People

Read biographies of our hard-working staff here at the THRIVE lab. Learn more about their educational backgrounds, interests, and hobbies.

If you are interested in joining our lab, find out how you can become a postdoctoral fellow or research assistant here. We also welcome visiting students and scholars at all career stages! 

Check out awards our researchers have won here!


Principal Investigator

Aoife O'Donovan, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

THRIVE Lab Director Dr. O’Donovan completed undergraduate and graduate programs at University College Cork, the National University of Ireland, Galway, and University College Dublin in her native Ireland before coming to UCSF for graduate and postdoctoral training. In her current role as Associate Professor In Residence in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Weill Institute for Neurosciences and Research Psychologist in the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, she runs a laboratory dedicated to uncovering the mechanisms linking psychological stress exposure with ill health. Her lab conducts studies that determine both the effects of psychological stressors on the immune system, and the health consequences of stressor-related immune dysfunction. Many of their findings converge on altered inflammatory activity as a central mechanism linking stressor exposure with increased risk for mental and physical health problems. The lab is particularly focused on traumatic stressors, which are stressors involving threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The ultimate goal is to identify and develop interventions that can reduce the long-term negative impact of psychological stressors. Studies in the lab are currently investigating the potential of both digital app-based and pharmacological interventions. Outside of the lab, Aoife enjoys hiking, biking and skiing in the Bay Area and trips to Ireland.

Postdoctoral Scholars/Investigators

Kristen Nishimi, Ph.D., MPH

Post-doctoral Scholar/Investigator

Dr. Nishimi completed her MPH in Social and Behavioral Sciences in 2016 and PhD in Population Health Sciences in 2020 at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Her graduate training in social and psychiatric epidemiology focused on the social determinants of health, psychosocial stress and development, and quantitative research methods for causal inference. Her research examines the impact of trauma and adversity exposure on both mental and physical health outcomes across the life course. Specifically, she aims to use rigorous epidemiological and data science methods to uncover biological mechanisms linking trauma to chronic health outcomes and to understand multilevel processes of psychological resilience.

Check out Dr. Nishimi Google Scholar profile here.

Dr. Dolsen completed her graduate training at UC Berkeley in Clinical Science under the mentorship of Dr. Allison Harvey. She completed her predoctoral clinical internship at VA Northern California HCS. Her research has focused on sleep disturbance as a transdiagnostic process related to the etiology and treatment of mental health disorders. Specifically, her research has investigated the interplay between psychological and biological processes in mental health disorders with the goal of leveraging these insights toward developing novel interventions.

Check out Dr. Dolsen's Google Scholar profile here.

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Emily Dolsen, Ph.D. 

Post-doctoral Scholar/Investigator

Yvette Szabo, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Scholar/Investigator

Dr. Yvette Szabo is a licensed clinical psychologist and investigator at the VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans. Dr. Szabo completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Louisville, where she received an honor for excellence in graduate studies. She completed her predoctoral internship at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center and a MIRECC advanced postdoctoral research fellowship at the VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans. Her research investigates the physiological mechanisms through which the environment influences behavior and health. The main focus of her research aims to understand the psychological (e.g., emotional, cognitive) and biological pathways (e.g., inflammation, genetics) through which stress or trauma leads to posttraumatic stress disorder and other negative trauma-related outcomes. Specifically, her lab focuses on examining bidirectional associations between the brain and immune system, as well as understanding how stress and trauma influence these relationships. Her research incorporates a combination of psychological and interdisciplinary methods, including laboratory-based tasks, analysis of blood and saliva samples, and clinical interviews. Through this work, she intends to identify potentially malleable factors and opportunities for novel or personalized interventions to improve health and quality of life in those exposed to stress and trauma. 

Check out Dr. Szabo Google Scholar profile here.

Dr. Khan is a licensed clinical psychologist and PTSD researcher. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Khan completed her clinical internship and a MIRECC advanced postdoctoral research fellowship in PTSD at the San Francisco VA under the mentorship of Drs. Shira Maguen and Aoife O'Donovan. She is currently completing an additional PTSD research fellowship at UCSD with Dr. Murray Stein. Her program of research investigates trauma typology and emotion regulation processes involved in the etiology and treatment of trauma sequelae, namely PTSD, moral injury, and depression/suicidality. Dr. Khan's research aims to better elucidate how specific traumatic experiences impact biopsychosocial-spiritual suffering and develop novel and non-traditional approaches (e.g., psilocybin) to healing treatment-resistant trauma sequelae.

Check out Dr. Khan Google Scholar profile here.

Amanda J. Khan, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Scholar/Investigator

D. Parker Kelley, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Scholar/Investigator

D. Parker Kelley, PhD is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California San Francisco in the Translating Psychedelic Research (TrPR) program working under Dr. Josh Woolley. Parker is also an affiliate Post-Doctoral Fellow in the THRIVE lab at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center (SFVAMC) working under Dr. Aoife O’Donovan.

Dr. Kelley began his post graduate studies at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in the Nutritional Neuroscience and Aging Lab under Dr. Donald Ingram studying the effects of calorie restriction on aging related disease and considers metabolism and allostatic load to be his fundamental orientations to the study of stress-associated disease. Dr. Kelley completed his doctorate in Biomedical Sciences at Louisiana State University studying molecular mechanisms of allostatic load and hippocampal dysfunction in rodent models of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and investigating experimental therapeutics for PTSD and depression. Dr. Kelley is trained in molecular biology, psychopharmacology, and behavioral neuroscience. During his doctoral studies, Dr. Kelley utilized multiple omics technologies including RNA Sequencing, LC-MS based Lipidomics, and Metabolomics to study the effects of stress on the hippocampus in rodent models and the effects of an anti-oxidant blueberry concentrate in blood of human patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In addition, Dr. Kelley is trained in the use of cutting edge techniques to measure mitochondrial function in tissue samples, the use of behavioral assays to study hippocampal contextual memory processing and pattern separation in rodent models, and psychometric evaluations in humans, all of which he seeks to translate into the study human patients with PTSD during his post-doctoral fellowship. Dr. Kelley is interested in the use of 5-HT2A agonist psychedelic drugs and other experimental therapeutics for PTSD. Dr. Kelley published on the use of pharmahuasca, a drug combination including N, N dimethyltryptamine, a 5-HT2A agonist psychedelic drug and harmaline, a beta Carboline MAOI in a rat model of PTSD progression and observed that pharmahuasca rescues aberrant gene expression in the prefrontal cortex overlapping between the model and human PTSD, and rescues aberrant reactive oxygen species production, indicative of neuroprotective effects. Dr. Kelley is also interested in philosophy of mind and bioethics and is currently working on several projects in this area.

Dr. Kelley was awarded the Heidi Lott Scholarship from the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences at Louisiana State University and has published in high impact journals including Geroscience, Journal of Gerontology, Royal Society of Chemistry Advances, and American Chemical Society Chemical Neuroscience.

Check out Dr. Kelley's Google Scholar profile here.

 

To be updated.

Check out Dr. Bürgin's Google Scholar profile here.

David Bürgin, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Scholar/Investigator

 

Lab Manager

Zoe Zong

Lab Manager, Study Coordinator

Zoe joined THRIVE Lab as the lab manager in July 2022. Born and raised in China, Zoe recently graduated with a BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley. Zoe is interested in the etiology, maintenance, and treatment of PTSD in individuals exposed to sexual violence and childhood trauma. With a passion for advancing our understanding of trauma, Zoe hopes to pursue graduate studies in Clinical Psychology. When procrastinating, Zoe enjoys karaoke nights, planning train trips, and being a part-time theater nerd.

 

Study Staff and Research Assistants

Sasha Afroz

Research Assistant

Hi! My name is Sasha and I am an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis, studying psychology and intending to minor in Human Rights and Public Health. Specifically interested in studying trauma as it relates to different communities and society, I hope to eventually pursue a career in psychiatry. At the THRIVE lab, I aspire to learn about PTSD in the context of physical health to inform future clinical practice. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, baking, and spending time with friends and family!

Hi! My name is Jeri, and I am an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Molecular and Cellular Biology with minors in Early Learning & Development Science and Asian American Studies. I joined the THRIVE Lab with an interest in how trauma can affect the mental and physical health of an individual, specifically through immune system mechanisms. I hope to learn more about how trauma affects the immune system and how to provide appropriate support and care for individuals with trauma. My future goals include pursuing a career in medicine, but as for now, I spend my undergraduate days paddling on a dragon boat, swimming, and spending time with loved ones.

Jeri Tan 

Research Assistant

Andrew Tsai 

Research Assistant

Hi, my name is Andrew. I am an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying psychology and plan to apply to medical school after graduation. Broadly speaking, I am interested in understanding the interplay between mental and physical health. I joined the THRIVE Lab to explore the imperative role of traumatic and chronic psychological stress in affecting one’s mental and physical well-being. When I’m not at my laptop, I enjoy making coffee and hanging out with my beagle!

 

Graduate Students

Mary Smirnova

Doctoral Student

Mary Smirnova is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at University of Nevada, Reno. Mary's current research focuses on examining risk and resilience factors of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and utilizing these factors to help guide treatment. Specifically, she is interested in leveraging social support and gratitude to help individuals with elevated PTSD symptoms. Additionally, she is excited about examining the relationship between biological factors, such as inflammatory markers, and the development of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Check out Mary's Google Scholar profile here.

 

Student

Anna Skovgaard

Anna is a medical student at the University of Copenhagen, where she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine from and is currently studying for her Master’s degree in Medicine. She has joined the THRIVE Lab through the DARE Fellowship program to strengthen the research bond between Denmark and the US. Anna is a part of a research group in Copenhagen that focuses on Immunopsychiatry and precision medicine in Psychiatry. She also has a great interest in psychedelic therapy and expanding the field of knowledge in new psychiatric treatments. When she isn’t working she likes to use social media for spreading knowledge on mental disorders and also hiking, music, food and skiing.

Ashkan Ahmadian

Ashkan Ahmadian is a graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in psychology. With a passion for the health sciences, he aspires to pursue a career in the medical field. His particular research interest involves gaining a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that allow stress to have such wide-range effects on physiology and learning more about the intimate roles that psychological factors like hypervigilance play in this relationship. When he isn’t studying or working, Ashkan likes to de-stress by taking walks, watching comedy, and slacklining with his friends. 

Joy Lin

Joy is a recent graduate of UCSD and is currently a student at the UCSF School of Medicine. In the THRIVE lab, she studies social isolation and inflammation in individuals with PTSD. Her hobbies include running, kickboxing, yoga, chamber music, and trying exotic foods.

Adam Luxenberg

Adam is a medical student at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. He has arrived at THRIVE Lab following a long-standing interest in the biology of aging and a more recent interest in stress. In THRIVE Lab, Adam studies the relationship between trauma exposure and threat sensitivity in individuals with and without post-traumatic disorder. When he isn’t working on school or research work you can find him listening to bluegrass music and hiking, biking, or backpacking.

Jennifer Paulson, M.S.

Jennifer has her MS in Psychology and is currently working on obtaining her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology.  Her interest in psychological research began as an undergraduate student with several research projects examining the role of stereotype threat in performance.  While her past research has focused on schizophrenia, looking at the roles of negative symptoms, neurocognition, social cognition, and social functioning, her true passion is researching trauma. Currently, Jennifer is interested in the role of anger and the immunity response in the context of trauma.  Additionally, Jennifer has a keen interest in statistics and she enjoys helping others cultivate their understanding of the subject.  While not engaged in research or school, Jennifer can often be found exploring the Sierra Nevadas with her husband.

Rebecca Rosser, M.A.

Rebecca holds a Bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a Master’s degree from the Wright Institute, where she is currently pursuing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests include the effects of childhood trauma on adult psychosocial functioning. She has worked for several years as a study coordinator at UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry, examining the mechanisms underlying depression. She also works at the San Francisco VA PTSD program, providing individual and group psychotherapy to veterans coping with military and early life trauma. Originally from Massachusetts, Rebecca enjoys exploring the west coast with friends as a retreat from graduate school. 

Jennifer Zahm

Jennifer graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor’s in Human Development and a minor in Psychology.  She went on to work as a case manager for a supported living services company and then conducted quality assurance work for a community mental health clinic.  These work experiences led her to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, which she is currently working on at Palo Alto University.  While Jennifer’s previous research endeavors included studying executive control and later, traumatic brain injury, her current interest lies in examining the interaction between psychological and biological processes, particularly within anxiety disorders. Jennifer is also interested, from a clinical and research perspective, in women-specific issues, so gender differences within these interactions are especially intriguing.  When she is not engaging in clinical or research work, Jennifer enjoys snowboarding, hiking, water sports, and spending time with friends and family.

 

Clinical Interviews

Caitlin Allaway

Caitlin is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at The Wright Institute in Berkeley. She is currently a clinical assessment practicum trainee at the BAND Lab at San Francisco VA Medical Center. Her clinical interests include substance use disorders, trauma, social justice, and exploring the intersection of law enforcement and mental health. In addition to her work at the lab, she is training to become a clinical psychologist working with adults, adolescents, and families with chronic mental illness and substance use disorders. Caitlin also enjoys baking and playing with her one-eyed cat in her free time.

Jenna Moschetto

Jenna graduated from University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor's in Psychology and Business marketing. She went on to pursue a Master's Degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from William Paterson University. She worked in an outpatient hospital setting working with patients who had complex trauma and serious mental illness. This work experience directed her to enroll in a Ph.D. Clinical Psychology program at Palo Alto University focusing in trauma psychology. Her interestd are working with Veterans who have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, serious mental illness and substance use disorders. In her spare time Jenna enjoys running, hiking, yoga, meditating, and traveling.

Margaret A. Smith

Margaret is a second year Clinical Psychology PsyD student at the California School of Professional Psychology. As a Marine Corps Veteran herself, she is passionate about service and is thrilled to be involved in PTSD research with Veterans at the VA. In her free time she loves to travel, keep up with family and friends, and run around in the city with her husband. 

 

Alumni

Here is a list of THRIVE Lab alumni. Many of our alumni have moved on to careers in psychological research, medical school, and graduate school in various disciplines.


2017-2021

Research Assistants:

  • Ahmad Jiha, Research Assistant (2019-2021)
    • Ahmad assisted the THRIVE Lab with studies for over a year. He was the recruitment manager for the SMART study. 
  • Nora Huey, Research Assistant (2018-2019)
    • Nora assisted the THRIVE Lab with studies for over a year. She ran REPS 2.0, and is now training for a PsyD. 
  • Emily Kalantar, Research Assistant (2018)
    • Emily was accepted to a Clinical Psychology PhD program.
  • Hiep Nguyen, Research Assistant (2016-2017)
    • Hiep studies Biology at UC Berkeley. 
  • Belén Rogowski, Research Assistant (2016-2017)
    • Belen is a student at UC Berkeley. 
  • Annika Williams, Research Assistant (2016-2017)
    • Annika is applying to medical school. 
  • Zachary Matheson, Research Assistant (2016-2017)
    • Zach assisted the THRIVE Lab with studies for over a year. He transitioned to working at the BAND Lab in October 2017. 
  • Gowri Sundar, Research Assistant (2016-2017)
  • Yeelen Edwards, Research Assistant (2017)
  • Vivien Shifei Li, M.A., Research Assistant (2016-2017)

Lab Managers/Study Coordinators:

  • Samantha McGirr, Lab Manager/Study Coordinator (2016-2017)
  • Rachel Tenney, Lab Manager/Study Coordinator (2016-2017)
  • Kim Friedland, Study Coordinator (2017)
    • Kim worked in the lab during summer 2017 and coordinated the REPS 2.0 study. She left to pursue work at Airbnb.
  • Paige Tripp, Lab Manager/Study Coordinator (2019-2021)

Postdoctoral Fellows/Scholars:

  • Andreas Kuffer, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Scholar (2014-2017) 
  • Ana Pesquita, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow (2017)
    • Dr. Pesquita will still be collaborating remotely with the lab on the analysis of REPS 1.0 data.

Up to 2016

Key Collaborators