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Jessica Scaife

Dr Jessica Scaife is a postdoctoral researcher in the Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory (PERL) working with Professor Catherine Harmer and also in the Oxford Brain-Body Research into Eating Disorders (OxBREaD) group with Associate Professor Rebecca Park.

Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?  

I moved to Oxford when I was ten, and I always wanted to come home to start a family. I knew that this world-leading University would be conducting fascinating research, which I could contribute to. I have been here for over seven years and I have experience of working with a diverse range of clinical groups. This helps me to see the trans-diagnostic mechanisms at play across psychiatry. 

What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?

I am excited to be resuming our RESTART and RESTAND studies in the near future. These studies are investigating whether a potential new antidepressant changes how the brain deals with emotional information in individuals with depression.

With so many people currently facing uncertainty over their futures, the mental health of the population is as important to protect as their physical health. I hope that the results of these studies show that the study drug has promise as a potential new treatment for depression. Life is short, and no one should have to suffer with low mood and negative feelings.

What is currently at the top of your to-do list?

I am focussed on helping to get our studies up and running again. We have been making changes to our protocols and working practices in response to changing guidance on COVID-19 safety. Top of my to-do list is to get back to the office and start getting things going again.

How did you get to where you are today?

I wanted to be a scientist (and an actress!) from an early age. My parents were psychologists, and my aunt was a biochemist. I ended up taking inspiration from them all and I applied for a four year Neuroscience course at the University of Nottingham. In my industrial placement year I researched the role of endocannabinoids in pain processing, I was excited to be doing real research with cutting edge equipment.

My PhD in Psychiatry was undertaken in Chris Bradshaw’s lab in Nottingham. I used the human acoustic startle reflex and EEG to investigate novel anxiolytics. It was a fantastically creative time for me and I learnt so much about experimental medicine. For my first post-doc at Sussex, I gained my first experience of neuroimaging, using fMRI to investigate the effects of alcohol dependence on emotional processing and cognition in a complex patient population.

I was always interested in science communication and I undertook a PGCE at Kings College to see if teaching would suit me. I was Head of Biology in a secondary school before I left on maternity leave. I applied for a post in Rebecca Park’s lab and joined the department here in Oxford. Teaching is very rewarding, but I missed the creativity of research, and I was fortunate to be able to come back to the work I love.

Who or what inspires you?

I feel inspired by the patients with mental health problems who keep fighting and stay hopeful that the future will be better. My children remind me to be positive, they see good in the world and their questions keep me thinking.

If you were not in Your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?

I might be in science communication. I am passionate about all areas of science, and inspiring the younger generation to get involved, science will save the world! I also might have been a stand-up comedian. That’s how I met my husband, and I always wonder, what if…