to understand how two distinct cell death pathways: extrinsic apoptosis and necroptosis, contribute to neuronal death and inflammation in Alzheimer's disease (AD). To do this, his lab has generated compound mutants between J20 AD mice and caspase-8 (executor of extrinsic apoptosis) null and/or RIPK3 (executor of necroptosis) null mice and are studying changes in amyloid load, microglial reactivity, astrocyte reactivity, neuron death, and behavior. The hope would be that by removing one or both of these proteins (caspase-8 and/or RIPK3) in mice that have AD that they can rescue some of the observed deficits.

Qi Zhang - Biology | Mentors: Ali Guler, PhD - Biology, Michael Scott, PhD - Pharmacology.

Qi is a rising fourth year graduate student working in Ali Guler's lab. Qi's specific interest lies in the role of hypothalamic dopamine pathways in the regulation of feeding behavior and metabolic processes. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in detection of salient events, and is released by rewarding sensory cues such as food rich in sugar and fat. Her previous finding suggests that Dopamine receptor D1 (Drd1)-dependent DA signaling in the hypothalamus is a key player in feeding behaviors and development of obesity. Surprisingly, she has discovered a previously unidentified role for Drd1 signaling in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus during consummatory behaviors. Further understanding of this neuronal group will provide us a better view of  energy homeostasis and provide novel targets for treating obesity related diseases.

2016 Fellows:

Jamie Blair - Neuroscience | Mentors: Jason Druzgal, MD, PhD - Radiology, Jamie Morris, PhD - Psychology

Project Title: Identifying Disease Agnostic Anatomical Patterns of Cognitive Impairment via MRI

Coleen Curley - Biomedical Engineering | Mentors: Richard J Price - Biomedical Engineering; Roger Abounader, MIC

 Project Title: MR Image-Guided Delivery of Immunotherapeutic miR-124 Nanoparticles to Glioma with Focused Ultrasound. 

Haoyi Liang - Electrical and Computer Engineering | Mentors: Daniel S. Weller, PhD - Electrical and Computer Engineering; Jaideep Kapur, MD, PhD - Neurology

Project Title: Fully Automated 3D Brain Reconstruction for Epilepsy Study.

Meghan Puglia - Psychology | Mentors: Jamie Morris, PhD - Psychology; Tobias Grossman, PhD - Psychology; Jessica Connelly, PhD - Psychology; Brian Helmke, PhD - Biomedical Engineering

Project Title: The Noisy Brain in Infancy: A Neurobiological Marker of Normative Social Development. 


In The News


Diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system – such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and various forms of cognitive impairment – are complex to study, treat and cure, requiring