The SPARC Team

Our Team

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Heather Frost, Director


Christy McTait, Manager of Research Development 


Christy manages SPARC support for NFRF's Transformation program. Christy also provides one-on-one funding consultations with both new-to-UBC and new-to-CIHR researchers. Prior to joining SPARC, Christy worked in change management and strategic planning in the health care sector. Christy received her Master’s in Health Administration from UBC and Bachelor of Science from Queen's University.

Marliese Dawson, Health Research Development Officer

CIHR Project Grant

Marliese leads SPARC's support services for the CIHR Project Grant program.

Tessa Cheng, Health Research Development Officer

CIHR Strategic Grants

Tessa manages SPARC support for the CIHR Strategic portfolio, which includes tracking and communicating new Strategic competitions, providing one-on-one consultations with faculty and research staff, and conducting SPARC review. She holds a PhD in Health Sciences and a Master’s in Public Policy, both from SFU. Tessa has experience conducting CIHR- and NIH-funded public health research in Vancouver focusing on illegal street drug and nonmedical prescription opioid use.

Sharon Marsh, Health Research Development Officer


Sharon Marsh holds a degree in Genetics from Nottingham University in England and a PhD in Medical Genetics from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Following her PhD she crossed the ocean to work in various roles in an NIH funded cancer pharmacogenomics lab at Washington University in St Louis. Subsequently she worked in Montreal as an Associate Scientific Director in a Genome Canada funded centre before returning to academia at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Edmonton. Sharon joined UBC’s SPARC in 2017 as a Health Research Development Officer.

Elizabeth Cheu, Research Grant Development (on leave)


Elizabeth Cheu led health-related grant development support for the Faculty of Medicine for almost ten years and, at SPARC, will continue to expand her health-related grant expertise across UBC. Elizabeth’s mandate to improve competitive funding for UBC will be to: clarify subject matter; assist with strategy; and help develop peer-reviewed grants. Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. (Chemistry) in 2000. She then trained as a postdoc in photodynamic therapy. Elizabeth spent several years in the biotech industry managing an international patent portfolio.

Social Sciences and Humanities

Danica Kell, SSH Research Development Officer


Danica manages the SSHRC Insight and Insight Development Grant Internal Review Programs, and assists with other SSH research funding opportunities. Before joining SPARC, Danica worked as a Special Project Researcher for the David Spencer Endowment Encouragement Foundation, and as Program Manager for the Surrey Choral Arts Project Society. Danica received her BA from UBC.

Natural Sciences and Engineering

Alexander Unterberger, Manager of Research Development 

Alex Unterberger is the NSERC Manager of Research Development. He is responsible for overseeing the unit's mission to provide faculty with strategic research funding development services and resources, develop capacity, build collaborations, increase application success rates and enhance research excellence for UBC's NSERC portfolio.

Alexander received his BSc and PhD from McGill University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Sick Kids Hospital. He worked at the University Health Network as a Research Communication Specialist and as a Research Grants Facilitator in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC. Alexander has experience in developing operating, salary and institutional grants for a diverse set of research disciplines to a variety of funding agencies, such as NSERC, SSHRC, CFREF, CFI, CRC, CIHR, NIH and Genome Canada.

Paolo Marcazzan, NSE Research Development Officer

NSERC Alliance

Dr. Paolo Marcazzan holds an MSc in Industrial Chemistry from the University of Bologna in Italy and a PhD in Chemistry from UBC. He worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Research Council of Canada (Vancouver) and as a Research Associate at UBC Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering on clean energy materials and technologies. Most recently, Paolo worked for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Vancouver) as Head of Science and Policy at the British Consulate General, where he developed and managed UK-Canada relations in science, research and policy across a range of disciplines and involving stakeholders from academia, government and industry.

Pia Smets, Research Development and Awards Officer


Administrative Assistant