On Monday night at Union Hall in Brooklyn, Story Collider and braiNY (the New York celebration of Brain Awareness Week) joined forces for a fabulous night of storytelling. Six people from different walks of life told personal stories that involved something to do with brain awareness. Some stories revolved around disease or trauma (which apparently can stem from dating a philosophy of the mind professor), while others focused on the career twists and turns that led them to be neuroscientists.
Of the latter, we had Mike Nitabach of Yale School of Medicine, and Stuart Firestein of Columbia University. Both dabbled in two professions before ultimately choosing neuroscience as a career. For Nitabach, an associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of genetics, neuroscience was not an immediate calling. In fact, he went to college with a legal career in mind. But after an interest in philosophy of the mind (no relation to my previous mention) led him to the biological sciences, he followed that path to graduate school to get his PhD. in neuroscience at Columbia.
In graduate school, Nitabach found the intense research of one “thing” to be a bit stifling. In college you learn about the breadth of the field, he explained, but in grad school, you need to focus on one thing for five years. “And it’s a privilege,” he quipped. He began to think about law again, and when he graduated from Columbia, he signed up for three more years of graduate school—this time law school. After taking the bar and before starting an internship, he visited an old neuroscience graduate school friend at his new lab at New York University. Cue instant lab-envy.