How can an engineer learn from neuroscientists

Madhusudan Natarajan nutty at brain
Sat Mar 8 15:16:31 EST 1997

Jim Kroger (kroger at wrote:

: I find your statements to be an overgeneralization. You should concentrate
: on people, not programs. If there are labs at a campus working on different
: things, then so can you, time permitting. The cognitive science and 
: cognitive neuroscience programs in existence at UCLA have been distinctions
: that have had no effect on my work and which I've pretty much ignored. 
: The point is whether there are people working on what you want to work on,
: however many things that may be. 

	I'm not sure I completely agree. Ideally, your suggestion is 
perfect - however, its quite tricky to transcend that to the real world, 
and I think you're one of the luckier ones to have made it. 

I think that one can have several interests, but the system forbids you
from "actively" pursuing too many of them. How many advisors would like
their students to go and explore and spend a significant chunk of time
(albeit on research that IS interesting .. but) in someone elses lab? The
constraining factors are several like time, money (someone who feeds the
poor hungry grad. student, will also expect his pound of flesh... but then
one must realize that the money is not for free) , and in some cases
inter-departmental politicking. Conversely, how many people will spend 
"significant" amounts of time with students whom they know will NOT join 
their labs at any point int time. The altruistic ideal of teach all and 
communal benefit is often outweighed by the investigators own personal 
demanding dictates - "mundane" issues like tenure, grants etc. A student 
who does not sign up is very interesting and is to some extent free 
labor, but in the long run proves more expensive (results dont justify 

Thats the reason why a truly interdepartmental program needs people who do
everything and not a collection of people who can collectively do the same
thing. What we need is true integration of various disciplines (engineers
IN neuroscience) and not different specialists working together (engineers
AND neuroscientists). 

If one were in a large lab where there are several concurrent projects 
that handle different aspects (like engineering an MRI, and an 
application center like using that MRI to fruitful result), then the 
advisor would be too happy to see his advisee take an active interest in 
ALL disciplines and inegrate and lever off the other people... but that 
requires people who do everything, which we do not have. Neuroscientists 
still remain isolated, and the few who do cross boundaries stick to 
hidebound traditions.

Again, just my two bits. 
Madhusudan Natarajan		
					..and still partly at..	
Ward 5-223 : Ph (312) 503 0202		
Dept. of Physiology			Dept. of Biomedical Engineering
Northwestern University			University of Akron

"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has 
data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of 
theories to suit facts."    - Sherlock Holmes

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