As a basic neuroscience researcher, I perform experiments related to
how the nervous system works. I suppose if you had to label me, I would
consider myself to be a "behavioral neurophysiologist." My current research
interests include how:
the nervous system reacts to nerve injury.
My Career Journey
My family traveled quite a bit when I was young. I went to elementary,
junior and senior high school in several places including Kuala Lumpur
(Malaysia), Kobe (Japan) and Los Angeles. When I started college at
UCLA in 1976, I wanted to be a marine biologist. However, I changed
my mind when I volunteered to work in the laboratory of Dr. John Liebeskind
in 1978. Dr. Liebeskind was a pioneer in the field of pain research
and was one of the first to investigate the brain's own system of pain
relief. I continued to work in Dr. Liebeskind's lab until I graduated
from UCLA with a B.S. degree in psychobiology in 1980.
For graduate school, I attended the University of Washington in Seattle
and received an M.S. degree (1983) and Ph.D. (1985) from the Department
of Psychology. Then it was off to the east coast and the National Institutes
of Health for my post-doctoral training (1986-1989). In 1989, I headed
north for a position as an instructor in the Department of Neurosurgery
at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I was fortunate to get
back to Seattle and the University of Washington in 1991 where I did
some teaching in the Department of Psychology before taking my current
research position in the Department of Anesthesiology.
Preparation for Career
I have always been interested in science, but not necessarily neuroscience.
As a child, I was fascinated by fish and insects. My teachers often
commented on how I would read every book in the school library about
a particular subject. (Even now, my wife laughs at me when I bring home
tons of books on one topic.) It was not until college that I became
interested in the nervous system and how the brain works. It sometimes
takes a long time to decide the career path that is best.
Likes/Dislikes about career
The best part of my job is being able to follow my own research interests.
I decide what experiments to do, how to do them and when to do them.
Sometimes that means long hours but I am the only one to blame. Of course,
someone has to fund my research (usually the National Institutes of
Health) and a large part of my job is writing research applications.
You see, I am in a non-tenure track position. All of my salary comes
from grant support; if I do not have grant support, I do not have a
job. Writing grants is the most difficult aspect of my career. It takes
a tremendous amount of time and effort to write a good grant. Moreover,
even if a grant application is good, there is no guarantee that it will
be funded. There is not enough money to fund all the grants that are
Follow the career path that interests you most. It is fine to get
advice from parents and teachers, but the ultimate decision must be
My father stands out as the person who has influenced me the most.
He is not a scientist; he was a school teacher, then a vice-principal,
then a principal. Now he teaches teachers at UCLA. In fact, my father
was not particularly interested in science; rather, he was a history
major in college. He influenced me by encouraging me to study what interested
me without pressuring me to take a different or easier path. I still
send him my copies of my research papers. My family has a saying - "No
set time; no set schedule." What this means to me is that certain events
and goals in life can come at any time and that the time it takes to
accomplish these goals cannot (and perhaps should not) be determined.
In addition to my research, I have developed an interest in science
education. Many of you may be aware of my "Neuroscience for Kids"
Web pages that I have been working on for almost two years. I also try
to visit schools in the Seattle area with a short presentation on the
nervous system. I always like to find out what students know and would
like to know about the brain.
My wife has put up with this "science thing" for a long time now.
I test out some of my ideas on her and my daughter (7 yr. old). My daughter's
friends like to visit - some days we look at skulls, some days we make
plaster casts of brains and some days we just play soccer in the backyard.
My son (4 yr. old) is interested in robotics (Legos) and volcanology
(baking soda and vinegar volcanoes).
Sports have always been a part of my life. I played baseball in Little
League and then basketball on my junior and senior high school teams.
I still get out and play basketball once or twice a week. I have also
coached my daughter's soccer team for two years. It is great to see
how the players have improved in only a short time.
Learn more from my NeurOn Chats
Brain Awareness Week