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Lab Team

We are passionately committed to providing an inclusive and supportive environment for trainees from all backgrounds. We strive to provide our lab members with the mentoring, resources, and opportunities necessary to develop as researchers and advance their careers – as scientists, physicians, or otherwise.

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Morgan James Ph.D.

Assistant Professor | Department of Psychiatry

Morgan received his PhD in 2014 in the laboratory of Dr. Christopher Dayas at the University of Newcastle in Australia, where he studied the neural circuits that underlie drug-seeking behaviors. He then completed postdoctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Gary Aston-Jones, where he combined several advanced neuroscience techniques with sophisticated animal models of addiction to further probe the neural circuits that drive reward-seeking behavior. His current lab utilizes a cross-disciplinary approach to understanding the brain circuits involved in disorders of motivation (including addiction and binge eating disorder) with the goal of guiding and informing translational outcomes. Outside of the lab, Morgan is a keen home brewer and enjoys surfing at the Jersey shore.



Current Lab Members


Utsav Gyawali, Ph.D.


I received my undergraduate degree at St. Mary's College of Maryland with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Neurosciences. At St. Mary's, I worked in the lab of Dr. Anne Marie Brady exploring compulsive cocaine seeking in an animal model of schizophrenia which solidified my interests in investigating neural underpinnings of maladaptive behaviors. This interest led me to join the lab of Dr. Brian Mathur at University of Maryland, Baltimore as a lab manager/research technician. At the Mathur lab, I explored thalamus intralaminar nuclei control of striatal dopamine release in reward related behaviors before joining the Calu lab at UMB as a graduate student. In the Calu lab, I probed the role of neurotransmitters classically associated with stress and reward in maintaining cue-motivated drug-seeking behaviors. In the James lab, I am continuing to explore the role of neuromodulators in drug motivated behaviors, with a focus on orexin. My interests outside of the lab include cooking, hiking, playing string instruments, and exploring new cities with friends.



Shayna O'Connor

Graduate student (Psychology)

Shayna graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Psychology. While there, she worked with Dr. Gary Aston-Jones studying the role of orexin in animal models of addiction. She is now pursuing a PhD in the Rutgers Psychology program, with joint supervision between Dr. James and Dr. David Barker. In her free time, Shayna enjoys snowboarding and going to concerts.


Michelle Bilotti

Graduate Student (Toxicology)

Michelle is a PhD student in the Joint Graduate Program in Toxicology. She received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry with a concentration in Toxicology from Rutgers in 2020. Michelle is interested in microglia research, and previously studied microglia-neuronal interaction following natal pesticide exposure in a zebrafish model in Dr. Cooper and Dr. White’s lab at Rutgers under Dr. Victoria DiBona. She continued her microglia studies in her first graduate lab rotation with Dr.Dipak Sarkar, investigating the effects of natal ethanol exposure on microglia in connection to B-endorphin neuronal cell death. In the James Lab Michelle plans to investigate the role that microglia may play in the regulation of the orexin system. Outside of lab, Michelle enjoys live music, the beach, and going to brunch with her friends.

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Barbara Gruszka

Rotating Graduate Student (Neuroscience)

Barbara is a first-year PhD student in the School of Graduate Studies Neuroscience Program at Rutgers – New Brunswick. Barbara graduated from Princeton University in 2020 with a degree in Neuroscience. For her undergraduate thesis work, Barbara worked in the Intelligent Performance and Adaptation (IPA) laboratory with Dr. Jordan Taylor. There, she designed a virtual reality throwing task and collected performance, motor, and eye-tracking data to further understand the effect of feedback-less practice movements on performance. After graduation, Barbara worked as a Pharmacology and Biomarkers Research Associate II for PTC Therapeutics, a company specializing in developing therapeutics for orphan diseases. In her free time, Barbara enjoys painting commissioned animal portraits, swimming, and refining her computer programming skills.

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Abanoub Armanious

Undergraduate Researcher

Abanoub is a second-year undergraduate student double majoring in Public Health and Cell Biology & Neuroscience with a minor in Religion. His previous research experience was with Dr. Kyle Murphy of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers where they studied the effects of CD44 on the REDD1 protein of the mTOR signaling pathway in breast cancer cells. He plans to complete his BS degree and go onto medical school. Outside of the lab, he focuses his energy on his nonprofit, Save the Children of the Developing World (


Jakub (Kuba) Suchojad

Undergraduate Researcher

Jakub is a non-traditional student who joined the lab as an undergraduate RA in October of 2021. He first graduated with a BA in Philosophy from the University of Łódź in his home country of Poland and is now pursuing a double major in Psychology and Cognitive Science. He has transferred to Rutgers University for the Fall 2021 semester from Stockton University and plans to graduate at the end of the Spring 2023 semester. Jakub is a part of the study that researches connections between drug addiction and sleep disorders. His personal research interests contain things like philosophy of mind, human consciousness and its relation to individual cognitive capacities. In his free time he is an avid Formula 1 fan who enjoys simulation racing on his home rig paired with an Xbox.

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Shuchi Merai

Undergraduate Researcher

Shuchi is a third-year (1st professional) undergraduate student working towards her PharmD at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers. In the lab, she is assisting with research related to how cocaine use influences sleep patterns. She is excited to learn more about drug addiction through her time in the James lab. Outside of the lab, her hobbies include reading, cooking, hiking, and spending time with her friends and family.

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Jacqueline Finley

Undergraduate Researcher

Jackie is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in the biological sciences and double minoring in public health & psychology. Her previous research experience, at RWJ, involved finding an updated algorithm for the treatment of persistent type II endoleaks after abdominal aortic aneurysm repair. She is now working with Abanoub to test the viability of alternative treatment strategies for binge eating disorder. Jackie also currently works as a medical scribe and a physics TA and hopes to  apply to medical schools in the near future. Outside of the lab, she loves snowboarding, dancing, traveling with family and friends, and country music. 

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Ridhi Reddy

Undergraduate Researcher

Ridhi is a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Cell Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Data Science. Ridhi wants to further her understanding of neuroscience through  research both in and outside the lab. Ridhi plans to pursue medical school after completing her degree. In her free time, she enjoys dog walking, knitting, and reading in parks.

Previous Trainees

Jackie Mehr | Undergraduate Researcher (2018-2022)

Post-bacc student - Lab of Dr. Veronica Alvarez, NIAAA


Alexandra Shumyatsky | Undergraduate Researcher (2021-2022)

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Medicine program - University of Barcelona

Morgan Paladino | Lab Manager (2021-2022)

Graduate student - Lab of Dr. Rachel Smith, Texas A&M

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Jillian Sucher | Graduate Research Assistant (2021-2022)

Graduate student - Lab of Dr. Ben Samuels, Rutgers (Psychology)

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Christina Hur | Research Assistant (2021-2022)

Pharmacy student, Earnest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers

Sam Liu | Research Assistant (2016-2021)

Software Engineer, Aergo Solutions

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Kaushanie Fernandopulle | Research Assistant (2019-2021)

Applying to medical schools

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Orion Yedidia | Undergraduate Researcher (2019-2020)

Applying to medical schools

Mohita Jariwala | Undergraduate Researcher (2019-2020)

Medical student at New Jersey Medical School

Noah Shin | Undergraduate Researcher (2019-2020)

Dental Student at Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry

Asrita Vattikonda | Undergraduate Researcher (2016-2019)

Medical student at Jefferson Medical School

Allen Chang | Master's Student (2017-2019), Undergraduate Researcher (2016-2017)

PhD candidate at Emory University

Brian Liu | SURP Research Intern (2019)

Undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University

Julia Nauman | SURP Research Intern (2018)

Lab Manager at Michigan State University

Kevin Peng | Undergraduate Researcher (2017-2018)

Medical student at the Ohio State University College of Medicine

Brooke Bender | SURP Research Intern (2016)

PhD candidate at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh

Ami Ghadia | Undergraduate Researcher (2015-2017)

Dentistry student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine

Nikki Koll | Post-baccalaureate Researcher (2015-2016)

Medical student at the New York Institute of Technology College of Medicine

Jasmine Lin | Undergraduate Researcher (2015-2017)

Medical student at the New Jersey Medical School

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