Meet Moriel Zelikowsky

Moriel Zelikowsky is a Los Angeles native neuroscientist. She received her PhD in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) from UCLA in 2011. It would be hard to believe that she initially wanted to become a filmmaker, but her path led to becoming a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. David Anderson’s research group at CALTECH, investigating the neural circuits mediating the effects of acute and chronic stress on subsequent social and asocial behavior. Zelikowsky has co-authored numerous research articles in her field and was awarded the 2016 L’OREAL for Women in Science Award, a NARSAD Young Investigator award, and a K99 Pathway to Independence award from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Top: Cos

Top: Cos

Top: Cos, Jeans:    True Religion

Top: Cos, Jeans: True Religion


I would say my career path has been non-standard, as I started out thinking I was going to be a filmmaker. Now here I am, a neuroscientist. So I think many little things along the way put me on this path. A big formative experience was during my PhD., when I started doing a lot of experimental science. I realized how much I loved being in the lab, and being able to actually get real answers to questions that were open questions at the time.


It’s definitely a challenge in many respects. A lot of the time it feels like you are constantly trying to run up a big mountain, and there doesn’t seem to be a top to it. It’s also hard because the higher up on the mountain you get, the less and less women there are. I had lots of female colleagues at the earlier stages of my career, but as I advanced, there seemed to be less women. That said, I have been fortunate to have excellent mentors and role models, both male and female, who have been highly committed to supporting and advancing women in science. Thanks to the many advocates for women in science, and my network of friends and family, I’ve always felt supported and empowered as I move through each stage. My best advice would be to fake it till you make it. A lot of the times if I’m feeling insecure, I just tell myself how amazing I am and how badass my data is, and how I know “x” better than anyone else knows “x,” and just act the act. Soon enough, you start believing yourself, and that confidence is key.


Climbing with women is very empowering and fun. I love how we cheer each other on and help each other out on hard moves with “girl beta,” moves to do on a climb that are specific for women. My most memorable trips were easily the few trips I took earlier this year with mostly women to El Potrero Chico in Mexico. It’s one of the most amazing and fun places to sport climb.


I study the neural circuits and mechanisms that underlie stress, and the effects of stress on fear, anxiety, and social behavior. I became interested in trying to understand how the brain encodes very traumatic experiences, such as those that generate disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as more chronic forms of stress, such as prolonged social isolation. I felt as though these are issues that are at the intersection of the current crises in mental health and at the forefront of open fields in neuroscience research.


I have tons of hilarious “lab moments”. Most of them involve extreme experiments where I, and whoever I’m working with, have had to sleep in the lab to collect data at random time points, or have had long days of experiments. One epic story I’ll never forget was towards the end of my graduate studies. I was working on the role of the hippocampus in storing traumatic memories. To test one of my hypothesis, I had to use a new technique that had been developed in a lab in Tucson, AZ. So somehow, it turned out that the easiest thing for me to do was take my delicate brain tissue, which were being stored at -80 degrees celcius, and drive them over to the lab in Arizona. I remember it was really hot outside, and I drove with the tissue on dry ice in the trunk of my little Prius the whole way blasting the air conditioner and barely stopping for breaks. It was pretty epic.


I love how dynamic my job is. No two days are ever really the same. Some days I might be at my desk writing a grant all day. Other days I might be at the microscope imaging some neurons. Then some days I might be doing surgery or reviewing a paper. It’s always different and always engaging. I love that.


Dress: Free People

Dress: Free People

Top: Cos, Jeans:    True Religion

Top: Cos, Jeans: True Religion

on her beauty routine

I love Lucas' Papaw Ointmentan Australian, fermented papaya balm, which I use on my lips and also on my cracked heels and hands, I also like Kiehl's Lip Balm and Burt's Bees Lip ShineI also love all of the face serums and oils from Aesop, like Aesop Women's Lucent Facial Concentrate. They are amazing and make my skin glow. Other then that, I use a really great moisturizing body lotion, Kiehl's Creme de Corps, or Dr. Bronner’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, and Bronner's soap for washing everything from my body to my face. I also use La Roche Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizer Cream with SunscreenHeritage Store Rosewater SprayNARS' The Multiple in Orgasm and Maybelline Volum' Express The Mega Plush Mascara.


There is something called Egyptian Magic all-purpose cream which is amazing. I have severely cracked heels and it works great!


I’m usually doing something after work like climbing or yoga, so we usually eat dinner European style, which is late! After dinner it’s fun to unwind with an episode of some series we are watching or a movie if we have the time. Then I walk the dogs, get in bed, and read for 15 minutes or more. If I don’t read before I sleep, my brain just doesn’t turn off! If I’m having problems falling asleep, I really like using essential oils like Radha Beauty Lavender Essential Oil or VITRUVI Bergamot Essential Oil to help relax me.

I’m definitely a morning person. I usually wake up around 6 AM, and go for a long trail run in Griffith Park with one of my dogs and sometimes a friend or my boyfriend. I love being out on the trails just as the sun is rising. It makes it feel like the day can’t go wrong after that kind of start. I usually pick some things from my backyard garden, press a big green juice, and read some news. Then it’s a quick shower and I’m out the door to work.
Top:    Outdoor Voices   ; Overalls:    Madewell

Top: Outdoor Voices; Overalls: Madewell

Moriel's favorite books

Amerika: The Missing Person by Franz Kafka, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré, Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes The Periodic Table by Primo Levi and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks


The Deerhunter, Days of Heaven, The Godfather, Chinatown


L & E Oyster Bar

Milk for good ice cream

Nightmarket Song

Silverlake ramen if you are willing to wait

Barbrix has an amazing burger that is super cheap if you are eating dinner late, after 10PM

Baco Mercat


Huntington Gardens

La Brea Tarpits


The Getty

Jumpsuit: Mara Hoffman, Shoes:    Stuart Weitzman   , Bag:    Baggu

Jumpsuit: Mara Hoffman, Shoes: Stuart Weitzman, Bag: Baggu

Photography by Claire Donoghue