Meet Your Hosts - Alaina Jaster
Hello and thanks for visiting our blog! We're very excited you’re taking this science journey with us. To give you some background on why this venture is important to us we're going to tell you a bit about ourselves. Next up, Alaina Jaster.
My name is Alaina and I'm from southeast Michigan. My journey into neuroscience and psychedelics began unknowingly and it took my a while to really realize where I was supposed to be. I was mainly raised by my mom, a single parent going through nursing school to support her two kids. My dad wasn't around much for a chunk of my childhood due to an ongoing struggle with addiction, but has now been 15 years sober. I've always loved to write and read, in high school I took AP english courses but I was never that good at math or science. My senior year I decided to take AP psychology, which was the first time I ever really got a glimpse into neuroscience and understanding how the brain works. I didn't want to be a scientist at that time, I wanted to go to art school, but my mom encouraged me to tour colleges anyways. I saw a presentation at Central Michigan University for their neuroscience program and I was drawn to it. I ended up pursuing that degree and joining an Alzheimer's research lab my sophomore year.
The neuroscience program at CMU was different, it immersed undergraduate students in research from the beginning and encouraged student's interested in graduate or medical programs to take graduate level courses. They also offered a minor specifically in substance use disorders which focused on education, intervention and treatment. I loved all of my higher level neuroscience courses and had one of the best professors who really prepared me for my future (thanks Dr. Sandstrom!).
I had already been interested in learning more about psychedelics when I got to CMU but there wasn't very many people willing to talk about it due to the associated stigma. That was until I took neurophysiology with Dr. Shasta Sabo, who expressed an interest in having students join her new lab to research neuroplasticity associated with ketamine and metabolites. I immediately emailed her and ended up completing my directed senior research in her lab and the deeper dive into ketamine and psychedelics for depression solidified that I needed to be a psychedelic researcher. After graduating with my BSc in Neuroscience, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school but I needed some time to prepare for the GRE. I got a job as a research technician at Wayne State University where I had the unique opportunity to work alongside Dr. Michael Bannon and in collaboration with the Medical Examiner's office. Here I was able to study chronic opioid use human post-mortem brains and get some experience in data analyses and epidemiological work. I tell people all the time this is one of the best jobs I've ever had, I loved seeing human brain anatomy and working on determining drug-drug interactions and predictive outcomes. While at Wayne, I also had the opportunity to attend a symposium where I heard about psychedelics being used to treat neuropsychiatric disorders and various substance use disorders, this led to me down an even further rabbit hole. I knew that I loved working on opioid research and pharmacology but I wanted to work with psychedelics, so I decided that I was ready to pursue a graduate degree in pharmacology and find the lab of my dreams.
And here we are! I'm currently a fourth year PhD student in the lab of Dr. Javier Gonzalez-Maeso at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I've been fortunate enough to combine my passion for opioid research and my interests in psychedelics.
While being at VCU, I've become deeply involved in psychedelic science, policy and communication. Not only have I been doing research focused on the potential therapeutic effects of psychedelics for depression and SUDs, I've also written for Psychedelic Science Review, and have been involved in panels educating the public about psychedelics. It's such an amazing and surreal thing to be in the middle of it all.
Now, Zarmeen and I have started this adventure to bring perspective to psychedelic science, to educate the public and to continue to contribute to the field in a different way. I hope to use this platform to allow our contagious passion for the field and for science education to spread. I also hope to use this platform to discuss some harder topics and different perspectives, to try and provide accurate and accessible information to whoever wants it. I am so excited to begin this journey and we really hope to have you jump in with us.