How it's going

As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on a NIDA funded F32 grant, I am passionate about advancing our understanding of the brain and behavior research. My current research program focuses on integrating multiple brain imaging datasets and addressing validity and reliability questions in task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). I use modern psychometric techniques and data analytic methods to achieve my program goals. 

In the long term, my goal is to lead a research team and contribute to the mission of an organization that values and respects its members. Whether this is in academia or industry, I am open to exploring opportunities that will allow me to continue learning and expanding my methods/research toolkit. In the short term, I am committed to developing my skills in research, data analysis, and leadership, and I am actively seeking collaboration with experts in areas of fMRI, quantitative methods, measurement, development, psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience.

I believe that quality research is a collaborative and inclusive process that values diverse perspectives and experiences. I am committed to contributing to this mission and am excited about the future opportunities that await.

Extended BIO 

How It Started

I was born in the USSR in 1989. My dad (below) was a coal miner & my mom took care of the house/livestock/kids (my sister & I in photo). My paternal grandma left the USSR to the United States under refugee status in the 1980s. My dad's sibling forfeited their spot to move to the United States, so by sheer luck my dad was able to take their spot after the collapse of the USSR. In 1995, he moved the entire family to the United States and we landed in Portland, OR. 

How it went

Growing up in a low-income and non-english speaking household, college wasn't prioritized. In fact, during K-12 my primary goals were: (1) not getting into trouble with my parents, (2) basketball, (3) class-clowning & (4) working on roofing job sites during summer/winter breaks. That changed after taking a Psychology course in high school (HS) from Aminah Ali. At this juncture, I developed an interest in brain development and research. However, I was quite immature and joked when I shouldn't have and so I was expelled from HS [weeks] before my senior graduation. Luckily, after getting my 💩 together, I graduated at a different HS school.

To pursue my interest in psychology, I enrolled at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Oregon. I had little information about how college or research worked, so there was a lot of guesswork as I took classes and worked as a full-time barista (2007-2011) to pay for tuition & living expenses. My parents didn't know anyone that attended college. So, I relied on a 'try and find out' approach during this time. For example, I had not known that SATs were required, so I walked in expecting to just enroll and get placed into college courses. To my surprise, I was told I needed to take a placement test. Being terrible at test taking, I took the test and was placed in remedial math and writing. Safe to say, I started off my college career quite behind but I was committed to learning more and getting in the field of psychology.

In 2009, at a job fair in Portland (common event at the peak of great recession), I learned about volunteering in research. This would start me off in my research-related pursuits. Between 2008-2012, I volunteered in multiple labs, worked as a residential counselor and did a work-study (the work-study through FAFSA is a great opp. for low income students). At one point, I developed an interest in brain research in nonhuman primates. After applying for over a year, in 2011, I got a position at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. After working with primates for over a year and being recruited from the behavioral/breeding research department, a former manager thought I was an animal rights risk (PETA) and so they terminated my contract. After this, I transitioned back into human research as a research coordinator at the Portland VA where I worked on topics of suicide, pain and opioid use disorders. Due to my continued yearning for brain research, I got involved as a volunteer in Dr. Bonnie Nagel's adolescent brain imaging research lab. From these experiences, I learned a broad set of research skills but, more importantly, the experiences connected me with a couple exceptional mentors (e.g., Dr. Travis Lovejoy & Dr. Irina Chamine) that helped guide along my journey to pursue a PhD program in Psychology/Neuroscience. Without their guidance, I don't think I would have achieved what I have to do.

In 2007, I became captivated by the brain and brain research after reading 'The Mind and the Brain...'. At that point, I made a commitment to pursue clinical/research work related to topics on brain imaging/psychology and eventually obtain a PhD, though my understanding of what that entailed was limited. In 2014, having gained several years of full-time research experience, I began preparing for PhD applications, only to have that plan interrupted a few months later.

That year, after four years of being misdiagnosed with a brain tumor, I was admitted to the ICU. An MRI image revealed an unusually enlarged pituitary gland (marked by a yellow arrow in the image). The cognitive and psychological experiences during this time were fascinating. As my body's natural sodium level had plummeted to 95 (see hyponatremia), a level that would typically be fatal, my brain was essentially swelling. Over time, my body entered conservation mode and lost the ability to ingest anything, maintain balance, walk, write, read, and for a brief period, even speak and stay awake.

But this wasn't all negative. First positive is everyday since that nadir is an extra day. A second positive is getting first hand insight into how wildly thoughts, experiences, dreams and emotions can hit extremes but also feel so, so 'normal'. The vivid hallucinations;  the apathetic feeling to the chaos when being moved between hospital floors; not feeling pain during arterial punctures; or the extreme fluctuations in emotions due to imbalance of hormones. It was truly fascinating to have a first-hand experience in how the brain can be suffocating (in a way) but still make things feel normal. While physically and economically an awful experience, as far as cognitive neuroscience and personal growth goes it was a rewarding experience. 

In short, that fiasco cleaned my brain-slate, so some of what I learned leading up to the hospitals was lost. A few months after surgery, I got back on the PhD application horse and restarted GRE & application prep. During my first year, I applied to seven schools and received zero interviews and zero offers. So I reapplied one last time in 2017 and got one interview. Thanks to Dr. Daniel Keating, in early 2017, I received an offer at the University of Michigan and then in August of 2017 moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to start my PhD program.

At the University of Michigan, my training was in Developmental Psychology. Specifically, I was focused on Substance Use, Neurodevelopment and Adolescence. Very quickly, my interests evolved into measurement, methods and theory testing. Which continued throughout my graduate training. By my third year I knew what I did and did not want to do during my postdoctoral training. Fortunately, by a chance of luck, I was fortunate to land my postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford. After a couple years of COVID-19 wildness, I defended my dissertation in March of 2022 and moved to Palo Alto in August of 2022. 

... to be continued

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