Why am I in Europe?

Joint Master in Neuroscience '15
Joint Master in Neuroscience ’15

Why am I in Europe? I get asked this a lot. My simple answer is that I wanted to explore Neuroscience more, before choosing a PhD program and Neuroscience masters in the US are too expensive. However long before I realized I wanted to postpone my PhD, I wanted to go to Europe. Generally, one of the science side benefits I love is the international community. How other groups around the world are working on the same issue that you are and how the really important findings often involve international teams, in many different labs.

There are also specific historic reasons why I wanted to study in Europe. Introspection refers to the process of thinking about how we think. It got a bad rap in the US because it had been touted as a way to gather data. It’s not an objective process and claiming that an idea about how your mind works, without any other evidence, is a valid way to develop a scientific theory is sketchy. Sketchy practices like this early introspective “research”, were among the things that helped lead to the behavioral revolution. Starting with the theories of John B. Watson and BF Skinner, the behavioral revolution focused exclusively on behavioral responses to stimuli, with models that excluded mental (cognitive) processes.

During the behavioral revolution it became taboo to study the mind (for more information see “The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective”, Miller, 2003, Trends in Cognitive Neuroscience). One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Europe is that the “behavioral revolution” never happened here. While behaviorism no longer is favored in the US, I think it still has left a mark, in how US scientists think about the mind.

In class, a little over a month ago, a professor was presenting an elective course we could take and he referred to introspection, as a valid way to start developing a testable hypothesis, in neuroscience. I think he was talking about learning and memory, but what I’m sure about is that his research focuses on animal models and basic cellular neuroscience. This makes the fact that he was talking about introspection (and not making fun of it) rather extraordinary.

By studding here, I am hoping that I can narrow my ideas about what I want to do, before I start a PhD. I am developing international contacts, which I hope will later help me develop international collaborations and research that benefits from a more global perspective. Finally, I am hoping that different history in psychology research, one without the behavioral revolution, leads to different ways of thinking about brain research. I am hoping to learn from these perspectives, not just ones related to the absence of the behavioral revolution, but any different perspectives. I am hoping to challenge cultural assumptions that have influenced my science education thus far and I am hoping that in doing so, I will become a better scientist.

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