I was always interested in neuroscience and also in computers and data analysis so I was excited to work in a retina lab because what happens inside the eye is a very small part of the brain, but it has hallmarks of the more complex parts with several layers of processing. You have to take all the visual information coming into your eye and compress it into a small number of neurons from the eye into the brain; it is a form of data encoding. You can keep this piece of brain tissue alive for a long time on a glass slide with electrodes in it, and project small movies on it and the electrodes pick up how the cells respond. So you can get a lot of data all at once from cells that are simultaneously reacting to input.
In general, the quality of the faculty that participate in the program is just stellar and it is remarkable how closely involved the faculty are with the students, especially in the first year of the program when you get different research experience in different labs. More or less every professor that participates in this program has lunch with or talks to students and then is available for Q&A so you really get to know the research of many different professors participating in the program. The people running the program are fantastic and very thoughtful about the development of students and the fostering of the community within the program.
I joined Knewton after finishing my Ph.D. Here we work with top educational partners that create educational content. We personalize these products, watching students’ work online, seeing what they are getting right and what they are getting wrong. If they are struggling we try to identify their weak spots and remediate them to the appropriate place. Obviously math and science often have direct grading that is easily interpretable by a computer, but we also work with language learning, history and other disciplines. I work with 12 or 13 data scientists, many of whom have doctoral degrees, and four of them come from neuroscience labs.