Bridge to Independence Award Program

SFARI is invested in supporting the next generation of top autism researchers. The Bridge to Independence Award program engages talented early-career scientists to pursue autism research by facilitating their transition to research independence and providing grant funding at the start of their faculty positions at a U.S. or international research institution.

Applications from groups that have been historically underrepresented or excluded in the biomedical workforce, including but not limited to racial and ethnic groups, sexual orientation and gender identities, individuals with mental/physical disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are encouraged.

Request for applications (RFA) open each year and are aimed at scientists with a Ph.D. and/or M.D. who are currently in training positions but intend to seek tenure-track research faculty positions during the upcoming academic job cycle. Fellows will receive up to two (2) years of postdoctoral fellowship support with an annual salary of $70,000, fringe benefits, an annual resource and professional development allowance of $10,000, and indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies) followed by a commitment of $600,000 over three (3) years, including indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies) activated upon assumption of a tenure-track research professorship.

First-stage applications and letters of recommendation due
Important Dates
  • SAM opens for applications
  • RFA informational Zoom session
  • First-stage applications and letters of recommendation due
  • Finalists invited for interviews
  • Virtual interviews
    June 1 and 2, 2023
  • BTI fellows notified of award
    June 2023
Important Dates
  • SAM opens for applications
  • RFA informational Zoom session
  • First-stage applications and letters of recommendation due
  • Finalists invited for interviews
  • Virtual interviews
    June 1 and 2, 2023
  • BTI fellows notified of award
    June 2023
Contact Info

Overview

The autism research community has expanded substantially in recent years and SFARI has contributed to this change by attracting outstanding established scientists to the field of autism. SFARI developed the Bridge to Independence (BTI) Award program in 2015 to sustain this level of scientific excellence in future years by extending our support to promising early-career investigators. One of the most salient milestones in a scientific career is the transition from mentored fellowship to an independent position. Unfortunately, numerous factors within the modern biomedical ecosystem have also made this transition one of the most vulnerable attrition points in the academic career pipeline.1 The SFARI BTI Award program was created to help mitigate this systematic issue and to encourage continued excellence in the autism research field.

Program Overview

The BTI Award program engages talented early-career scientists in autism research by facilitating their transition to research independence and providing grant funding at the start of their professorships. The annual RFA is aimed at Ph.D. and M.D.-holding scientists who are currently in training positions but intend to seek tenure-track research faculty positions during the upcoming academic cycle.

The program’s selection process is uniquely designed to enhance the BTI fellows’ job prospects by providing a letter that specifies SFARI financial commitment to the research project once the BTI fellow has secured a suitable faculty position. For more information on eligibility requirements and the funding process, see the RFA section. Importantly, this fellowship also includes up to two (2) years of postdoctoral fellowship support in order to facilitate professional development and offer support during the job search process. Fellows will receive up to two (2) years of postdoctoral support with an annual salary of $70,000, fringe benefits, an annual resource and professional development allowance of $10,000, and indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies), followed by a commitment of $600,000 over three (3) years, including indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies), activated upon assumption of a tenure-track research professorship.

The BTI Award program welcomes applications that span the breadth of science that SFARI normally supports, including genetics, molecular mechanisms, circuits and systems, and clinical science. For reference, please see the list of current BTI fellows and of all SFARI Investigators, as well our postings on SFARI scientific priorities.

While we encourage applications from scientists who are working on autism-related projects, we would like to stress that this award is also open to researchers who are not currently working on autism but who are interested in starting research projects in this area and who have expertise that could be brought to bear on this complex condition.

Applications from groups that have been historically underrepresented or excluded in the biomedical workforce, including but not limited to racial and ethnic groups, sexual orientation and gender identities, individuals with mental/physical disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are encouraged.

During their transition year, BTI fellows also receive valuable feedback from SFARI science staff during the job negotiation process. Throughout their tenure in the BTI program, fellows also participate in a variety of community building activities, such as professional development workshops, and participation in annual BTI fellows retreats and SFARI science meetings.

BTI Fellows

Since 2015, the program has supported 44 fellows, many of whom have thriving careers as independent investigators conducting impactful autism research. For more information, please see the Simons Foundation 2020 Annual Report article on the BTI program’s five-year anniversary, a SFARI blog post on the first half decade of the program, as well as SFARI Conversations with J. Elliott Robinson (a 2019 BTI fellow) and Aakanksha Singhvi (a 2016 fellow).

Neuroscience Collaborations Transition to Independence Programs

SFARI’s sister divisions at the Simons Foundation, the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB) and the Simons Collaboration on Plasticity and the Aging Brain (SCPAB), are now offering Transition to Independence (TTI) Awards. A chart of the differences among the SFARI BTI, SCGB TTI, and SCPAB TTI programs can be found here. Candidates may apply to all programs but may only accept one award. Each application will be reviewed individually based on the program’s own selection process and criteria. As such, it is expected that applicants will tailor each research narrative to align with the respective Simons Foundation program to which they are applying.

References

1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Next Generation of Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences Researchers: Breaking Through. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press (2018) Report

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Important Dates
  • SAM opens for applications
  • RFA informational Zoom session
  • First-stage applications and letters of recommendation due
  • Finalists invited for interviews
  • Virtual interviews
    June 1 and 2, 2023
  • BTI fellows notified of award
    June 2023
Contact Info

Application Process

BTI application process diagram
Bridge to Independence (BTI) grants are awarded through a multi-stage process. The first stage is a competitive process in which first-stage applications are reviewed by the SFARI science team and an external scientific panel. BTI fellows are selected at the end of stage one. Upon selection as a BTI fellow, fellows will receive up to two (2) years of postdoctoral support at their postdoc institution with an annual salary of $70,000, as well as a resource and professional development allowance of $10,000 per year. The award will provide fringe benefits and indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies). During this time, postdocs will receive mentorship and professional development resources to assist in their search for a faculty position.

Fellows have 24 months to secure a tenure-track professorship at an academic institution and submit a second-stage approval application. Review of the approval application is a non-competitive, internal process intended to confirm that the fellow has secured an academic research position and adequate institutional resources to accomplish the BTI research proposal. After the Simons Foundation accepts the approval application, fellows may activate their BTI grants, which provide $600,000 over three (3) years, including indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies), awarded through their faculty appointment institution. The award is administered through the institution at which the BTI fellow has secured a tenure-track faculty appointment. Funds are intended as a supplement to a standard start-up package.

Awards will be governed by the Simons Foundation policies, which can be found at http://www.simonsfoundation.org/funding/Simons Foundation policies/.

Eligibility

New for 2023: The award program has removed the requirement that the tenure-track position be at a U.S. or Canadian institution. Additionally, please note that beginning with the 2024 SFARI BTI RFA, applicants will be limited to one application resubmission (a total of two submissions to the BTI RFA).

  • Applicants must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree.
  • Applicants must be currently in non-independent, mentored training positions, as recognized by their institution. The following guidelines should be used to distinguish independent from non-independent positions (modified from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) K99/R00 program announcement eligibility section):
     
    Evidence for non-independence may include:

    • The applicant has a postdoctoral fellowship.
    • The applicant’s research is entirely funded by another investigator’s grants.
    • The applicant’s research is conducted entirely in another investigator’s assigned space.
    • According to institutional policy, the applicant is not allowed to submit an application for an NIH R01 research project grant.

    Conversely, evidence for independence, and therefore lack of eligibility, includes:

    • The applicant has a full-time faculty position. Exception: A clinician who holds a faculty member position in order to fulfill their clinical responsibilities but who does not hold an independent research faculty position may still be eligible. Such individuals should contact the foundation to confirm their eligibility prior to submitting their applications.
    • The applicant received a start-up package for support of the applicant’s independent research.
    • The applicant has research space dedicated to the applicant’s own research.
    • The applicant is eligible to apply for independent research funding as the PI of an NIH R01 research project grant.
  • Applicants must be actively seeking a tenure-track position at an institution of higher education during the 2023-2024 academic year.
  • Applicants are not eligible if they are recipients of other career development awards with similar budgetary scopes as the SFARI BTI Award. These include, but are not limited to:
    • NIH K99/R00 (please note that other K awardees may be eligible, e.g., recipients of K01 and K08)
    • Burroughs-Wellcome Fund Career Award
    • American Academy of Neurology Career Development Award
    • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Hanna H. Gray Fellowship

    You are strongly encouraged to contact SFARI before applying if you believe your career development award is comparable to the BTI Award, but it is not listed above.

  • Applicants must not have accepted a formal offer for a tenure-track faculty position prior to 2023 RFA decision notifications, which for the 2023 application cycle will be sent in June 2023.
  • There are no citizenship requirements.

All potential applicants with questions about eligibility are strongly encouraged to contact SFARI at [email protected] before submitting an application.

All applicants with a change in their eligibility status, due to acceptance of a faculty position or grant of similar budgetary scope to the SFARI BTI Award, should notify SFARI without delay at [email protected].

Level and Duration of Funding

BTI Postdoctoral Award

BTI fellows will receive up to two (2) years of postdoctoral support at their postdoc institution with an annual salary of $70,000. During this time, fellows will also receive mentorship and professional development resources, as well as a resource and professional development allowance of $10,000 per year, to assist in their search for a faculty position. The award will provide fringe benefits and indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies).The resource and professional development allowance will be awarded through the current (postdoctoral) institution for the fellow’s exclusive and flexible use for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to laptop and software purchases, conference-related expenses, workshops and other professional development costs.

BTI Faculty Award

After the Simons Foundation accepts the second-stage approval application, the awardee will receive research support of $600,000 over three (3) years, including indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies).The award is administered through the institution at which the BTI fellow has secured a tenure-track faculty appointment. Funds may not be used toward the faculty salary but may provide salary support for other laboratory personnel and other typical grant budget expenditures. Institutional start-up packages may not be reduced because of BTI funding. SFARI will work with fellows and their potential faculty institutions to ensure that fellows receive start-up packages with sufficient institutional resources and academic privileges to complete the BTI project.

Informational Session for Potential Applicants

An RFA informational Zoom meeting, featuring SFARI science staff and current SFARI BTI fellows, was held on December 8, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. EST. We encourage prospective applicants to view the recording here.

The Simons Foundation held an informational session on how to submit an application through our new grants management system, Simons Award Manager (SAM), on Thursday, January 12 – Click here to watch the recording.

Additionally, informational videos on submitting applications in SAM can be found here.

Instructions for submission

The deadline for receipt of the first-stage application is 12:00pm EST on February 16, 2023. Applications must be submitted via SAM). Please click on the Funding Opportunities icon and navigate to the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative — Bridge to Independence Award call. Click the Create Application button to begin. Applications should be started and submitted under the applicant’s own account in SAM.

Please note that anyone submitting an application will be added to the SFARI newsletter mailing list.

First-stage applications should include the following (for more details, see the “Instructions” document, available for download in SAM):

  1. Specific Aims Page. The Specific Aims Page should not exceed one (1) page and should be a summary of the proposed project you intend to accomplish in the first three (3) years of your independent professorship. This should focus on the research aims of the project, including a concise rationale for the hypothesis, description of feasibility/preliminary data and experimental approach, and impact on autism research.
  2. The proposal narrative. This should be no more than three (3) pages long (NOT including references, tables and figures) describing the project you intend to accomplish in the first three (3) years of your independent professorship. The proposal narrative should be considered an expanded version of the Specific Aims Page and used to provide more detail on the following:
    1. Relevant scientific background
    2. Feasibility/preliminary results when applicable
    3. Specific aims
    4. Experimental design
    5. Pitfalls and alternative strategies
    6. Project significance and relevance to autism
    7. Timeline and milestones
  3. Overview of scientific interests and goals describing your overall future research program as an independent investigator and how autism science fits in with your intended research program. This should be no more than one (1) page.
  4. Please upload a biosketch for the PI using the provided template or NIH- or NSF-style format.
  5. Letter from current institution officially confirming you are in a mentored training position (e.g., letter from department chair or grant office).
  6. Letters of recommendation (separate, blind submission; deadline 16 February 2023). Three (3) letters of recommendation are required from current or former mentors, or other senior scientists who have substantial familiarity with your scientific career thus far. At least one letter of recommendation must be from a current scientific mentor. Confidential letters must be submitted through SAM.
  7. Budget: A detailed budget for up to two (2) years of postdoctoral support, specifically: $70,000 annual salary and fringe, for the fellow (personnel field), $10,000 annual resource and professional development allowance (research support costs field), and indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies).

First-stage applications are reviewed by the SFARI science team and competitive applications are further reviewed by an external scientific panel. Reviewers will weigh criteria related to the applicant’s scientific potential as an independent investigator and their ability to formulate an impactful, innovative and feasible autism research project.

After Selection

2023 BTI fellows will be notified of their status by June 2023. Fellows will receive up to two (2) years of postdoctoral support with a $70,000 annual salary, awarded to them at their postdoc institution. In order to receive the postdoctoral support portion of the award, your institution must appoint you as an employee of the university with no teaching obligation and provide the standard benefits package that the university provides to employees. Upon notification, BTI fellows have up to 24 months to secure a tenure-track faculty position and submit an approval application. As job negotiations develop, fellows are strongly encouraged to contact their SFARI science manager. SFARI will informally review job offer letters and, as appropriate, work with fellows and their potential faculty institutions to ensure that start-up packages provide sufficient institutional resources and academic privileges to complete the BTI project.

To activate the faculty support portion of the award, fellows must submit a second-stage approval application, which includes the tenure-track faculty appointment offer letter with confirmed research startup package and laboratory space commitments. Other required documents include applicable updates to the proposal narrative, biosketch, current and pending support, budget, budget justification, research environment and resources, renewable reagents and data-sharing plan, and signature page.

SFARI will review these documents internally with the intention of funding all fellows who have secured sufficient institutional resources and academic privileges to complete the BTI project. If these are deemed acceptable, a grant funding letter will be sent.

SFARI reserves the right to withhold grant support 1) if the fellow is unable to secure a tenure-track position at a suitable academic institution within 24 months of their award notification letter, 2) if an institutional environment is deemed inadequate by SFARI to support successful completion of the research project, 3) if the revised and updated research plan is not considered adequate, or 4) if the fellow is unable to fulfill the responsibilities of the PI for other reasons. Such instances will be handled on a case-by-case basis. It is our intention that withholding grant support from fellows will occur only in rare instances. When appropriate, SFARI will work with fellows and their prospective institutions in developing mutually agreeable solutions.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Applications from groups that have been historically underrepresented or excluded in the biomedical workforce, including but not limited to racial and ethnic groups, sexual orientation and gender identities, individuals with mental/physical disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are encouraged.

Many of the greatest ideas and discoveries come from a diverse mix of minds, backgrounds and experiences. The Simons Foundation is committed to grantmaking that inspires and supports greater diversity and inclusiveness by cultivating a funding environment that ensures representation of all identities and differences and equitable access to information and resources for all applicants and grantees.

The Simons Foundation provides equal opportunities to all applicants for funding without regard to race, religion, color, age, sex, pregnancy, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic disposition neurodiversity, disability, veteran status or any other protected category under federal, state and local law. The foundation also funds programs directed at supporting scientists from disadvantaged backgrounds or underrepresented groups, often working closely with professional societies and other funding agencies.

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Important Dates
  • SAM opens for applications
  • RFA informational Zoom session
  • First-stage applications and letters of recommendation due
  • Finalists invited for interviews
  • Virtual interviews
    June 1 and 2, 2023
  • BTI fellows notified of award
    June 2023
Contact Info

The deadline for first-stage application submission is 16 February 2023 at 12:00 p.m. EST.

Applications must be submitted via the Simons Award Manager (SAM). Please click on the Funding Opportunities icon and navigate to the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative – Bridge to Independence Postdoctoral Award call. Click the Create Application button to begin. Applications should be started and submitted under the applicant’s own account in SAM.

Informational Session for Potential Applicants

The Simons Foundation held an informational session on how to submit an application through our new grants management system, Simons Award Manager (SAM), on Thursday, January 12 – Click here to watch the recording.

Additionally, informational videos on submitting applications in SAM can be found here.

First-Stage Application Requirements and Submission Instructions

To submit a first-stage application, the following sections must be completed in SAM:

  • Proposal Tab:
    • Applicant Details & Personal Data: Enter required fields. The applicant may edit information via the Edit Profile button as needed.
    • Academic Degrees: Click the Add/Modify Degree(s) button to provide this information.
    • Application Details: Provide the required information. Hovering over the question mark icons will provide additional information on required fields.
    • Proposal – The following information/upload must be provided:
      • Mentor name.
      • Specific Aims: Upload via template provided.
      • Proposal Narrative: Upload via template provided.
      • Scientific Interests and Goals: Upload via template provided.
      • Confirmation Letter for Mentored Training Position: Provide a letter from your current institution officially confirming that you are in a mentored training position (e.g., letter from department chair or grant office).
      • Personnel Biosketches: Applicant should upload their biosketch using template provided and/or NIH or NSF-style format.
  • Contacts & Personnel Tab:
    • Institution Administrative Contacts: You must add at least one institution signing official and financial officer to the Institution Administrative Contacts section before you will be able to submit your application.
    • Project Personnel: Please indicate all key personnel on the proposed project. Project personnel who will be named in the budget must be added to the Project personnel section on this tab before they will display as available options in the budget module. This does not apply to TBD personnel.
  • Budget Tab:
    • Click the Edit/Modify button to add a detailed budget for up to two (2) years of postdoctoral support, specifically: $70,000 annual salary, and fringe, for the fellow (personnel field), $10,000 annual resource and professional development allowance (research support costs field), and indirect costs (limited to 20 percent of modified total direct costs, see Simons Foundation policies).
  • Letter of Reference Tab:
    • Three (3) confidential letters of recommendation are required from current or previous mentors and/or senior scientists who have substantial familiarity with your scientific career thus far. At least one letter of recommendation must be from a current scientific mentor. Confidential letters must be submitted through SAM.
    • Instructions on how to invite referees are provided in this tab within SAM. Please note that you must enter a date by which the invited referee should submit their letter of reference and click Save Draft prior to sending the invitation. This will ensure that the email invitation sent to the referee includes the due date you set. A video on the letter of reference process can be found here.
    • You will not be able to submit your application until all three letters of reference are submitted by the referees.
  • Publications & Other Support Tab:
    • Publications: Follow instructions for providing publications for all key personnel on the project. Publications can be added as a batch from a Pubmed search by selecting Select publication from profile and then clicking the Assign Publications for this Proposal button. Note that publications will be used to determine conflicts of interest (COIs) for the review of your proposal; including a complete list of your publications over the last seven years using this function, rather than the PDF upload option, will expedite the review process.
    • Other Support: Follow instructions for providing other support information for all key personnel on the project.
      • If using PDF upload, use NIH format.
  • Check Application Progress: Click the Check Application Progress button to check for any missing required information or files. All missing required information will be listed at the top of the screen and must be corrected before the application can be submitted.
  • Send for Sign-off: When the application is complete, click on the Send for Sign-off button to send to your signing official for signature. You will receive a notification when the application is signed.
  • Submit Application: When the full proposal application is complete and signed, please click on the Submit Application button. A confirmation page will appear once the application is successfully submitted. It will appear in the Submitted tab of the Applications in Progress table. Please note that you will not be able to submit an application if the deadline has passed.

Please note that research proposals exceeding the three (3)-page limit will not be reviewed. No extensions will be given.

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Important Dates
  • SAM opens for applications
  • RFA informational Zoom session
  • First-stage applications and letters of recommendation due
  • Finalists invited for interviews
  • Virtual interviews
    June 1 and 2, 2023
  • BTI fellows notified of award
    June 2023
Contact Info

2022

Anila D’Mello, Ph.D.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Anila D’Mello is a postdoctoral fellow at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working with John Gabrieli. She received her B.A. in psychology from Georgetown University, and completed her Ph.D. in behavior, cognition and neuroscience at American University. D’Mello’s doctoral and postdoctoral research has leveraged neuroimaging, neuromodulation and behavioral experimentation to understand cerebellar contributions to language, social communication and cognition in individuals with and without autism spectrum disorders.

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February 3, 2020 -- McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham Photography.

Katie Matho, Ph.D.

Katie Matho is a research investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She received her B.S. from Union College, and her M.S. and Ph.D., both in neuroscience, from Sorbonne Université in Paris, France. For her Ph.D. work with Jean Livet at Institut de la Vision in France, Matho mapped the microscale connectivity of auditory circuitry in the brainstem, in the emerging field of connectomics. She employed a multicolor “barcoding” strategy called “Brainbow,” whereby neurons express random combinations of fluorescent proteins, facilitating single-cell, large-volume image analysis. This technique enabled her to identify previously unknown instances of converging inputs within this circuit where 1:1 connectivity is thought to be the rule.

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Martin Munz, Ph.D.

Martin Munz is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Botond Roska at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel. He is interested in understanding the role of activity during the inception of cortical circuits. Specifically, he developed imaging, molecular and electrophysiological techniques to allow the in vivo observation and manipulation of developing embryonic cortical circuits in mice. He plans to describe cell type-specific changes that occur in mice with autism-related mutations during embryonic development.

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2021

Gabriella Boulting, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Medical School

Gabriella Boulting earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry in the laboratory of Kevin Eggan in the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department at Harvard University, where she focused on the application of human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) to study neurogenerative disease. She developed methods to produce human spinal motor neurons in vitro, generated a vetted panel of human PSC lines for in vitro amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease modeling and uncovered disease phenotypes in motor neurons derived from induced PSCs from individuals with ALS.

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Alexander Li Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.

Boston Children's Hospital

Alexander Li Cohen is a physician-scientist and instructor in the Department of Neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He received his B.A. in biology and biomedical physics from Washington University in St. Louis and his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He then completed residency training in pediatrics and child neurology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and clinical and post-doctoral fellowships in pediatric behavioral neurology and translational research in neurodevelopmental disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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Eirene Markenscoff-Papadimitriou, Ph.D.

University of California, San Francisco

Eirene Markenscoff-Papadimitriou is a postdoctoral fellow at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She received her B.A. from Harvard College and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UCSF. For her doctoral thesis in the laboratory of Stavros Lomvardas, she explored the regulation of olfactory receptor genes and discovered a unique mode of gene regulation that involves inter-chromosomal interactions in the nucleus.

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Marino Pagan, Ph.D.

Princeton University

Marino Pagan is a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. He received his B.S. in computer engineering and his M.S. in control engineering from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and University of Pisa in Italy. He completed his Ph.D. in neuroscience at University of Pennsylvania in the laboratory of Nicole Rust, where he studied the neural circuits of visual object search in macaque monkeys using electrophysiology and computational modeling.

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Zhuzhu Zhang, Ph.D.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Zhuzhu Zhang is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies working with Joseph Ecker and Edward Callaway. She is broadly interested in understanding the epigenetic and transcriptional regulation in the mammalian brain at single-cell resolution, using both experimental and computational approaches. Specifically, Zhang studies the neuronal cell types and functions in the brain and investigates their molecular signatures in the context of neural pathways and circuits by developing and deploying novel single cell multi-omics approaches. She plans to further investigate cell type- and circuit-specific epigenetic regulations in normal postnatal brain development and in neurodevelopmental disorders and explore epigenetic mechanisms that underlie genotype-environment (GxE) interaction.

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2020

Toni-Lee Sterley, Ph.D.

University of Calgary

Toni-Lee Sterley is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Calgary. She completed her doctoral training in the laboratory of Vivienne Russell at the University of Cape Town. Her doctoral thesis used rodent models to investigate the influences of early life stress and genetic predispositions in the development of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or depression, specifically looking at roles for glutamatergic and GABAergic transmission in observed behavioral phenotypes.

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2019

Nicholas Frost, M.D., Ph.D.

University of California, San Francisco

Nicholas Frost is an adjunct clinical instructor at the University of California, San Francisco. He received his M.D. and Ph.D. at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. There, his thesis work in the laboratory of Thomas Blanpied focused on the regulation of actin polymerization within dendritic spines, utilizing super-resolution microscopy to track single molecules of polymerized actin moving within living neurons.

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J. Elliott Robinson, M.D., Ph.D.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

J. Elliott Robinson is an assistant professor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, University of Cincinnati School of Medicine. He completed his M.D. and Ph.D. in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. His doctoral dissertation work, which was co-advised by C.J. Malanga (UNC) and Markus Heilig (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), investigated how the A118G mu opioid receptor gene polymorphism moderates dopaminergic and behavioral responses to alcohol and abused opioids.

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Hume Stroud, Ph.D.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Hume Stroud is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He received his doctoral training in the laboratory of Steve Jacobsen at the University of California, Los Angeles. His work focused on the regulation of DNA replication and transposon silencing in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. For his postdoctoral training, Stroud went on to join the laboratory of Michael Greenberg at Harvard Medical School, where he utilized genomic approaches to understand the regulation and function of DNA methylation in neurons in the developing brain.

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2018

Peng Zhang, Ph.D.

Case Western Reserve University

Peng Zhang is interested in the role of extracellular matrix glycans in shaping synaptic properties and brain function. During his Ph.D., Zhang studied the role of O-mannosylated glycans on a-dystroglycan in regulating binding to laminin, and the assembly of the extracellular matrix, which is an underlying pathological mechanism in congenital muscular dystrophies. Subsequently, Zhang extended his interests in this area to the field of synaptic development in Ann Marie Craig’s laboratory. He discovered that neurexins (a class of synaptic adhesion molecules) are modified by a rare type of glycan called heparan sulfate, which is a constituent of the extracellular matrix.

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2017

Ryan Doan, Ph.D.

Boston Children's Hospital

Ryan Doan is an Instructor at Boston Children's Hospital. Doan’s research focuses on the important issue of understanding why many individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders lack a genetic diagnosis, both in clinical and research settings. The overall aim of his laboratory is to develop and implement a streamlined approach combining evolutionary and human genetics to discover novel noncoding mutations that can be targeted in a clinical diagnostic setting.

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2016

Sung Eun (Samuel) Kwon, Ph.D.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Sung Eun “Samuel” Kwon is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Kwon focuses on cellular, molecular and circuit mechanisms underlying sensory cortical plasticity in both health and conditions of neurocognitive disorders using in vivo imaging, electrophysiology, opto- and pharmaco-genetics, and behavior in the mammalian brain.

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Tomasz Nowakowski, Ph.D.

University of California, San Francisco

Tomasz Nowakowski is an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Nowakowski pioneered the use of single cell RNA sequencing to study the heterogeneity of cellular populations in the developing brain. His research focuses on understanding how the human genome reproducibly generates diverse neuronal populations and how genome abnormalities affecting these developmental processes cause developmental neuropsychiatric disorders like autism.

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2015

Graham Diering, Ph.D.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Graham Diering is an assistant professor at University of Carolina, Chapel Hill. He studies the molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, with a particular interest in sleep. Using mouse models of human disease as well as primary cultured neurons, Diering applies his work to understanding and treating neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and intellectual disability. He broadly studies biochemistry, pharmacology, animal behavior and genetics.

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