Currently, Dr. Glickfeld’s work involves the organization of neural circuits in the visual cortex and how they drive behavior, but that wasn’t always her plan. Although science had always been an interest of hers, she went into her undergraduate at Stanford planning to study genetics. Actually, her transition into neuroscience was somewhat by accident. In the first year, Dr. Glickfeld received and responded to an email about an open research position. She initially thought the lab was studying genetics but, during the interviews, she quickly realized it was more neuroscience based – a field she had virtually no prior knowledge in. She said that her mentor had to explain even the most basic neuroscientific principles, such as what an action potential is. This resonated with me because I have also had to have many topics explained to me. Particularly, I have never taken a physics class, so anything pertaining to electrophysiology (or electrical currents in general) is very new to me. Nevertheless, Dr. Glickfeld liked the people and the lab environment, so she decided to give neuroscience a try. She quickly fell in love with neuroscience, stayed in that lab for the remainder of her undergraduate, and has now devoted her career to the field.
Dr. Glickfeld accredits her mentors to “how [she] thinks about science,” and it’s easy to see how her past experiences are reflected in the work she does today. In her approach to studying neural circuits, she emphasizes both the microscopic connections at the level of individual synapses as well as a more macroscopic perspective of how the neurons form a network that drives behavior. The lab she worked in during her undergraduate was primarily focused on mechanisms of synaptic transmission which emulates the former part of the work she’s doing now. During graduate school at UCSD, there was a shift towards a more holistic approach and viewing neurons as a part of a larger network. In her postdoc at Harvard, she began working particularly with the visual system. Thus, it’s easy to see how her current work and interests are a culmination of her background.
I really enjoyed Dr. Glickfeld’s story because it helped me put things into perspective. Like her, I’ve always known I want to go into science, but I’ve also gone back and forth as to what that actually means for me in terms of specific career paths. At the end of our conversation, I asked her if she had any tips for upcoming scientists (aka me) and she said that her best advice is that if you’re doing the best science you can do and enjoy what you’re doing, the rest will work itself out. For me, this was reassuring because it is both tangible and broad. In a sense, I can create a mental checklist for myself and see that I am accomplishing those two things. Yet, it still leaves for life to throw in the unexpected. Also, hearing about how her mentors have influenced her and her career is comforting because it ensures me that research manifests an overall supportive environment where everyone is on their journeys together. Overall, I’m very grateful to be able to have this experience and I hope that it will shape me in the way that Dr. Glickfeld’s background has shaped her.