Chris’ story

What does psychology mean to me?

Psychology permeates everything in my life. It ranges from an eccentric teacher that I had in high school who called himself “Mr. X” that inspired me to pursue psychology and in so doing completely transformed my life. Psychology gives me insight into my own behaviour and the challenges that I face in life, whatever those may be. In my work it compels me to understand how the brain works and why it fails, affecting a range of psychological processes, from those that are constantly making predictions about what will happen next to ones that help us to learn, so vital for succeeding in life. In a nutshell, could we really do anything useful without that remarkable organ inside our heads that creates our perceptions, existence and curious behaviours? I for one cannot imagine a life without psychology and neuroscience. It would be like sitting inside your dream car not knowing what you can really do with it.

Are you ready to take your mind for a spin? Who knows where it could take you …

My Background

Sometimes the route taken is more interesting that the destination. I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. My father defected with us to the United States in 1984, so I am a first generation immigrant to the US (and more recently the UK). Happy to tell anybody how we escaped over a drink.

Neuroscience drew me in when I was a pre-doctoral student in Mortimer Mishkin’s laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in the U.S.A. At the NIH, I tried to be helpful to Drs. Jonathan Fritz and Richard Saunders with the auditory recognition memory project. Following Jonathan’s guidance, I subsequently completed doctoral work with Mitch Sutter at the University of California at Davis, where I used illusions and electrophysiological recordings from neurons to study how the brain stabilizes sound in natural settings, important for a number of reasons including being able to hold a conversation in a pub.

Gregg Recanzone, Ken Britten, David Woods and Michael Merzenich were on my PhD committee and were impervious to bribes. As a PhD student I was also taking part in quite a bit of “moonlighting” (collaboration in the name of training and science was my excuse to Mitch). I moonlighted in the labs of Kathy Baynes (dyslexia collaboration), David Woods (human audio-visual selective attention and fMRI), and William Jagust (on MRI markers of cognitive decline in the elderly).

All of these projects were successful in large part because of the wonderful people I was working with, and in part because of our unwavering drive to solve difficult problems. These collaborations and my work with my PhD supervisor Mitch helped me early on to develop my use of the latest brain imaging and neurophysiology techniques to understand both normal and impaired brain function.

Following this I went to the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tuebingen, Germany with Nikos Logothetis, to bring the human and animal work closer together by way of brain neuroimaging. Nikos was and continues to be tremendously supportive and because of that I tried to be as productive as possible on all fronts, including having with my wife Amanda two wonderful kids Julian (2005) and Maya (2007) at the Frauen Klinik in Tuebingen.

In the fall of 2008, I joined the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in North East England, where my laboratory seems to continue to tackle only challenging questions. Our goal is to contribute towards understanding the neural mechanisms of communication and to impact on the treatment strategies and options available for perceptual and cognitive disorders in communication in people with stroke or brain degeneration.

Previous Positions

California State University, Chico – B.A. in Psychology (1992-1997)
University of California, Davis – Ph.D. in Systems Neuroscience (1998-2004)
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics – Post Doctoral Fellow (2004-2008)

The spice of life

Science, bicycling, funk guitar and fighting the North Sea with a board and a sail. Reading “damn good books” such as those by Jim Hurford.