2016 Science Career Panel

Meet our 2016 Scientist Panel:

James Schummers, Ph.D.

Dr. James Schummers was named an independent Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in June 2010 and heads the Cellular Organization of Cortical Circuit Function research group. Dr. Schummers received his bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH, where he studied the effects of the neurotransmitter neuropeptide-Y on long-term potentiation (LTP) in the hippocampus. He then moved to Denver CO, where he studied the effects of alcohol on LTP in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado Health Science Center. He received a PhD in Systems Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the support of a Howard Hughes Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. His thesis work combined intracellular and extracellular single neuron recordings with optical imaging approaches to study the integration of synaptic inputs in the context of visual processing. His postdoctoral work, also at MIT, focused on single-cell resolution imaging to study the response properties of different classes of cells, including both neurons and astrocytes, in the visual cortex.


Joe Schumacher, Ph.D.

Dr. Joe Schumacher joined Max Planck Florida as a postdoc in the Fitzpatrick lab in November of 2014. His research combines imaging and behavioral techniques to investigate how learning impacts the function of neural circuits. Prior to joining the Fitzpatrick Lab, Dr. Schumacher earned his PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University. His dissertation examined the role of developmental vocal learning on the properties of auditory cortical neurons in songbirds. He is also a founder and host of the Neurotransmissions podcast, in which leading neuroscientists from around the world share their perspectives on a life in neuroscience.


Ye Sun

Ye Sun is a graduate student in the lab of MPFI Scientific Director Dr. Ryohei Yasuda. Her major project for her Ph.D. studies is to visualize the ultrastructural mechanisms under dendritic spine structural plasticity in nanometer resolution by correlative imaging using two-photon microscopy and electron microscopy. Ye joined MPFI in August 2014. She graduated from Wuhan University in China with a B.S. degree in General Biology. She then attended University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where she received her Master’s degree in Cancer Biology. Her love of brain science made her decide to switch her direction and pursue a career in neuroscience field.


Connon Thomas

Connon Thomas works as a technician in the Electron Microscopy Core Facility, and uses specialized high-powered microscopes to observe the brain’s smallest structures. The core facility works in collaboration with researchers from MPFI and the surrounding research institutions, incorporating numerous techniques to study what light microscopes can’t see. Connon graduated with a B.S. degree in Conservation Biology from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2015. It was only during his junior year that he learned about electron microscopy and fell in love with the technique, acquiring a minor in Microscopy upon graduation. Switching fields from ecology to neuroscience, Connon joined the Max Planck Florida Institute in May 2015 as a technician, and is part of a small team that works with researchers on their specific projects to help understand how the brain’s structure matches its function.


Watch the 2016 Science Career Panel here:


1. Scientist Introductions: James Schummers; Joe Schumacher; Ye Sun; Connon Thomas
2. Two panelists mentioned that when they were younger, they didn’t do well in science. What turned it around for you? What do you think changed that made it go from “Science is something I’m not good at” to “Hey, science is something I’m good at?”
3. To James Schummers: As a Principal Investigator, you have reached a stage in your career where you are an independent researcher and you mentor young scientists in your lab. You’ve already told us the career path that you took to get there, but your lab focuses on a question. You study the visual system. How do you choose a topic that you are going to dedicate your career to? How do you decide you want to work on this problem for many years?
4. To Joe Schumacher: You have a Ph.D. in Neurobiology & Behavior and right now you are a Post Doc. Can you tell us what it means to be doing a “Post Doc” and can you tell us how you chose to do that training here at MPFI?
5. To Ye Sun: You are a graduate student which means you are working towards getting your Ph.D. in Dr. Yasuda’s lab. When you were applying for graduate schools, did you ever consider any other career options? Did you think about Med school, Law school, Business or anything like that or did you know this is what you wanted to do?
6. To Connon Thomas: You recently graduated form college in 2015 and you have been working in the Electron Microscopy Core. How has that experience influenced you? Has it inspired you to consider further training in the future?
7. To Ye Sun: Why did you do your studies in America? Do you feel you had greater opportunities here than in China?
8. To James Schummers: What advice do you have for a young aspiring scientist? What advice would you give now with the experience and knowledge you have now to someone our age?
9. How far have you come along in understanding heredity with disorders like Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s?
10. Do things in space affect the brain and if so, what?
11. Do you think we will ever be able to guide axons in vivo through the spinal cord to manipulate other cell functions?
12. Due to the rise in Zika in multiple countries, what is the effect of microcephaly in the development of young children?
13. The Zika virus, the way it causes microcephaly I’ve heard is it enters through the uterus and passes to the fetus. So how would you prevent that from happening with a vaccination for it?
14. Have any of you ever studied Tourette’s Syndrome and if yes, what did you find?
15. What do you think is the best route if you want to become a Pediatric Neurologist?
16. Why Max Planck? What drew you to this specific institute? Answer One Answer Two
17. Do you have any upcoming experiments or things that you can tell us about? Is there something we’d have to look more into the future about?
18. I’m absolutely terrified of college. So my quick question regarding college is where would you look for inspiration for what you want to do?
19. Can you explain what functional architecture is and how that relates to neuroscience?
20. As a middle schooler, what type of science camps or internships can I do?
21. You mentioned there was a physicist who worked here so what kind of connections are there between neuroscience and physics?
22. What do you find is the most interesting thing about neuroscience?
23. I was wondering if there is anything that any of you have done along your career or education that looking back, you would have done differently.
24. Can memory be preserved through cryogenics?
25. How can you apply your research to real life disease?
26. How does being a neuroscientist affect your social life?