PhD in neuroscience for a mathematician?

Leon furresta at
Tue Feb 8 21:37:32 EST 2000

In article <m7ya8wzltk.fsf at>,
  Bill Skaggs <skaggs at> wrote:
> Robert Martin <martin at> writes:
> > hi,
> >
> > i come from a mathematical background and would like to kind of
enter the
> > field of neuroscience/(biological)neural networks. I have read
quite a lot
> > in psychology and cog science as well.
> > any ideas where in the UK it is possible (and a good place) to do a
> > with this background?
> >
> I know people who've done this kind of thing, with good success, at
> University College London and at Edinburgh.  Actually, come to think
> of it, at Oxford too! (Working with Edmund Rolls.)
> 	-- Bill
> Now that you folks mention it, I’m just on the other side.
I come from a biological background, and I’m incredibly attracted to
neuroscience from a mathematical standpoint. During my graduate years I
took as many math courses as I could, and being not completely
satisfied, I’ve been studying math on my own in my spare time for
years. I think that I do have already some mathematical background, in
addition to my strong biological training.
However, I haven’t done well in the neuroscience world with this kind
of approach, and I think there are strong cultural reasons.
First, conventional neuroscientists consistently avoid conceptual
problems posed in mathematical terms, whether in meetings or in written
communications. Moreover, I’ve perceived overt hostility toward
theoretical work or theoretical people among ‘wet’ people in
neuroscience. Why? I will never know. The bottom line is that it is
very unlikely to get a job from that people if you state on your resume
that you handle differential equations, nonlinear dynamics or
information theory, even if that means a couple of years learning those
subjects from scratch. On the other hand, if your CV says that you know
how to handle an electronic microscope (something that could take you
three months or so), that counts a lot, and could make you a lot more
attractive to them.
Second, if you plainly want to join theoretical people, they won’t want
you either if you don’t have a degree in Physics or Math, which is not
my case. Having a high degree in biology seems to be completely
irrelevant for them.
So, my bizarre interest got me to an academic limbo, rejected by
everyone. I had to move to a completely new field, and eventually start
my own business.
If somebody could overcome this kind of problems from the point where I
started, I would like to read it.


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