John Hernandez


I am gay and I am a behavioral neurobiologist passionate about studying substance use disorders.//


I started my research career studying how aversive memories impact feeding behavior and the underlying neurophysiology in Aplysia Californica using sharp-electrode electrophysiology and pharmacological maniupulations. I then chose to study mice, where I examined how early-life alcohol self-administration experience impacted adult cognition and response to sex hormones. I had a brief stint studying how the brain of Taeniopygia guttata adapts to repeated auditory stimuli of differing behavioral valences using electrophysiology. My Ph.D. work examined how the rat orbitofrontal cortex, a key prefrontal brain region for making cue-outcome associations, underlies differences in expressed alcohol preference using in vivo electrophysiology and chemogenetics.

Currently, I am working in the lab of Dr. Karla Kaun, using Drosophila as a model system to evaluate the behavioral and neurobiological differences between animals that decide to get drunk or not. I will also be examining the neural basis of opiate self-administration. These projects will uniquely prime our research team to evaluate how the development of alcohol and opiate preferences are similar and/or different.

Outside of research, I’m very passionate about outreach. I was the Chair of the Outreach committee while getting my Ph.D. at UMass Amherst and I am currently an executive board member of M.U.S.E Mentorship, where I and a group of enthusiastic scientists are actively mentoring underrepresented students in STEM. My personal goal is to help underrepresented students, especially LGBTQ+, get the feedback, support and networking opportunities that they need to advance their career goals. I personally believe it’s time to show academia that the minds of LGBTQ+ individuals will not only enhance science as a whole, but our unique perspectives are also key for advancing science.

An additional outreach endeavor, that I will start in the Kaun lab, is to engage with local rehabilitation centers to volunteer work with those who choose to seek help for substance use disorders. Substance use disorders are diseases that stem from complex interactions of genetics, environment, trauma, income inequality and political disenfranchisement. Personally, I have been greatly impacted by alcoholism and opiate abuse that afflicts my loved ones. Especially in the gay community, substance use disorders are often overlooked, discounted and are often a key part of secular gay culture. My goal is to engage with the LGBTQ+ community and help develop a support system for individuals suffering from substance use and abuse disorders.