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The mathematician studying consciousness - Meet Sridhar!

Where did you grow up?

Chennai, India

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to do something creative, but I didn't have any specific profession in mind.

What do you do now?

I work on what happens in brains (humans and flies) as they move from being awake to sleep (losing consciousness).

What drew you to this field?

It was by pure accident. My background is in mathematics and engineering. I got an opportunity during my masters program to work on a problem in clinical neuroscience that required a good deal of mathematical expertise. After I finished that internship, I realized this is something that I'm good at as well as something that I liked doing. This pushed me to explore it further.

What educational preparation did you have to do?

I previously had a masters degree that enabled me to apply for this PhD position.

I also did several internships (clinical and cognitive neuroscience) that enabled me to understand this field and prepare my research question.

How did/do you fund your studies?

During my master’s program, I was funded by the TU/e loan scholarship program from the Technical University of Eindhoven. For my PhD program, I am funded by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

What is a typical working day like?

It really depends on the situation. If I'm working on a problem that I'm about to solve, then I spend the day fully engrossed in the same. I go back home and think about it and keep working on it. Sometimes, I collect electroencephalographic data on human subjects in the hospital. Now that I work on both humans and flies, I arrange my work in such a way that I don't get too bored on one thing and try to switch in between, to maintain focus.

What do you like the most about your current profession?

It is the spirit of being an explorer, and when you figure out something that no one has done before, you feel internally satisfied.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your current profession?

I will rather say about the most exciting aspect here. It is the opportunity to solve difficult problems. Some of the work that I do will help answer important questions like mechanisms of general anesthesia.

Who are your role models or who do you look up to?

Richard feynman - He is the ultimate personification of the quote " If you can't explain it simple enough, then you don't understand it well enough". I totally believe in this and he is an inspiration for the way he performed science and his ability to convey it to the general public.

What motivates you?

Difficult problems: If a lot of people before me have tried to work/discover something and couldn't manage to do it, it really motivates me. I feel that this scientific problem was waiting for me to arrive.

What are you most proud of?

Nothing, I'm yet to achieve something significant.

What are the biggest obstacles/challenges you have faced so far in pursuit of your goals?

In academics: I come from a different background (math/engineering) and I'm an outsider to my field (neuroscience), this has both pros and cons. Pros: You have new ideas, and you think differently. Cons: You are not aware of simple facts in the field that others assume you know.

What is the best piece of advice for someone wishing to enter your field of study?

I think it is important to choose a good question to research. Something that is well defined and has important implications. This is extremely important to keep you motivated and focused on the big picture.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

I like latin dancing especially zouk and bachata.

Anything else to add ?

One of my favourite quotes comes from Elon musk: "if you need inspiring words, you should not do it"

CariScholar Q&A with Sridhar Jagannathan - PhD Candidate in Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

This CariScholar series aims to give a glimpse into the professional journeys of some of the most accomplished academics and professionals.

Find out more about CariScholar by visiting our website.

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