Dr. Maral Tajerian

Maral Tajerian, MSc, PhD
Assistant Professor
Biology Department
Queens College | The Graduate Center
City University of New York

Can you please provide a brief summary of your research?

The Tajerian Lab studies how the brain changes in various contexts with main emphasis on chronic pain. We use an integrative approach to study the timecourse of cellular and extracellular changes in various brain uses using in vivo, ex vivo, and in vitro models. Much of our research is preclinical in nature and we hope that our findings will benefit humans in general and pain patients in particular.

When did you first become interested, and what inspired you to become interested, in your field?

I first became interested, or rather aware, of the field of pain research when I was searching for a lab where I could carry out my doctoral work. My Masters degree had been in the field of gastropod electrophysiology in the context of courtship and mating, and I had not given preclinical work much thought. It was during that period that a new research center was established at McGill University, with the mission of carrying out research on pain. It was a long shot, but I interviewed for a doctoral position at the Stone lab, and here we are now. I find the field of pain research highly relevant, fascinating, and certainly under-explored (and under-funded).

What has been the most exciting event in your career?

Going into the field of pain research at the doctoral level without any “real” training in anything related to it put me in the position of naivete and left me completely open minded to what was possible. Since I never learned how things were supposed to be, I set about doing things the way I thought they ought to be done. This allowed me to diverge from the mainstream thinking in my field and has resulted in many “out-of-the-box” discoveries throughout the years. A couple of findings that stand out are our descriptions of long-term brain epigenetic changes that happen as a consequence of peripheral neuropathy, and more recently, the role of the brain extracellular matrix in pain-related hippocampal plasticity.

If you could start over again, what would you do differently?

I know most people expect me to say that I love everything the way it is, I do think things could have been improved had I learned how to code. On a different note, I would try not to take rejection and failure so seriously. It happens to all of us!

What advice would you give undergraduates thinking about a career in your field?

I would encourage students to distinguish between undergraduate learning and research. Many students get indoctrinated in their undergraduate classes and lack the flexibility to explore new ideas as researchers later. That creates an environment where research advances are very incremental and don’t innovate the field. My advice would therefore be to question everything you see in a textbook. Instead of memorizing it as a fact, try to see it as a finding in a certain research question/model/etc. Of course, if possible, it is always encouraged to participate in laboratory research early on in order to have a more realistic idea of what a career in the sciences entails. Being forewarned is being forearmed.

Over the future course of your career, what do you hope to further accomplish?

I hope to put together a comprehensive understanding of brain plasticity that takes into account non-neuronal components. In the same token, I would like to know what are the limits to brain plasticity.

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