Connecting with graduate students

Being a graduate student is hard. Coursework can be challenging, lab work can sometimes feel like drudge work, and often, experiments don’t work. For his students, Nicho Hatsopoulos makes sure that the big picture is always in their minds.

“I just want students to be passionate about what they’re doing and be creative. There are going to be ups and downs. But they have to realize that at the end, they’ll almost always find something really exciting and learn something about how the brain works,” says Hatsopoulos. “Just stick with it; it’s going to work out. I try to instill that in my students, which is the same kind of positivity my former mentors instilled in me.”

Hatsopoulos is keenly aware of the importance of the relationship between mentor and graduate student. His lab studies the neural control of movement and develops brain-machine interfaces, but Hatsopoulos’ path to this research was not always clear. Following an undergrad in physics, he studied experimental psychology for his masters, cognitive science for his PhD, and insect neurophysiology as a postdoc before finally arriving at neuroscience in humans and primates. Without guidance and opportunity from his mentors, his path might not have been possible, he says.

“For anyone going to graduate school, I would advise they focus on finding a good fit with a mentor and finding a direction they have passion for,” Hatsopoulos says. “Talk to fellow students about their experiences with their mentors. Find someone you can have a comfortable relationship with, where you can disagree but still be respectful. Don’t worry so much about grades or other things.”

“We don’t get taught how to be teachers. I think at the end of the day, it’s ‘Who modeled good teaching for you?’ It’s kind of like becoming a parent.”