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Meet: Eric Chudler

Neuroscience Researcher
University of Washington

photo of eric chudler doing demonstration in classroom


What I do:

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 brain processes pain signals
  • Parkinsons disease affects the brain
  • 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 submitted.

    Advice

    Follow the career path that interests you most. It is fine to get advice from parents and teachers, but the ultimate decision must be your own.

    Influences

    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.

    Personal Information

    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
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