Feb. 10, 2021—According to neurobiologist Rafael Yuste, M.D., Ph.D., just like with recipes, language and cultural rituals, science is a tradition passed on from the older to the young. With his virtual talk held Feb. 5, presented as part of the biomedical graduate student-run UF Ph.D. Distinguished Lecture Series, Yuste aimed to give the next generation of scientists a peek into what consumes his team at his Columbia University laboratory.
“Science is passed on from generation to generation by lighting the intellectual flame in younger people. I hope that lectures like this one inspire people who are trying to decide what to do with their lives to pursue careers in science,” says Yuste, whose talk was titled “Can you see a thought? Neuronal ensembles as emergent units of cortical function.”
Yuste’s work looks to decipher the impact of neuron activity on behavior and mental states by focusing on neural circuits in the cerebral cortex of mice.
“Our results are consistent with the idea that the synchronous activity of groups of neurons generate perceptions and thoughts,” says Yuste.
Laura Falceto-Font, a cancer biology Ph.D. student in the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program and an organizer of this year’s lecture series, says Yuste was chosen to speak to UF students and faculty for his significant contributions to our understanding of the brain. Among Yuste’s many accomplishments are leading the Brain Activity Map, sponsored by the White House’s BRAIN initiative, as well as co-leading the International BRAIN Initiative.
“It’s good for students to observe someone who’s made so many contributions to science. When Dr. Yuste learned that there were not techniques good enough to research what he wanted to research, he invented the techniques he needed to investigate those areas,” says Falceto-Font.
Following Yuste’s talk, which exceeded 100 viewers, Falceto-Font and her fellow organizers hosted a virtual happy hour, limited to Yuste and 10 students. Students had the opportunity to engage with Yuste and ask him questions, and he offered advice culled from his four-decade career.
“Take the long view. Don’t worry about the money or the time it takes to achieve things. What matters is the end result,” says Yuste. “Don’t make decisions about your life and your career based on financial constraints, since finding your passion is much more important in the long run.”
Yuste’s message was received by Falceto-Font, who said there was one moment from Yuste’s talk that still echoes in her mind today.
“He said that researchers are never trained to do everything we end up doing. I hope that shows students that even though we’re not trained for every specific thing we do in our careers, we’re always developing skills to overcome obstacles and create new ways to approach problems,” she says.