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Becoming a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute


The joys of scientific research
Eric Kandel Scientist
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One of the things that struck me when I was in Harry Grundfest's lab, in talking to Harry, to Dom Purpura, to Stanley Crain, is how different laboratory work is in reality compared to what I thought. I mean, the conventional view of some people about science, my view about science, is scientists work in a dark room, looking into a microscope, and hallucinating to themselves. And nothing could be further from the truth. The science that I've experienced is a social enterprise. What's enjoyable about coming to the lab is the social interaction. I walk around and make rounds to see what's going on. We gossip. You know, we discuss lots of things unrelated to science. And it's enormously pleasurable. I would think few careers… I mean, every career has joy to it, but many people don't [know] how intrinsically enjoyable science is. And also, if you're fortunate, you come up with something completely new. You see something that no one has ever seen before. Or see it from another dimension that people haven't seen before. That is really quite fabulous. And I found it very rewarding.

The difficulty with it now compared to when I came along, when I came along, as I said before, if you could read and write you were funded. If you could show that you were serious, you were committed, you know, analogues of learning, you know, who would support that today as you suggested? But I was confident it might be… it seemed like a reasonable idea to me, and there was adequate funding for that. The scientific workforce was small, and the resources were substantial.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: laboratory work, scientists, social interaction, research, funding

Duration: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016