How can an engineer learn from neuroscientists

Kevin Spencer kspencer at
Wed Mar 12 19:42:17 EST 1997

nutty at brain (Madhusudan Natarajan) writes:


>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 

I don't know about your school, but at mine, interdisciplinary research
is encouraged and supported in a number of ways.  You do have to convince
the faculty to help you out, but since they do have a lot more experience
doing research, more often than not this is a good thing (in my experience).

>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). 

Maybe I lost part of the argument here -- why exactly do engineers and
neuroscientists need to work together?  The only people I hear calling for
this "integration" are engineers who want to figure out the brain.  That
is in fact what neuroscience is about.  How about if all the engineers
who want to figure out the brain (and I've met quite a few) become neuro-


> Neuroscientists 
>still remain isolated, and the few who do cross boundaries stick to 
>hidebound traditions.

Do you realize that neuroscience encompasses many different approaches?
People do research at the cognitive/behavioral level, at the molecular
level, with humans, with animals, etc.  By definition, it is "inter-
disciplinary".  I would not say that neuroscientists are at all "isolated".
Isolated from what?  Check out the size and breadth of the Society for
Neuroscience meeting and see if you still think that neuroscientists are
isolated.  As for "hidebound traditions", what do you mean?  Single-unit
recording?  Functional imaging?

Kevin Spencer
Cognitive Psychophysiology Laboratory and Beckman Institute
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
kspencer at

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