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UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Training Program in Neuroscience

Student Profiles

Current Students

Shahriar Sheikhbahaei

Shahriar SheikhbahaeiI was born and raised to a warm and supportive family in Esfahan, a beautiful city in Iran. Finishing medical school, I immigrated to the United States in 2005 with the ambition to continue my education in a world-class university. The delays to get my medical credentials forced me to start my education in the U.S. from the scratch, an event that opened my eyes to the beauty of neurobiological research. I have received my Bachelor’s degree from University of California at Berkeley with honors in Molecular and Cell Biology with concentration on Neurobiology. During the course of my studying at Berkeley, I learned molecular neurobiology (at the Zucker Lab, University of California at Berkeley), developmental neurobiology (at the Rubenstein Lab, UC San Francisco), and computational biology (at the Hunt Lab, UCSF). The courses and research opportunities at UC Berkeley and UCSF have provided me with a broad range of knowledge in the biological science and made me aware that research into the mammalian brain fascinates me most. Particularly, I am interested in studying the interactions between neurons and glia.

For the purpose of this project, under the mentorship of Dr. Jeffrey Smith at NIH and Dr. Alexander Gourine at UCL, I will study the functional significance of the glial microenvironment in shaping the normal activity of CNS circuits. This collaboration will bring together a combination of in vivo, in situ, in vitro, and in silico experimental models, research methods and expertise to examine interactions of glia and respiratory neuronal networks. These approaches will allow novel in-depth study of how activities of rhythm-generating neural circuits within the brainstem respiratory network are controlled by astrocytic networks. Understanding more about the development and function of the glial cells might potentially make them suitable candidates for cell-based therapies in treatment of nervous system disease, including motor disorders. Since my arrival to the US, I have been dedicated to the prospect of further strengthening my skills and knowledge, in order to work on brain disorders as multidisciplinary issues and I believe the NIMH – UCL Joint Doctoral Training Program is an excellent environment to nurture my evolution to an independent neuroscientist.

Tara Zinnamon

Tara ZinnamonI’m a Chicago, Illinois native and attended Williams College, a small liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I graduated with a BA in Psychology with a concentration and Honors in Neuroscience after discovering my passion for neuroscience research early on. I went on to earn my Masters in Neuroscience from UCL after working with Dr Jennifer Linden during my MSc research project on hearing loss in a mouse model of schizophrenia. While deciding whether to do a PhD in Neuroscience I was a research scientist at Otodynamics Ltd., but almost immediately realized my desire to continue my research in schizophrenia.

Under the guidance of my supervisors Dr. Linden at UCL and Dr. Kuan Hong Wang at the NIMH, I’m researching cortical interneuron dynamics in the frontal and auditory cortices of the Df1/+ mouse model of schizophrenia. Through immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology and novel behavioral paradigms we hope to elucidate how genetic risk for schizophrenia and hearing loss interact to produce cumulative abnormalities in neuronal circuitry.

Shana Silverstein

Shana SilversteinI grew up in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and attended Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. I graduated with a B.A. in Neuroscience and a minor in dance. After working at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Dr. Ken Kosik researching novel long non-coding RNA in the brain, I moved to Washington, DC to pursue my MS at Georgetown University in Physiology and Biophysics with a concentration in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. After working for a year and a half in the cancer preventative laboratory of Dr. Fung Lung Chung at Georgetown, I returned to my original research passion, neuroscience. I joined the Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience under the direction of Dr. Andrew Holmes as a Technical IRTA where I began studying the underlying circuitry involved in PTSD using optogenetics.

The UCL-NIH partnership is a wonderful avenue to cultivate a truly translational PhD project. With my supervisors Dr. Andrew Holmes (NIAAA) and Dr. Essi Viding (UCL) I will study the pathways involved in observational fear learning in mice and humans, respectively. Using techniques like optogenetics, immediate early gene activity, in vivo recording, and fMRI we hope to identify brain regions and directional circuits involved in vicarious learning. By using mice to model human pathologies, such as psychopathy or anxiety disorders, we can gain a better understanding of the deficient functioning at a molecular and mechanistic level in order to inform and direct better targeted therapies.

Jobert Vargas

Jobert VargasI graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with honors, majoring in Neuroscience (B.S) and Psychology (B.A). As an undergraduate, I conducted research in laboratories with a wide range of disciplinary expertise. Under the tutelage of Dr. Jeremy Sanford, I studied how cis-acting elements can alter pre-mRNA splicing events. I also conducted research on facial and spatial perception with Dr. Nicolas Davidenko. Additionally, during my senior year I worked as a course assistant for the biochemistry lab, taught by my mentor Prof. Jeremy Lee, where I instructed my fellow undergraduates proper execution of biochemical techniques. During my time at UCSC, I caught the “research bug” and developed a deeply entrenched passion for neuroscience, which led me to pursue a career in research.

After graduating, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Lawrence Tecott in University of California, San Francisco where I studied how serotonergic circuits control energy homeostasis in mammals. While at UCSF, my keen interest in dementia led me to join the lab of Dr. William Seeley, whose research focuses on deciphering how prion-like proteins involved in neurodegenerative disorders cause the death of highly specific neuronal populations. Determined to expand my scientific training, I sought and received a Post- Baccalaureate Research Fellowship at the NIH. There, I conducted research on axonal trafficking and local processing of pre-miRNAs that control mitochondrial genes, in the laboratory of Dr. Barry Kaplan.

My diverse research endeavors made me realize just how critical collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches are in trying to understand neurological diseases. The UCL-NIMH Joint Graduate Program presents an excellent opportunity to be involved in an international collaboration between two highly distinguished neuroscience research institutes.

As a UCL-NIMH fellow, I am being trained by my co-mentors Dr. Richard Youle (NINDS) and Prof. Giampietro Schiavo (UCL). Currently, I am studying the clearance of damaged mitochondria in neurons, a process known as mitophagy. This process is especially disrupted in Parkinson’s disease and ALS. Thus, I hope that my research efforts will someday improve the quality of lives of people who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.

Rachel Smith

Rachel SmithI graduated from Chapman University in Orange, CA in 2011 with a B.A. in Psychology and a budding passion for cognitive neuroscience. More specifically, I became interested in how the brain’s functional organization may determine how we perceive, interpret, and interact with the world around us. In addition, I was intrigued by the multitude of ways that this neural architecture could be aberrant, especially in the context of psychopathology.

After my B.A., I spent two years gaining clinical and technical experience in diagnostic electrophysiology, and became certified as a nerve conduction technologist by the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine. With the goal of refining my research interests and reacquainting myself with the evolving field of neuroscience, I then moved to London in 2013 to pursue a 2-year Master’s degree in Developmental Neuroscience and Psychopathology through UCL and Yale University. I conducted my thesis research with Prof. Hal Blumenfeld in Yale’s Clinical Neuroscience Imaging Center. There we used human electrocorticography (intracranial EEG) to investigate the spatial and temporal dynamics of conscious visual perception and subjective awareness.

I loved the empirical rigor and cross-institutional format of my M.Sc., so I was thrilled to learn about the UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Training Program in Neuroscience. I cannot think of a more ideal platform upon which to build productive collaborations and make meaningful contributions in the field. The quality of mentorship, availability of resources, and opportunities for intellectual growth are truly unparalleled.

With the co-supervision of Prof. Essi Viding at UCL and Dr. Alex Martin at NIMH, I will be using resting-state fMRI to explore the relationship between baseline brain activity and different measures of social and empathic functioning in both normal and clinical populations (with autism spectrum disorders or conduct problems with callous-unemotional traits). I hope to shed light on the extent to which functional connectivity within and between neural networks is associated with individual differences in social cognition and empathy, and how those network dynamics become disrupted in the aforementioned socio-affective developmental disorders.

Sara Kimmich

Sara KimmichI am fascinated by the brain’s ability to change itself. I am a neuroimaging researcher focused on neurofeedback, a non-invasive neurotherapy that allows subjects to gain control of their own brain responses via feedback of their brain activation in real-time. I graduated from University of California in 2015 with degrees in Cognitive Science and Political Science, where I began my early brain imaging career through two years of research funding as an NIH MARC Undergraduate Fellow. I researched gender dysphoria in the brain through a collaboration between the Center for Brain and Cognition and the B.R.A.I.N. Lab at UC San Diego, and spent a summer working at the MIT Gabrieli Imaging Lab where I became fascinated by the therapeutic potential of real-time neurofeedback. After college, I moved to Washington DC to become a NIH Post-Baccalaureate Fellow to investigate neurofeedback as a potential intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Now a graduate student in the UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Program, I work with Dr. Bandettini at the NIMH Section for Functional Methods to improve real-time fMRI signal processing, and with Dr. Geraint Rees in the Awareness lab at UCL to improve brain computer interfaces for neurofeedback.


Raphael Kaplan - 2013

Raphael KaplanRaphael successfully defended his PhD thesis titled 'Brain oscillations and novelty processing in spatial memory' in summer 2013 under the supervision of Peter Bandettini at NIMH and Professor Neil Burgess at UCL. He has now embarked on a 4-year Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship, where he will be hosted by the laboratories of Professor Karl Friston at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL and Professor Gustavo Deco at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. He will use both functional neuroimaging and computational modelling to investigate how prior brain states influence upcoming decisions.


Kaplan, R., Horner, A. J., Bandettini, P. A., Doeller, C. F., Burgess, N. (2014). Human hippocampal processing of environmental novelty during spatial navigation Hippocampus. doi:10.1002/hipo.22264

Kaplan, R., Bush, D., Bonnefond, M., Bandettini, P. A., Barnes, G. R., Doeller, C. F., Burgess, N. (2014). Medial prefrontal theta phase coupling during spatial memory retrieval. Hippocampus. doi:10.1002/hipo.22255

Kaplan, R., Doeller, C. F., Barnes, G. R., Litvak, V., Düzel, E., Bandettini, P. A., & Burgess, N. (2012). Movement-related theta rhythm in humans: coordinating self-directed hippocampal learning. PLoS biology , 10 (2), e1001267. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001267

Doeller, C. F., & Kaplan, R. (2011). Parahippocampal cortex: translating vision into space. Current biology: CB , 21 (15), R589–591. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.06.023

Joseph Arizpe - 2014

Joseph ArizpePublications:

Arizpe, J., Kravitz, D. J., Yovel, G., & Baker, C. I. (2012). Start position strongly influences fixation patterns during face processing: difficulties with eye movements as a measure of information use. PloS one , 7 (2), e31106. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031106

Kim, P., Arizpe, J., Razdan, V., Rosen, B. H., Haring, C., Jenkins, S. E., Deveney, C. M., Brotman, M. A., Blair, R. J. R., Pine, D. S., Baker, C. I., & Leibenluft, E. (2013) Impaired fixation to eyes during facial emotion labelling in children with bipolar disorder or severe mood dysregulation. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, 7 38(6): 407–416. doi: 10.1503/jpn.120232

Mehoudar, E., Arizpe, J., Baker, C.I., & Yovel, G. (In Press) Faces in the eye of the beholder: Unique and stable eye-scanning patterns of individual observers. Journal of Vision.

Kathryn Mills - 2015

Kathryn MillsKate successfully defended her PhD thesis titled "Social development in adolescence: brain and behavioral changes" in spring 2015 under the supervision of Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at UCL and Jay Giedd at NIMH. She is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Fair Neuroimaging Lab in Oregon Health & Science University's Behavioral Neuroscience Department. She is currently investigating how genes influence the patterns of structural and functional brain development.


Mills KL, Goddings AL, Herting MM, Meuwese R, Blakemore S-J, Crone EA, Dahl RE, Güroğlu B, Raznahan A, Sowell ER, & Tamnes CK (submitted). Structural brain development between childhood and adulthood: Convergence across four longitudinal samples.

Mills KL, Dumontheil I, Speekenbrink M, & Blakemore S-J (2015). Multitasking during social interactions in adolescence and early adulthood. Royal Society Open Science.

Bell V, Mills KL, Modinos G, & Wilkinson S (under review). What can psychosis tell us about social cognition? Altered social agent representation as a factor in the formation of positive symptoms.

Mills KL (2014). Effects of Internet use on the adolescent brain: despite popular claims, experimental evidence remains scarce. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(8), 385-387.

Mills KL, & Tamnes CK (2014). Methods and considerations for longitudinal structural brain imaging analysis across development. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 172-190.

Mills KL, Goddings AL, & Blakemore S-J (2014). Drama in the teenage brain. Frontiers for Young Minds, 2(16). doi: 10.3389/frym.2014.00016.

Mills KL, Goddings AL, Clasen LS, Giedd JN, & Blakemore S-J (2014). The developmental mismatch in structural brain maturation during adolescence. Developmental Neuroscience 36(3-4), 147-60.

Goddings AL, Mills KL, Clasen LS, Giedd JN, Viner R, & Blakemore S-J (2014). The influence of puberty on subcortical brain development. Neuroimage, 88, 242-51.

Blakemore S-J, & Mills KL (2014). Is adolescence a sensitive period for socio-cultural processing? Annual Review of Psychology, 65.

Mills KL, Lalonde F, Clasen LS, Giedd JN, & Blakemore S-J (2014). Developmental changes in the structure of the social brain in late childhood and adolescence. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Giedd JN, Raznahan A, Mills KL, & Lenroot RK (2012). Magnetic resonance imaging of male/female differences in human adolescent brain anatomy. Biology of Sex Differences.

Kyle Jasmin – 2015

Kyle Jasmin Kyle’s thesis, “Functional brain imaging studies of two-person vocal interaction”, was supervised by Professor Sophie K. Scott at UCL and Alex Martin at NIMH, and was successfully defended in 2015. The work used fMRI to investigate speech, language, and social processing in autistic and neurotypical people using novel live interaction paradigms. Kyle is now a postdoc with Professor Scott. In Summer 2016 he will take up a new postdoctoral position with Dr. Adam Tierney at Birkbeck, University of London, to study the neural basis of speech perception in people with congenital amusia (tone deafness).


Jasmin, K. M., McGettigan, C., Agnew, Z. K., Josephs, O., Cummins, F., Scott, S. K. (Under review.) Cohesion and joint speech – right hemisphere contributions to synchronized vocal production.

Benjamin Suarez Jimenez - 2016

Benjamin Suarez JimenezI was born and raised in Puerto Rico where I received my BA in Psychology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. After finishing my degree, I received a post-baccalaureate research education program (PREP) internship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Here, I had research internships investigating the neuroendocrinology of anxiety and electrophysiological recordings of dopaminergic channels.

Subsequently I joined the NIMH as a post-baccalaureate fellow, under the supervision of Dr. Eric Nelson and Dr. Daniel Pine. Here, I started my research in the development of anxiety disorders in children.

Absorbed in such an interesting area and excellent research environment, I applied to the NIMH/UCL Neuroscience program. Through this program, I could continue my research at the NIH as well as join the prestigious neuroscience research program at UCL. In a collaborative PhD project with Dr. Daniel Pine and Prof Neil Burgess, at UCL, I'm investigating the neural bases of contextual fear. Using human brain imaging techniques such as magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), I'm studying how the brain responds to aversive stimuli in a virtual environment and the neural mechanisms underlying the development of anxiety disorders.

I'm thrilled to be part of this program and I know this program will provide world-class research training.