Meet our Early Career Scientist Grant Winner Allison McDonald

Meet our Early Career Scientist Grant Winner Allison McDonald
2 years ago

Meet our Early Career Scientist Grant Winner Allison McDonald

Congratulations to the latest winner of our Early Career Scientist Grant! Allison McDonald of the Anatomy & Neurosciences in Amsterdam UMC, Netherlands, is the next lucky recipient of our monthly $500 grant awarded to PhD and postdoc life scientists to help support their careers. 

Allison McDonald is a fourth year PhD student working in Nathan Marchant’s lab. She plans to use the grant to help fund her attendance at the 2022 Gordon Research Conference: The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction in Maine, USA.

When we asked how she felt about receiving the grant, she told us:

I am truly grateful to be receiving the Hello Bio Early Career Scientist Grant. This grant will allow me to attend my first North American conference – the GRC Neurobiology of Drug Addiction in August, 2022. It’s an amazing opportunity to receive in the final year of my PhD. Allison McDonald, Amsterdam UMC, Netherlands, Hello Bio Early Career Scientist Grant winner


Congratulations Allison! First, can you tell us a bit more about what you're working on at the moment?

During my PhD, I have been investigating the brain areas and neural circuits underlying Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). We have reverse translated a core component of AUD – alcohol use despite negative consequences, into a pre-clinical model in order to further investigate underlying neural circuits. Through the use of techniques such as cFos immunohistochemistry and retrograde tracing, we have identified neural circuits whose activity is associated with compulsive alcohol use. We are now using chemogenetics (DREADDs) and fiber photometry (in-vivo calcium imaging) to manipulate and monitor the activity of these circuits to gain a greater understanding of these brain areas that are responsible for promoting alcohol use despite negative consequences. These findings will add to our understanding of AUD as a brain disorder, and may even help us identify novel AUD treatments.

In my research, I also integrate the use of open-source quantitative and automatic data analysis approaches. I am implementing the use of automatic quantitative behavioural video analysis, and an open-source histology analysis pipeline for brain-wide automatic cell detection.


What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

What drives me is that we now have the tools and improved behavioural models available to better understand and hopefully provide new treatments for neuropsychiatric conditions such as addiction and depression.


Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

I admire the scientists who are working to change the culture of academia, by implementing open science practices, providing healthy scientific workplaces, and providing mentorship to trainees. They give me hope for the future of the field, and an aspiration to continue in academia.


What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?

In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges currently facing scientists is the pressure that the academic system puts upon them. Researchers begin with temporary work contracts, unsure if they will be able to make it to the next level in the field. They are pressured to conform their ideas in order to receive grants, and pressured to perform and publish papers in order to move to the next career level. I think this system is ultimately leading to high rates of mental health problems, ironically, in the researchers who study it. And while it’s affecting scientists, it’s also affecting the quality of our science. I hope that we can move the scientific system towards a more collaborative and inclusive approach that promotes the well-being of scientists and leads to better science because of it.


And finally… what’s your favourite science quote?

“All models are wrong, but some are useful” - George Box



Thank you so much Allison! We hope you enjoy the Gordon Research Conference!

Connect with Allison:


About the author

Dr Leonardo M.R. Ferreira is an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the Hollings Cancer Center. He studied biochemistry at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, before completing his PhD at Harvard University, USA, where he worked on transcriptional regulation in human pregnancy. A postdoctoral role later took him to the University of California San Francisco where he worked on next-generation regulatory T cell therapies for type 1 diabetes and organ transplant rejection.

He can be reached via LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or email at


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