Post-Doctoral Associates

Jennifer Alexander, Ph.D. 
Post-Doctoral Associate
Jennifer Alexander

Jennifer Alexander, Ph.D. was a postdoctoral associate in the CAN Lab.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Accounting from Washington University in St. Louis, her master’s degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University, and her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Marquette University.  Mirroring the focus of her graduate clinical and research training, Dr. Alexander’s interests primarily center on obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders (such as Tourette’s disorder, trichotillomania, and OCD) and anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.  In terms of research, she is particularly interested in improving the experiences of individuals with these disorders and their family members by (1) advancing understanding of the neural, psychological (e.g., emotion regulation tendencies), and sociocultural factors that activate, maintain, and exacerbate these disorders and (2) improving treatments of these disorders.

In her spare time, Dr. Alexander enjoys spending time with her friends and family, discovering the best places to get cheese curds and custard, and reading Harry Potter. 

Sunday Francis, Ph.D. 
Post-Doctoral Associate
Sunday Francis

A fascination with the brain and how it influences behavior began with a high school psychology class for Sunday Francis. It has brought her through the fields of neuroscience, engineering, genetics, and autism research at several prestigious universities.

This month, Francis’ path took her from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry to the National Institute of Mental Health, where she is a research fellow exploring translational approaches across multiple developmental disorders.

While at the U, Francis worked as a postdoctoral research associate in clinical autism research under the Converging Approaches to Neurodevelopment (CAN) Lab.

“Dr. Suma Jacob introduced me to the world of autism and to working with children, and I fell in love with the kids,” she said. “For me, the brain has always been the ultimate cool place. I’m fascinated by behavior and how the body reacts to its environment.”

Conducting research that benefits communities directly is what keeps her at the bench.

“I’m not sure about my long-term career plans, but for now I still love doing the hands-on research and working with different teams,” she said. “I realize that as you move up, you often move further from bench research and don’t get to work with as many participants. I’m putting that day off. At NIMH, even as you become a principal investigator, they say you still get to stay in the science. I think that’s important.” 

Research Coordinators & Research Assistants

Katie Beard
Research Coordinator
Katie B

Katie Beard graduated with a B.S. in psychology and neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She worked in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences as a research coordinator as well as in the Autism Spectrum and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Clinic and Voyager Clinic in the Department of Pediatrics. She also did various projects through the community LEND fellowship during 2019-2020. Her research interests include helping to better provide services to families with individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as social skills training, behavioral therapy (i.e. ABA), and neuromodulation for these individuals. She enjoys songwriting, crossfit, and veganism. 

Jesse Dzombak
Research Coordinator
Jesse D

Jesse Dzombak worked with the Converging Approaches to Neurodevelopment (CAN) Lab and the Minnesota Center for Eating Disorders Research at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. His research interests include dimensional approaches to the operationalization and assessment of transdiagnostic behavior maintenance mechanisms of impulsivity, compulsivity, and habit. He is especially interested in investigating these mechanisms within such conditions as eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, body-focused repetitive behaviors (e.g., hair-pulling, skin-picking), tics, and nonsuicidal self-injury. He is most interested in projects that aim to translate existing assessments to idiographic behavioral contexts in order to elucidate their cognitive and affective valences, determine the mechanisms by which they are maintained, and develop more efficacious interventions for psychiatric disorders.

Lizzy Egbert
Research Coordinator
Lizzy Egbert

Lizzy is a counseling psychology doctoral student at the University of St. Thomas. Her research interests include how to effectively implement evidenced based practices to reduce rates of recidivism with clinical-forensic populations. In addition to working in the CAN Lab, Lizzy worked at the Center for Personalized Prevention Research where she assisted in the coordination and training of research staff. 

Gregory Hooks
Research Coordinator
Greg H

Greg worked with participants and personnel to run multiple studies in the lab, supervised volunteers, and helped out with other outreach and data projects. Greg was a longtime volunteer in the lab before his appointment as a research coordinator. Outside of school, Greg is an avid motorsport fan, a lifelong hockey player, and dabbles in art and carpentry projects.

Marwa W. Ibrahim
Research Coordinator

Marwa graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's of science in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. In the lab, Marwa acted as the coordinator lead for the V1aduct study while helping coordinate other studies and working on outreach/recruitment tasks. Her favorite part about working in the lab was interacting with participants and witnessing the research process unfolds. Her long term goal is to pursue a graduate degree in Clinical or Counseling psychology. Outside of the lab, Marwa enjoys spending time with her friends and Family and watching Netflix.

Andrea Jarratt
Research Coordinator
Andrea Jarrett image

Andrea has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Master of Library and Information Science. She has previously worked as a science research librarian. In the CAN Lab she primarily worked on our lab's outreach efforts, managing volunteers, the FiND Network, and SPARK, a nationwide autism genetics study. Outside of research, she enjoys playing and listening to music, cooking for friends and family, and spending time with her daughter, Eleanor, and two small dogs, Claude and Mac. 

Mia Kellman
Research Assistant

Mia was a Research Assistant in the CAN Lab who primarily worked on the CBIT + TMS study, along with the Tic Tech study. Mia graduated from University of Minnesota with a bachelor of science in psychology and a minor in Russian. She is interested in sex differences that appear among individuals diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, ASD, ADHD, and OCD, and interventions that improve symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly in school settings. Mia plans on applying to medical school in Fall of 2023 and works as a Research Coordinator at MIDB's Non-Invasive Neuromodulation Lab. 

Natasha Lillie
Research Coordinator
Natasha L

Natasha worked on SPARK, our autism genetics study, as well as various other projects in the lab. Natasha is currently attending a graduate program in genetic counseling and will continue to work with families affected by neurodevelopmental disorders and genetic conditions. In her free time she enjoys taking care of her plants and cooking.

Richard Nguyen
Research Coordinator


Richard N

Richard graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in neuroscience. He was a research coordinator in the CAN lab and primarily worked on the SPARK and FiND programs. Before his appointment in the CAN lab, he worked in the field as an EMT. Outside of the lab he has interests in tennis, cycling, singing/songwriting, and fixing stuff.

Taryn Posch
Research Coordinator
taryn pic

Taryn graduated from Ave Maria University in southwest Florida with a degree in Psychology and minors in chemistry and biology. In the lab, Taryn was a Research Coordinator working primarily on the CBIT+TMS study leading assessment visits with participants both before and after treatment. In addition to her work at UMN, Taryn worked in the child/adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Outside of work, Taryn enjoys spending time with friends and family, cooking, and discovering new places and things to do in Minneapolis/St. Paul.


Amanda Polanski 
Amanda P

Amanda graduated from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities with a degree in Biology and is now a student in the Master of Genetic Counselor Studies program at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Amanda attended the UMN as an Evans Scholarship recipient and is a proud Evans Scholar alumna. As a volunteer, Amanda primarily participated in recruitment and organization outreach for the SPARK study due to her interest in ASD genetic mechanisms and resources for families. Outside of school and lab work, Amanda enjoys trying new restaurants, attending sports events, and spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. 


Tharun Rao

Tharun is a fourth-year student at Case Western Reserve University majoring in economics and minoring in chemistry while also pursuing a Master of Public Health. Tharun worked as a volunteer on various data projects in the CAN lab. Outside of research, he enjoys hiking, cycling, cooking, and movie-watching.