PhD in neuroscience for a mathematician?

Leon furresta at my-deja.com
Sat Feb 12 22:47:37 EST 2000

In article <38A2D49D.96FD42AA at bio.bu.edu>,
  "Paul B. Cook, Ph.D." <pbcook at bio.bu.edu> wrote:
> Dear Leon,
> I'm sorry to read of your disappointing experience in your effort to
> the gap between wet and theoretical neuroscience.
> For what it's worth my experience is mostly positive.  There is a
> tremendous enthusiasm for incorporating computational work into the
> sciences - from the sub cellular (look at what Hodgkin and Huxley did
> our understanding of voltage-gated channels) to the systems (the use
> information theory in understanding coding nervous systems - i don't
> it but it exists).
> So this statement...
> > First, conventional neuroscientists consistently avoid conceptual
> > problems posed in mathematical terms, whether in meetings or in
> > communications. Moreover, I’ve perceived overt hostility toward
> > theoretical work or theoretical people among ‘wet’ people in
> > neuroscience. Why? I will never know.
> ...is that you've either had some bad luck in making contacts, been
> misguided by your advisor, or you've been unable to express yourself
> clearly or in a way that can appreciated by your audience.
> Not everyone understands diffEQs, not everyone understands shunting
> inhibition, not everyone understands the importance of CBP-alpha
> regulation.  If the party you're addressing doesn't understand then
> your discussion so the material is accessible.  It's very easy to
> information in a way that is inaccessible.  The skill is presenting
it in a
> way that becomes understandable.
> Note, however, that ANYONE can run amok in neuroscience (not just
> mathematicians and physicists) yielding basically inaccessible
> information.  I've sat through many painful talks on some aspect of
> theoretical neuroscience and left with absolute NO appreciation for
> the investigator was addressing or why it was important.  If i were
to come
> across this person's grant in study section (i am not on study
section) i'd
> be very likely to reject it.
> Keep in mind that when i take the time to go to talks outside my
> area of expertise i typically attend minisymposia  - meaning the talks
> should be accessible to the general neuroscience audience.  These
talks can
> be a good way to catch up in a field i haven't had time to follow.
> always frustrating when they miss the mark.
> > The bottom line is that it is
> > very unlikely to get a job from that people if you state on your
> > that you handle differential equations, nonlinear dynamics or
> > information theory, even if that means a couple of years learning
> > subjects from scratch. On the other hand, if your CV says that you
> > how to handle an electronic microscope (something that could take
> > three months or so), that counts a lot, and could make you a lot
> > attractive to them.
> This is partly true.  If you apply for an EM job, then you'd better
> how to handle a scope.  If you've applied for a molecular
neuroscience job
> you'd better know how to handle gels.  If you've applied for an
> electrophysiology position you'd better know how to handle a patch
> amplifier.  If your a theoretical person and want to move to wet
labs, then
> seek out a lab, volunteer to wash glassware and start asking questions
> about how to do experiments. - don't expect to get a job that requires
> skills you don't have.
> > Second, if you plainly want to join theoretical people, they won’t
> > you either if you don’t have a degree in Physics or Math, which is
> > my case. Having a high degree in biology seems to be completely
> > irrelevant for them.
> This may be true, but my knowledge of the employment practices in
> fields is limited.  I do know that the wise mathematicians and
> interested in neuroscience turn to the biologist (who spends most of
> her/his time in the lab doing experiments) for perspective on how to
> their models relevant while the wise biologist seeks out the
> because they have the background to handle diffEQs and think in
> computational terms.
> Paul B. Cook
> Terry’s witty retort is what I was talking about when I wrote ‘overt
hostility’ on my previous message.
On the other hand, Paul’s posting confirms some of the things I
suspected before. Communication skills are an asset in their own right.
I guess if you mix good communications skills with good science and
solid principles, that would make a successful scientist. However, if
you add too much communication and forget to put in ethics, what do you
get? A politician, maybe? Or also a successful scientist? Or both?
However, Paul’s real point is that you definitely have to show your
practical skills before talking about ideas, and that means Robert
would do well in learning some hocus-pocus, in addition to English :)

About wet labs, been there, done that. However, I always had the
feeling that the experiment could have been done better if my
supervisor had decided to sit down and try to figure out what the
previous data meant. He would never do that.
That is why I decided to return to medical practice. It’s a lot more
rewarding than volunteering to wash glassware, and you don’t even have
to apply for grants. I may not be wise, but my patients seem to feel
well with me.
By the way, what do you think of my current communication skills, Paul?
I think I’ve improved a lot, considering that English is not my native

God bless you, and keep on the good work.



Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net