Jessica L. Nielson, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Jessica L. Nielson

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-624-9469

Lab Phone 612-626-5168

Office Address:
8-104 Phillips Wangensteen Building

Mailing Address:
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
F282/2A West-B
8393A (Campus Delivery Code)
2450 Riverside Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Lab Address:
625 Diehl Hall

Administrative Assistant Name
Teneshia Collins

Administrative Email

Postdoc, Bioinformatics, University of California San Francisco

NRSA Post Doc, University of California, San Francisco

PhD, Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of California Irvine

BS, Biology, Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona, CA


I received my BS in biology from Cal Poly Pomona, CA; completed my PhD from UC Irvine in 2010 in anatomy and neurobiology, and my postdoctoral training in bioinformatics and multivariate statistics at UC San Francisco. I became a jointly appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota in 2017.

The overarching purpose of my lab is to understand and treat trauma. Research in my lab utilizes a multidisciplinary approach, merging the fields of neurobiology, psychiatry and data science to identify more precise "bio-types" of trauma psychopathology than traditional diagnostic criteria, and potential novel targets for treatment. I use established and emerging machine learning methods with multi-modal data spanning across a diverse range of diagnostic categories for neuropsychiatric disorders. My approach can be used to run hypotheses on in silico models to understand the complexity involved in these disorders, thus minimizing the need to test hypotheses in animal models (in vivo). I am currently funded as an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to apply these methods to large datasets from trauma-exposed patients to identify and validate dimensions of post-traumatic stress (PTS), relevant biological predictors, and precision treatment response trajectories.

Other areas of focus in my lab are dedicated to psychedelic neuroscience research and drug policy reform. I have been collecting data through an anonymous online survey to assess benefits and risks of ayahuasca use in naturalistic settings to treat symptoms of trauma. I am also conducting prospective clinical research into the neurological mechanisms of altered states of consciousness, currently with the drug psilocybin, to understand how such drug-induced experiences promote neuroplasticity and wellness.

My teaching interests focus on two main areas: The first is related to applied multivariate statistics and machine learning for precision medicine. The second is related to the neurobiology of emerging psychedelic-assisted therapies.


  • Health Informatics
  • Neurotrauma
  • Psychedelic Neuroscience

Awards & Recognition

  • 2022 - Heffter Research Institute Young Investigator Program
  • 2018 - NIMH Early Stage Investigator
  • 2015 - Michael Goldberger Award, National Neurotrauma Society
  • 2015 - National Neurotrauma Society Travel Award
  • 2014 - Society for Neuroscience/Chapter Postdoctoral Fellow Travel Award
  • 2013 - NINDS NRSA Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32)
  • 2011 - Lloyd Guth Award for Excellence in Graduate Research in Spinal Cord Injury
  • 2009 - Presentation Award, UCI Anatomy and Neurobiology Graduate Student Retreat
  • 2002-2003 - President’s List, Cal Poly Pomona
  • 2002-2003 - Dean’s List, Cal Poly Pomona

Professional Associations

  • 2007-present: Society for Neuroscience (SfN)
  • 2011-present: National Neurotrauma Society (NNS)
  • 2017-present: Open Data Commons for Spinal Cord Injury (ODC-SCI) Executive Committee
  • 2019-present: International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)


Research Summary/Interests

Dr. Nielson is a neurobiologist and data scientist working at the intersection of informatics and psychiatry to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of mental health disorders that follow trauma, including PTSD, depression, addiction and schizophrenia. She brings her expertise in neuroscience, big-data and precision medicine techniques to the University for data-driven discovery of clinically relevant models of maladaptive behaviors, with an interest in researching and developing novel therapies to treat the root causes of trauma.



Academic Interests and Focus

My teaching interests focus on two main areas. The first is related to applied multivariate statistics and machine learning for precision medicine. The second is related to the neurobiology of emerging psychedelic therapies.


  • HINF 5394 - graduate level class, authorization code required for undergrads
  • PSY 4993 - for Psychology majors
  • BIOC 4993/NSCI 4994 - for College of Biological Sciences


Clinical Interests

Neurological disorders (e.g. traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury) and mental health disorders (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, addiction and schizophrenia)