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Meet: Wally Welker

Neurobiologist


photo of wally welker


Who I am:

I am an Emeritus Professor from the Dept. of Neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. I am eternally curious about the neural bases of behavior, thought, emotions, and perceptions.

I began by studying basic psychology, with an emphasis on sensory-motor expressions of a wide variety of animals. I decided early that I needed to learn about how the brain works and is constructed since the brain is the source of all our behaviors, emotions, thoughts, feelings and perceptions. So, I went to the University of Wisconsin in 1954 where Dr. Clinton Woolsey had set up one of the first laboratories for recording the electrical activity from the brain.

My Career Journey

I stumbled around by following my nose by thoroughly immersing my activities and mind in whatever discipline I tackled. I was initially interested in why different societies around the world were so different, why there was so much international hostility. To get more to the underlying causes, I decided to find out what were the psychological explanations of social and political behaviors that characterize the different societies around the world. Then, I saw that it was necessary to study emotional, cognitive and behavioral methods of exploring psychological and behavioral mechanisms. It then became clear that to understand these mechanisms, one needed to understand how the brain works and how it is constructed. These different phases of my educational career were not systematically or rationally explored, they merely followed one another in natural order from the more general to the more specific.

Likes/Dislikes about career
The most positive features were finding a training facility that encouraged individual initiative and apprenticeship training. Creativity was treasured, as were long, patient study, and hard, dedicated work. Having a highly trained, tolerant and kind tutor and mentor was absolutely crucial to my achieving progress and achievement. As trainees, we were encouraged to find our own research projects, but also to avail oneself of the latest knowledge available from the top researchers in the field as well as by reading in depth in the pertinent literature. We were advised never to be afraid to venture into unknown territory, and to do so by being well prepared to observe everything that happened, but not be convinced what the answers should be but to be open to new results.

The negative facets of my career were: not giving enough attention to my family, and to the importance of staying sober and clean, and not try to achieve euphoria by phony stimulants and depressants. Life can be enjoyed and appreciated much more in a clean and sober state. Problems, miseries and difficulties can be solved without phony escapes. I was not guided in this and as a result, I wasted much time and money. Be aware of self-help and group supports when you encounter these kinds of these hazards of life.

Advice

Learn to know yourself; know what your best talents are; learn what you are not good at; and find out if you can improve in these areas. Be alert to what subjects, activities and people turn you on. Always treasure quiet times wherein you can explore your inner desires, feelings and mental traits. Be honest about your mistakes; enjoy achievement and hard work; and have patience and tolerance for ambiguities and uncertainties. Find a wide variety of experts to whom you can turn for guidance and advice. If you want an answer to a question, seek out the wisest person available, and don't hesitate to go to the top if that is where the wisdom is. Don't try to go too fast or too far with a difficult problem without seeking input. Take a break and gaze at the scenery or daydream to allow your jumbled thoughts to simmer down or resolve.

Preparation for career

I learned early (when 13-14 years old) to observe everything, to try to describe, count and remember whatever I saw, touched, tasted, smelled, heard, etc. I learned to sit quietly in solitude (usually somewhere in nature) to daydream, and just inspect whatever I saw, heard or felt: the stars, clouds, leaves, ants, a flowing stream, the wind, flowers, an animal, a person, a building, a landscape. All these simple everyday things are chocked-full of a zillion images and ideas. Devour them. Experiment with everything. Learn how to tell truth from fiction by exploring, experimenting, testing things, proposing explanations, and then testing them. You will be teaching yourself scientific methods just in your curiosity and play.

Influences

My parents; for allowing ample free time in my childhood to play in whatever ways I wanted. Teachers: in grade school, high school, in college, in postdoctoral training, in marriage; all of whom gave guidance, encouragement, time and their listening ear at various times during my career. Companions: my wife, my children, my friends, relatives; people who could see through me, criticize me when I needed it, or advise me if I got blocked in thought, action, decision or emotion.

Personal Information

I always had animal pets, and raised several types of species of mammals (monkeys, rodents, carnivores) and some birds from birth to adolescence. I learned much of what is important in biology by observing, feeding, taking care of, and turning free, animal behavior. You can learn what the brains of an animal must be doing by watching what that animal does.

My main hobby is learning as much as I can about all that I can, including biology, geology, geography, chemistry, physics, engineering, electronics, computers, meteorology, agriculture, architecture, human behavior, politics, war, peace, emotions, instincts, learning.

There are so many good books now on almost every subject. The facts about all aspects of the universe (including the human mind) are so fantastically complex and marvelous, that I enjoy reading factual books much more than I get from science fiction, novels, etc. Television can be a great mind-expander; especially nature shows, National Geographic and special series, music, dance, plays, and occasional sitcoms, history, comedy, romantic plays, etc. TV has much available that is not garbage in, garbage out. Computers and the Internet is a great medium to explore.


Learn more from my NeurOn Chats

 
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