The UBC MATRIX-N (Multidisciplinary Alliance for Translational Research and Innovation in Neuropsychiatry) research excellence cluster is continuing its Junior Scholars program for a second year. In line with the cluster’s strong commitment to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and to attracting and fostering outstanding talents, these paid positions were specifically targeted to applicants from marginalized/underrepresented groups and/or with lived/living experience.

The program was able to fund six MATRIX-N Junior Scholars from various departments and research backgrounds for 2023/24. Working closely with the cluster coordinator and faculty leads, the talented and diverse Junior Scholars will support MATRIX-N activities and help advance translational research and innovation in neuropsychiatry at UBC and beyond.

Meet the scholars:


Avneet Kaur Dhillon

Avneet (she/her/hers) is a MSc student in Rehabilitation Science at UBC in Dr. Skye Barbic’s Laboratory. Prior to her graduate studies, she successfully completed a Bachelor of Science degree from UBC with an interdisciplinary focus, encompassing Chemistry, Earth Ocean and Environmental Sciences, and Life Sciences. Her current research work is focused on South Asian Youth Mental Health and Substance Use. More specifically, her research falls under the umbrella of Health Services Research, which places a strong emphasis on patient-centered and youth-centric approaches. Avneet actively collaborates with community partners in her research, such as Foundry BC and Students Overcoming Substance Use and Addiction. She hopes to further her research in mental health, substance use and addictions among visible minorities during her pursuit of a PhD. Outside of research, she enjoys listening to music, attending concerts, thrifting and engaging in design-related activities.


Isabella Gallello

Bella is a Neuroscience PhD student in Dr. Jeremy Seamans’ Lab at UBC. Before fast-tracking to the PhD program, she completed her undergraduate degree in Molecular Genetics, Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the role of the anterior cingulate cortex in opioid withdrawal. Using a technique known as fiber photometry, Bella is currently working with rat models to visualize dopamine responses to conditional stimuli and how morphine withdrawal affects these responses. Her project focuses on mechanisms associated with the state of hyperkatifeia, or the emotional pain caused by opioid withdrawal. She is also considering sex differences in addiction risk in her research. Bella works part-time as a community support worker, where she supports children with physical and intellectual disabilities. When she is not in the lab, Bella can be found on the softball diamond or at the ice rink playing hockey.



Judy Cheng

Judy is a PhD student in Neuroscience at UBC in Dr. Lynn Raymond’s lab. She’s interested in the influence of neuromodulators, such as dopamine and endocannabinoids, on glutamate transmission and motor learning in a mouse model of Huntington disease (HD). She uses in vivo and ex vivo brain imaging combined with pharmacological tools to directly record neurotransmitter signalling and test molecular mechanisms that may be impaired in HD. Outside of the lab, Judy pursues her passion in science communication as the production manager and co-host on the “AMiNDR: A Month in Neurodegenerative Disease” podcast, an engaging knowledge dissemination tool for researchers worldwide. She is also a strong advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives and serves as the graduate student representative on the Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience EDI Committee. In her free time, Judy likes to stay active by playing volleyball, swimming, and working out.



Rachel McLellan-Carich

Rachel is an MSc student in the UBC Anesthesiology, Pharmacology, and Therapeutics Program, working under Dr. Alasdair Barr at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Previously, she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at UBC. Rachel is extremely driven to help address gaps in current treatment methods and therapeutic options for vulnerable populations and assist those who have faced adversity to help improve quality of life, healthcare treatment, and strength of community. Her current research aims to provide novel insights into therapeutic potential for opioid-dependent populations through identifying key risk factors for impulsive behaviors of participants that are at risk for opioid dependence and overdose. Rachel is passionate about mentoring to help others based on her own experiences of chronic pain and neurodivergence. Outside of the lab, she loves to open-water swim, hike, read fantasy novels, and play video games!



Sahithi Thotakura

Sahithi is a PhD student in Dr. Anil Maharaj’s lab at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC. She grew up in Vijayawada, India and moved to Manipal, India to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. Her research focuses on the optimization of current opioid agonist therapy (OAT) strategies, possible using pharmacometrics techniques. Sahithi utilizes in-silico mathematical models to devise appropriate medication administration protocols for people diagnosed with opioid use disorder and using unregulated fentanyl. Currently, she is working on a clinical trial to assess the changes in fentanyl concentrations and effects with time when higher than standard doses of fentanyl are administered to people using unregulated fentanyl. Apart from working in the lab, she also enjoys listening to music, swimming, cooking, and spending time with her friends and family.



Sangeetha Kasturi

Sangeetha is pursuing her MSc in Neuroscience at UBC under the supervision of Dr. Clare Beasley. Prior to that, she completed her BSc in Biology at UBC. Her translational research generally focuses on the neuroimmunology of schizophrenia, with the goal of elucidating potential targets for novel therapies to improve patient outcomes. She is studying the role of complement opsonins, a major player in the immune system, on synaptic pathology using techniques such as immunohistochemistry and Western blotting. Sangeetha has a deep passion for advocacy and community involvement. She strongly believes in being a voice for those that may be unable to advocate for themselves and has worked with various marginalized and disadvantaged communities including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, neurodegenerative diseases, and mental illness. Her hobbies include playing classical piano, reading a variety of books from different genres, and learning new languages.