“It may sound crazy to some but I learned how to fail at CMU,” says Richard Briscoe, ’92. “One of the most important aspects of being a scientist is learning how to solve problems and how to learn from your failures. As a professional scientist, much of what we do is building on knowledge from a series of failures that result in some eventual successful breakthrough.”
Richard, who majored in psychology, is currently senior principal scientist at Merck, a global healthcare leader. He attended CMU during the early days of the neuroscience program.
Richard notes that he owes a lot of his success in his doctoral program and postdoctoral fellowship to the time spent conducting some of the first research projects in the neuroscience laboratory at CMU with Gary Dunbar, current co-director of the neuroscience program.
When it comes to advice for current CMU students hoping to work in any science field after graduation, he recommends staying committed to good grades.
“Being a scientist is one of the most competitive professions one can undertake and it requires hard work,” Richard said. “One day when you suddenly realize you are working on a team to help solve some of the most complex and important health problems our society faces, all of that hard work and sacrifice will make sense.”
Charles Weaver, ’91, recalls a time when the neuroscience program was just beginning. As a psychology major, Charles volunteered his time in the late 1980s to work with his mentor Gary Dunbar, who is now the current co-director of the neuroscience program. He says the small laboratory didn’t give them a lot of space to conduct their research.
“We were all on top of each other,” Charles said. “However, it didn’t matter because Gary reassured us that not only were we building our curriculum vitae for future graduate studies, but also contributing to the expansion of research at CMU.”
A lot has changed since then. Now, Charles is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Saginaw Valley State University and CMU has the first neuroscience undergraduate degree program in Michigan. Charles says his education at CMU has helped prepare him for educating future generations.
“Developing the skills to provide quality instruction is what CMU taught me,” Charles said. “It profoundly enhanced my ability to both teach and nurture students at the university level.”
To current and future students of the neuroscience program, Charles has one piece of advice.
“Think outside of the box,” Charles said. “Don’t be afraid to challenge dogma. If your research proves your theory wrong, that’s okay. You’re still making a significant contribution to science because hundreds of others in your field now can continue down a different path. Ultimately, it may lead to advancements which will serve humanity through better quality of life.”