Name: Professor Raymond Dolan FRS FMedSci
Institution: Mary Kinross Professor of Neuropsychiatry at University College London, Director of the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing
Connection to the Academy: Fellow and Helix Group Reception 2017 Keynote speaker
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My research is concerned with the brain basis of decision making, including its neurochemical control. I was born in the Republic of Ireland where I qualified in medicine at University College Galway, National University of Ireland. Subsequently I moved to England to pursue psychiatric training. Outside of work I am an avid reader. I hike extensively, mainly in Europe. I have a passion for blues and jazz music, and in another lifetime this would be my chosen career.
Are there any key messages that you hope the audience will take away from your lecture?
Firstly, that a theoretical perspective is critical in studying an organ as complex as the human brain. Secondly, this theoretical framework must aspire to connect the firing of neurones with overt behaviour, and this aspiration underpins the importance of computational neuroscience. Thirdly, that behaviour itself is just an end point and many underlying process in the brain can lead to the same overt behaviour.
In recent years psychiatry and neurology have changed greatly, with major technological and scientific advances accompanied by increasing public awareness. Can you tell us anything about your experiences of these changes through your career?
One of the big criticisms of psychiatric research over the past 50 years is that it has relied too heavily on a naïve empiricism. I think that at present there is a new beginning in psychiatric research, and this is captured by the emerging discipline of computational psychiatry. This represents a much greater engagement with mainstream neuroscience and where there is a greater emphasis on pursuing research within a theoretical framework.
I also think that apart from the obvious technological advances, such as derived from brain scanning, the field will also benefit greatly from a revolution in how we monitor patients, for example the exploitation of smart phone platforms.
Have there been any major role models or mentors in your career, and do you find yourself mentoring others?
I find it difficult to identify a mentor in psychiatry per se. I benefited greatly from working with incredibly gifted peers who come from a diversity of backgrounds, especially those of us who started out at the MRC Cyclotron Unit in the late 1980s. If I had to single out an individual then I would highlight the importance of my collaborator Peter Dayan.
As I have got older I have found myself spending more of my time mentoring young scientists. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my work is witnessing in their success. What is also satisfying is that many young researchers in neuroscience are now very excited by the challenges posed by psychiatric illness.