Congratulations to the Graduate Program in Neuroscience (GPN) spring class of 2024! Ten trainees graduated last week and to celebrate, we asked them for some of their favourite memories during their time at UBC, future plans and advice for future students.

Kelly Hrelja, PhD

Supervisor: Dr. Catharine Winstanley

Thesis title: Towards a better understanding of the bidirectional relationship between decision-making and addiction.

Summary of research: When I first came to UBC, I was looking at the impact of traumatic brain injury on cocaine self-administration in rats. I then dove deeper to look at the effects of cytokines and HDAC inhibition on cognition, but my research has largely focused on the relationship between gambling, decision-making, and cocaine or fentanyl self-administration. I’ve also done a whole series of experiments on early life immune challenge and its long-lasting changes on neuroinflammation. It sure was a very busy 5.5 years.

Favourite GPN memory: I’ve met so many wonderful people through my time at UBC, it’s hard to pick a favourite memory. I’ve really enjoyed the pub social events put on by the NTA, the neuroscience gala, BNS seminars, lab socials, conference travel, the DMCBH retreat, and all of the mentoring opportunities I’ve had. I think my favourite memories are tied between the DMCBH Retreat in Kelowna and playing on the Psychotics Softball team, captained by the one and only Dr. Stan Floresco!

Future plans: I was very lucky to have lined up a full-time job with the local biotech company, Aspect Biosystems, before graduation. It was a seamless transition and I’m excited to see where my translational research skills take me.

Advice for future students: I think that a lot of us become completely encompassed in our research and other PhD responsibilities as students and forget to take time for anything else. It’s important to take time to pursue other hobbies and things that you enjoy. Your PhD research isn’t EVERYTHING, and experiments will inevitably fail at least once. So, remember that failure is okay, and this is not a reflection of your abilities to succeed! Honestly, the thought that one day I’d get to check that “Dr” box when filling out forms, combined with a whole lot of stubbornness motivated me during difficult times.


Philipp Kreyenmeier, PhD

Supervisor:  Dr. Miriam Spering

Thesis title: Eye movements as a continuous indicator of sensorimotor integration.

Summary of research: For most of us, our ability to see is essential for most everyday tasks, from riding a bicycle to catching a ball in the park. How we perceive the world around us is determined by how we move our eyes. During my PhD, I studied different types of eye movements to investigate how the brain transforms sensory signals into precise motor commands.

Life outside of research: During my free time, I can often be found running along the beautiful Vancouver seawall, swimming at the UBC pool, or hiking in the coastal mountains.

Favourite GPN memory: One of my favorite grad school memories was the DMCBH retreat in Kelowna in 2022. Coming out of the Covid pandemic, this was a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with the UBC neuroscience research community.

Future plans: After graduating from UBC, I will continue my research as a postdoctoral fellow in the US.


Andy Tai, PhD

Supervisor: Dr. Michael Krausz

Thesis title: A machine learning approach to overdose risk assessment.

Summary of research: My dissertation presents a comprehensive study on the use of machine learning (ML) techniques to predict the risk of fatal overdose in the field of Addiction Psychiatry. My overarching goal is to enhance the predictive capabilities of health systems to identify individuals at high risk of overdose, thereby enabling timely and targeted interventions.

I began my research career in 2015 at the University of Toronto, working on a literature review about the role of AI, ML, and big data in psychiatry, which led to a publication in Elsevier’s journal, Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. Later, I worked at the Josselyn Lab, focusing on epitranscriptomics and behavioral studies of the amygdala using optogenetics.

In July 2018, I shifted to the University of British Columbia, where I’ve been working in the Addiction and Concurrent Disorder Group under Dr. Michael Krausz. My work has involved developing an online e-mental health platform called RAMP to address the overdose crisis in British Columbia. My predictive risk model integrated into RAMP has achieved an AUC of 0.9, demonstrating high accuracy in predicting overdose risk.

Future plans: I am considering various career options, including working in academia in Australia with Dr. Ian Hickie’s group for youth mental health, teaching at the Masters of Data Science program at UBC, continuing in the tech industry, or working as an analyst for a venture capitalist firm, focusing on companies that use machine learning in medical applications.

Advice for future students: Be confident in yourself. Know your limits, and always know that you have the potential to overcome challenges with determination and hard work.


Sophie Tremblay, PhD, MD

Supervisor: Dr. Daniel Goldowitz

Thesis title: Cerebellar developmental vulnerability in the context of prematurity: understanding the underlying pathophysiology to improve interventions.

Summary of research: My thesis provides a novel and unique translational mouse model of cerebellar underdevelopment in the developing brain and examined the role of microglial cells on cerebellar development post-injury.

I have designed a translational mouse model of cerebellar injury by combining frequent insults known to be associated with poor cerebellar development and long-term impairments in preterm infants. My model translates a major cerebellar gliosis that persists into early postnatal age in association with cerebellar white matter injury and cerebellar hypoplasia. The combination of a direct hemorrhagic cerebellar insult with systemic inflammation led to the strongest phenotypes of long-term cognitive and behavioural impairments. In addition, microglial cells were massively increased after exposure to insult and remained significantly elevated in cerebellar white matter areas, suggesting a potential pathological role in the pathogenesis of cerebellar hypoplasia of the developing brain. I also used a selective transgenic tool to deplete microglial cells at the time of insult, which reduced the deletrious effects of microgliosis on oligodendrocyte maturation and preserved cerebellar white matter volume after injury.

My thesis demonstrates a deleterious role of microgliosis after injury affecting the developing cerebellum. Modulation of microglial responses post-injury may be a potential therapeutic target to protect the developing cerebellum from injury.

Life outside of research: I love outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, kayaking and biking!  We recently converted a small van to enjoy our travels around Canada even more!

Future plans: I am already a clinical associate professor at Université of Montréal and I work as a clinician-scientist at CHU Ste-Justine!

Motivation: To be proud of myself for fulfilling my dream of becoming an MD and a PhD, but also to show myself that I can be successful on both paths!


Matthew Cooke, MSc

Supervisor: Dr. Jason Snyder

Thesis title: Investigating the Effects of Silencing the Hippocampus in a Probabilistic Reversal Learning Task.

Summary of research: I studied the involvement of the hippocampus in statistical learning and memory. Specifically, whether the hippocampus supports the updating of statistical representations of reward outcomes during operant learning using a rodent model.

Favourite GPN memory: I loved attending the DMCBH Retreat and learning about all the research happening in the centre. There is so much interesting work happening within our space.

Advice for future students: Make use of the resources provided by the program! The Friday colloquia and the ability to have lunch with the speakers are great opportunities to learn more about many aspects of neuroscience.


Sarah Erwin, MSc

Supervisor: Dr. Mark Cembrowski

Thesis title: Mapping anomalous subiculum excitatory neurons across circuits and behavior.

Summary of research: My project investigated a previously unknown excitatory cell subpopulation in the subiculum. Using a new transgenic mouse line along with viral tracing tools, we found that this population is spatially localized, exhibits atypical morphology, and forms dedicated axonal projections. Investigations into functional correlates of this subpopulation indicated that these cells exhibit sustained activity and could play a specialized role in recognition memory.

Life outside of research: I enjoy hiking with my dogs, competitive rowing, baking, attending concerts, motorcycling, and playing the occasional video game.

Future plans: Continue contributing to exciting neuroscience research!

Advice for future students: There will be times that are more challenging, but make sure you still take breaks and prioritize self-care. Joining a regular activity outside of work helped me to relieve stress and enabled me to meet more people as a newcomer. Also, be open to following your research interests wherever they lead you, you never know what opportunities might come along!


Giulio Laino Chiavegatti, MSc

Supervisor: Dr. Stan Floresco

Thesis title: Acute stress modulation of risk/reward decision-making.

Summary of research: My MSc project aimed to assess how different types of acute stress influence distinct forms of reward-based decision-making involving punishment in male and female rats. I showed how acute restraint stress alters punished reward-seeking selectively. In particular, it appears to enhance the effects of punishment on choice between different rewards by decreasing risk-taking (without any delayed effects on cognition), whereas it differently affects inhibitory impulse control in situations involving punishment and rewards (with pronounced delayed effects on females alone, which were able to learn from their “mistakes” while in a state of stress).

Life outside of research: As an Italian, I am an avid cook and baker who enjoys preparing and eating good food. As well, I enjoy watching classic films, driving and travelling, which I find very relaxing. I have also been quite into philosophy since high-school, especially that of Immanuel Kant, which has always been instrumental in understand the implications of and guiding the work I do.

Advice for future students: It may sound trivial, but do what you love doing; do not do simply to obtain a degree or as a means to an end, as your work should be the end in itself. Pursuing a graduate degree certainly requires a long commitment, and choosing to do what you love is paramount. Also think about bigger picture and ask yourself the important questions (Why are you doing it? Why does it matter? Should I do it?), always remembering that ethics and philosophy in general ought to be the guardian of all science.

Motivation: Certainly being passionate about my work and always having an end in sight (while also being a creature of habit) has always been fundamental when things would not go the way you would want or expect them to. But most of all I have felt incredibly supported by my friends and girlfriend, without whom I would not be where I am today.


Nima Alaeiilkhchi, PhD

Supervisor: Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff

Thesis title: Metabolic treatments in murine models of multiple sclerosis.


Ava Momeni, MSc

Supervisor: Dr. Todd Woodward

Thesis title: Functional brain networks underlying autobiographical event simulation.


Kaylie Robinson, MSc

Supervisor: Dr. Ann Marie Craig

Thesis title: Mapping proteomic composition of excitatory postsynaptic sites in the cerebellar cortex.