I am Diana Xie, a 22 year old neuroscience researcher at Duke University, and I just successfully funded a new online TV show about brain science with Kickstarter. Ask me anything.
Edit 2: Now my mentor (JF) has made his own IAmA! Check it out: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1reafj/i_am_dr_jeanfrancois_gari%C3%A9py_a_brain_researcher/
Edit 1: Thank you everyone for your comments and questions! JF (jfgariepy) and I had a lot of fun answering them. Very amusing that entire threads were dedicated to psychoanalyzing me and studying the details of this title :) Anyways, it was great being here! Thanks to your support, we'll be producing an awesome show that will teach in-depth concepts in neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy to everyone on the Internet.
In May, I completed my studies in Biology and Pharmacology. I then joined a laboratory at Duke University that seeks to understand how human cognition works and how it is disrupted in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. There, I met Dr. Jean-François Gariépy (JF), an ethologist who has been investigating how the brain controls behaviors for a decade. He became my mentor and showed me how to conduct scientific research.
During my training as a scientist, I discovered some of the fascinating knowledge that we already have on how the brain works - how neurons transmit signals, how neuromodulators influence those signals, how the brain makes decisions in complex situations, such as those confronted by social animals.
JF had the idea that discussions among scientists about the brain should be aired for free to everyone on the Internet. I thought this was a brilliant idea. On November 1st, we launched a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund NEURO.tv, a not-for-profit online TV show motivated by these beliefs. At the time, I thought the campaign was a crazy idea, because of how ambitious the project and its Kickstarter goal were. However, we have now reached the full $25,000, and it’s been quite an adventure getting there. Our project was backed by neuroscientists and psychologists from Duke, Harvard, MIT, Oxford and many other universities. We have been exchanging with scientists, philosophers and art professors around the world who have expressed their enthusiasm about our project, and the messages of support and pledges that we have received are very moving.
We have now reached our goal with 7 days left to the campaign, and JF has announced that if we reach our $45,000 stretch goal, he will "Dance for Science". JF has pretty much lived in scientific laboratories all his life and has never danced. He contacted Boris Penton, one of the most innovative Dubstep dancers in the world, member of the well-known Dragon House crew. Boris has accepted to train JF for 4 hours if we reach our stretch goal, so JF can produce a 3-minute dubstep dance video. I find it unlikely that JF can learn to dance Dubstep in 4 hours, but I like the idea of NEURO.tv developing new links with people outside of science who might be interested to learn about the brain, and conversely motivate scientists to care about what's happening in the world outside of science. Hopefully, this is the kind of dialogue between scientists and society that initiatives like NEURO.tv can stimulate.
Proof: http://kickstarter.neuro.tv/dianareddit.png Campaign: http://kickstarter.neuro.tv
I am a humble research assistant, currently applying to grad school to become a PhD student. I just received my undergraduate degree and am taking a gap year to work on my research and NEURO.tv.
What are some of the topics you hope to cover in the first season?
From molecular and cellular biology - how proteins and neurons work - to how brains interact, model the environment and each other to handle social interactions.
Two quick questions. 1) Why does schizophrenia commonly begin to manifest during the teens? Is it related to neural development? Good luck on your work.
Hi, 1) Schizophrenia does begin to manifest much more often during teenage years and early adulthood. Scientists have found genetic and environmental causes that are associated with higher risks for schizophrenia, but the particular reason why it appears during this stage of development are still unknown. Obviously, many physiological changes occur during those years so it is likely that concomitant changes in hormones, brain development or other biological factors might interact with the known causes of schizophrenia to induce the psychotic episodes.
2) There are known changes happening to the brain in schizophrenia. van Os and Kapur ( http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60995-8/fulltext ) note some of the areas that have been known to show anatomical differences. One notable change is in dopaminergic transmission. There is even a hypothesis that increased dopaminergic signalling might be the source of the psychotic episodes in schizophrenia, although it remains an open question whether dopaminergic transmission is simply modified by the psychosis or if it's really the underlying cause ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine_hypothesis_of_schizophrenia )
If we alleviate suffering in the current generation, all generations going forwards will be less susceptible to mental illnesses. Will your show be more for academics or the lay-person? Will it discuss potential policy suggestions or just stick to the underlying science?
Mainly stick to the underlying science, although some discussions on policy did come up in Episode 6, not aired yet.
Our show is directed both to academics and to lay-person who are motivated in learning about the details of science and how it's done.
Congratulations on your motivation, most productive thing I've done all day is a load of laundry. So here are the questions my meager mind can muster: what groundbreaking research is happening right now that regular folks may not be aware of? what "unethical" neurological experiments would you like to see performed or perform yourself? will you be on the show?
I think the work of Kay Tye at MIT is amazing. She is trying to identify the neural circuits that are involved in mood disorders, anxiety and depression. They target neurons in some brain areas that are equipped with light receptors that have been introduced genetically, and then with a very intense light pointed at the brain they are able to shut down or activate these neurons to see if they are involved in mood disorders.
Well I'm very used to considering the safety and well-being of subjects in experiments so in all honesty, I have never thought about it before!
For the show, yes I will be a co-host with JF!
great article, do you think that isolating and creating designer drugs to enhance/deprive people of certain emotional responses would be beneficial to us humans? what do you think of applications of such drugs in the military or therapeutic sectors?
Ultimately, the question in the therapeutic sector is whether it benefits the patient and the doctor considers it a safe product. In these circumstances, drugs can definitely be beneficial.
For the military, I do not expect such substances to be allowed to enhance performance.
My son has been treated for Leukemia at Duke Children's Health Center and I want to say that Duke fucking rocks!! Just had to get that out of my system! Awesome bunch of men and women up there.
Indeed they rock!
Hi Diana, I am a 21 y/o psychology major and have just finished my associates at a community college and, transferring to a four-year university. I am utterly fascinated by the field of neuroscience and I was wondering what kind of advice you can give to somebody who wishes to become a researcher and ultimately work in the field? P.S. Congratulations on reaching your kickstarter goal!
Thanks! I am very early in my career, but from the advice that I've received from many graduate students, the goal is to not be discouraged by challenges and failures, and start your research early, even if it is just volunteer work to begin with. Find something that really is of interest to you.
discussions among scientists about the brain should be aired
What kind of format do you have in mind?
Will you/have you developed some sort of thematic outline to do this? Or can viewers expect more a discussion of topics du jour?
What about viewer interaction with the scientists? What have you thought about disclosing information on current research?
The format will depend a lot on how much money we raise. Visually, we'd love it to look like the Huffington Post Live, but with neuroscientists, with 1-hour long, in-depth discussions.
The themes will be different every episodes, and therefore complementary. But we won't go for the "topics du jour" in the sense of closely following the discovery every week. We are looking at providing in-depth looks at a particular subject every month.
I think it would be nice to have a chat room in parallel that could guide the host. For disclosing of information on current research, this is specific to every field. In some fields within neuroscience, you can talk about it as much as you want, you are the only person in the world interested in your subjects. In other fields where hundreds of laboratories are after the same questions (like long-term potentiation research in the hippocampus), you want to keep current research secret until it gets published.
I don't really have a question but I wanted to congradulate you. The world needs moee knowledge, keep up the good work :)
Thank you so much!
As a second year Neuroscience undergraduate I had no idea I would end up here three years later. I seized opportunities that were interesting to me and along the way found research topics that I love.
Diana, what are your thoughts on women in science? In terms of viability, advancement etc. I know it's very dependant on your mentor too.
I encourage women interested in science to pursue academic careers. I see many women in science classes, but much fewer as you go up the academic ladder. I would like to see more women populate academia and follow successful careers as professors, which may require a change in University policies.
Will you donate your brain to science after you pass on?
The thought never crossed my mind, but now that you mention it...
Personally, I think this idea is awesome.
I work in medical/scientific marketing and know there is a lot of collaboration going on, which is a good thing, but sometimes I get the impression many scientists are more interested in gaining the kudos for themselves, instead of sharing their thoughts, theories and data.
I agree, and our goal is to draw attention to the scientific questions.
Will you be covering any computational neuroscience?
Definetely, Sebastian Seung has sent us an awesome photo of him during the Kickstarter campaign and I hope we can get people like him to come talk to us about computational neuroscience.
Do you hate the UNC Tarheels since you're at Duke?
My sister is from UNC and I am at Duke. So no :)
Hello! I am a high school student who would love to be a neuroscientist some day. Do you have any advice on how to better pursue that goal, either right now or later?
I would recommend joining a lab during your undergrad studies. From there, take classes that interest you and think about what you would like to research!
Hi there Diana,
Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA.
I’m a licensed mental health counselor who uses expressive therapy techniques in my practice. The use of projective play, aesthetic distancing, purposeful ritual, and methods beyond talk therapy I find incredibly helpful within my practice.
Does any part of your work look at therapeutic interventions and what’s happening in the brain? I’d be curious to see what difference there is between talk therapy and the more embodied approaches.
I do not make research on applications, but we are indeed interested in links between physiological states, hormones, and social behaviors, and this knowledge might eventually contribute to improving therapies.
Best way for one to become smarter, memorize things better? What do you know about neural plasticity and myelination over time? I hope to go onto dental school but the material that is taught in health professional schools is daunting. Where did you go for undergrad?
The Internet is full of claims about tricks that improve memory, but they are not all trustable. A nice review on the subject by a scientist: http://blog.brainfacts.org/2013/05/how-can-we-enhance-working-memory/
I did my undergrad at Duke.
Yes also here to congratulate you on your success so far. Keep it going!!! Very interesting
what insight or new developements have you found in the cognitive sciences. As a perso who suffers from mental illness and cognitive problems what new medications or treatments are there to improve cognition?
A development I've found is the increasing attention towards NAC (N-acetylcysteine), an interesting amino acid to investigate for the treatment of some psychiatric disorders. You can read more about in this review: http://www.cell.com/trends/pharmacological-sciences/abstract/S0165-6147(13)00002-3 These works are preliminary, and they will need reproduction for confirmation of the effects and potential widespread application.
I was just talking to a friend who wanted to pursue a career in neuroscience. I'm going for NP in Emergency Med. and I'm just here to say that this is expected to be an awesome show and I know dozens of people that this will actively help, myself included. So just wanted to say congrats on the funding and I hope it goes well.
Thanks so much! Glad you like our project :)
What's your position on the brain/soul duality?
edit I see I asked a controversial question.
All of our cognitive processes ultimately arise from the activity of cells in our brains. So I would say that I do not believe in brain/soul duality.
Who is your favorite scientist? Living or dead but not someone you've worked with.
Well I'm reading Neuroeconomics by Paul Glimcher currently and I think he has made an important contribution to neuroscience by bringing theoretical elements from mathematics and economics in order to understand the brain processes underlying decision-making.
Economics? Can you expand on that?
One important contribution that was foundational to neuroeconomics was a study finding that some parts of the brain show activities that are correlated to the value of rewards being selected from the environment during decision-making. The interesting thing about neural activity was that not only the value of the reward was encoded, but when that reward was provided on an uncertain basis (only a percentage of the time), the neural activities would also be modulated by this probability.
As a current undergrad in biology, I have decided to pursue neuroscience as my academic pursuits, as well as hopefully someday performing research and being a professor!
My questions are the following: What can you recommend to get my foot in the door in terms of the field? Should I be focusing on research or interning somewhere? Also, do you intend for NEURO.tv to be a "by scientists, for scientists" kind of program, or do you plan to make it accessible to those who are merely interested in one particular aspect of neuroscience (i.e. the formation of plaques in the brain relating to alzheimers, etc)?
Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing it develop!
First thing that comes to mind is to start research in a laboratory and be productive, making positive connections with the scientists you work with and learn from their experience.
For NEURO.tv, we would like to make it accessible to both academia and to people in the general public that are interested in the details and the way science is made. The subjects will be very broad.
I have nothing really to ask but I felt like commenting since I am a former Nic Schooler and remember seeing you around the LSRC. Glad to see you being successful!
Thanks so much, glad to hear!
What made you pursue neuroscience? What is the most fascinating thing you've learned in your area?
Thanks for doing this AMA and congratulations!
Thanks so much!
I've always been fascinated by the mechanisms that ultimately lead to human behavior, so naturally neuroscience was an interesting field to me. Among the most fascinating things are the events that happen in our brain before we make conscious decisions. I wrote a blog post about this: http://blog.brainfacts.org/2013/10/from-mind-to-movement/
How far do you think we're away from a computer system capable of simulating something the size of the human brain, Blue Brain style? And how far from simulating an actual human brain reconstructed from a preserved sample? How high would you estimate the chances that current cryonics methods preserve enough information about the brain to eventually allow a digital reconstruction? Can brains restart from a total loss of electrical activity without permanent personality changes?
What's up with this weird stuff?
Very far, even more because preserved samples will pose important technical issues and potentially loss of information. Same applies for cryonics methods, in principle possible, but even if the sample was perfectly preserved, lots of information is in the types of receptors on the neural membranes, and how we could recover this is still not clear.
Total loss of electrical activity: I do not know of any study that could address this question, even sleep and coma are not total loss of electrical activity so it might be impossible to answer.
I do not know about the caloric reflex test!
What is your aim for your career? Do you have any specific goals?
I just finished applying to grad schools. Ultimately my goal is to become a professor and perform research on the brain.
My mom is also a Duke employee (professor) and I live in Durham as well. Just came here to say that :)
So does Duke have a shot against FSU in the championship game?
I'm one of the few people at Duke who does not follow Duke basketball. Judge me as you will!
Speaking of dubstep (well, at least one of a similar genre) and neuroscience, what's your take on this random study: "Electrocortical effects of MDMA are potentiated by acoustic stimulation in rats" and other studies like it? Particularly the "It is also clear that some environmental conditions can influence the toxicity of this drug in humans" part.
While "JF" is exposed to dubstep before, during, while dancing, and after, can you measure his brain activity and report on it? Even sans MDMA.
And if you can get the proper permits to administer MDMA for this experiment, administer that too..? That wouldn't be unethical, would it? If so, then skip this step.
Nice study, very interesting that they have tried acoustic responses inspired by the rave scene! I have no comment for now because I have never read the study.
For JF I wish there was a way to do this. It is a very rare in human society to find an individual who has truly never danced. Unfortunately brain recordings will be hard to implement in that situation due to the noise from movements. But if you happen to know how to handle EEGs while subjects move freely, let me know!
Well, if you have a portable EEG headset, there's an app for that. Granted results with this setup aren't reliable, but this little experiment wouldn't be anything more than just a fun exercise anyway. Just an idea.
Ouh, looks very interesting!
hi diana! why do you have such a great sense of fashion?
I like to optimize things in my life, including my way of dressing. Also I spend too much time on Pinterest.
What is your favorite book about the brain, and what is your favorite book in general?
- Dale Purves' neuroscience.
- I don't have a favorite book but my favorite authors are David Foster Wallace and Cormac McCarthy
Hi Diana, First of all Congratulations on reaching your funding! I love the idea of establishing a dialogue between the scientists and society. People like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Richard Dawkins, known as science popularizers are great. I actually have been having the idea of doing a youtube channel in which various Duke personalities are interviewed as a means of creating a multidisciplinary awareness, and also having dance parties whenever major scientific discoveries are made, so I feel we've tapped into some kind of similar science idea gestalst. I've been interested in the work of the Brazilian Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis at Duke and I've heard he will be showcasing some of his research at the 2014 World Cup. I am a visual arts and digital music producer very much interested in neuroscience so I'll definitely be following your show!
Thanks so much!
What kind of a kid were you in high school? What's your early background, if you're willing to share.
I was a fairly quiet, shy kid up until college, and I liked playing video games. I grew up with a lot of scientists or prospective scientists around me.
Hello! My girlfriend is really interested in neurology and I want to help her out with becoming a neurologist. What are some steps she can take to become one? She's currently 16 and is graduating high school in July 2014.
I'm not pursuing that career path, but contacting medical students would be a good idea!
Hi, Diana. Do you believe free will is an illusion?
I believe in determinism, and I think free will is an illusion :)
I have a theory about the real cause of schizophrenia. Where can I go to with this theory so that it may reach professionals who have the credentials and means to exploit this theory to help schizophrenics?
Typically scientists who want to advance a theory will do it by performing the research themselves. Even within the scientific community, it is rare that one individual will convince another to perform research furthering a particular theory of his own. That being said, theories can be expressed on many platforms including blogs, and if those theories end up being validated and useful, they might be used.
Hello! Do you have a "favourite" neurotransmitter - one that you find particularly fascinating for any reason?
As a 22 year old neuroscientist, I say this is awesome. I will always support dancing in the name of science- especially neuroscience.
Thanks so much :)
When you say you are a researcher, what position exactly do you occupy? Are you a PhD student?
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