Travel Award Winner Rudolf Faust
Rudolf Faust is a researcher working at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. The award will help to fund his trip to the Cell-NERF Neurotechnologies Symposium.
I really appreciate getting the award because it is the first time I have received a travel grant to attend a conference. By defraying the costs paid by my supervisor to send me there, it enables us to use the money on other research expenses. Rudolf Faust, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Hello Bio travel award winner
Congratulations Rudolf. First, can you tell us a bit more about what you're working on at the moment?
My research is inspired by the influential hypothesis that the limbic domain of striatum can influence dopamine release in associative and sensorimotor domains of the striatum through striato-nigro-striatal loops that “spiral” in a ventromedial to dorsolateral direction. Although anatomical evidence is significant, there is a lack of functional evidence to substantiate the hypothesis. I am generating such evidence using a combination of cyclic voltammetry and optogenetics. As part of this project, I also examine how topographical projections to the basal ganglia from hindbrain cholinergic nuclei control dopamine release in different functional domains of the striatum. Furthermore, I examine their interactions with descending basal ganglia inputs to the ventral midbrain and how cocaine exposure can alter the balance between these inputs. To complement my functional circuit mapping studies, my students and I anatomically trace the topography of striatal output projections and dopaminergic projections to the striatum.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
What gets me most excited about my field of research is that so much remains to be discovered, and that increasing our understanding of basal ganglia function will likely lead to better therapies for neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
The scientists working today whom I most admire are David Belin, David Sulzer, and Joshua Dudman. They are all visionary thinkers who have challenged traditional models of basal ganglia function and thereby changed the way I think about our field. Examples of their contributions that I admire are: David Belin’s work developing better rodent models of drug addiction; Dave Sulzer’s insight that Parkinson’s disease is an autoimmune disorder; and Josh Dudman’s conception of the computational function of the striatum and the algorithms implemented to execute it. I also admire them for being great role models of mentorship whose examples I try to emulate. Although they are all very successful, they have not let it go to their head!
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?
I reiterate what past grant awardees have said before me, that perhaps the biggest challenge is insufficient funding, which discourages trainees from pursuing careers in research. Because there are far more high-quality grant proposals than available funding, this decreases the importance of scientific merit and increases the importance of luck in career success. Another factor decreasing the importance of scientific merit is the warped incentive structure of scientific publishing, including its over-reliance on journal impact factors. The for-profit scientific publishing industry imposes huge costs with its rent-seeking from other stakeholders in science, and it is unlikely that the benefits to the scientific community are proportional. Yet another major challenge is the widespread mentality that trainees in academia do not need or deserve independence to determine the direction of their research. The sparseness of training in management for academics and reluctance to change or police established practices are two important factors preventing an empirically grounded managerial culture from being widely adopted. This has facilitated the persistence of anachronistic, incompetent, and abusive management, but fortunately the tide seems to be turning. Likewise, although a lot of progress has been made towards equality for all researchers, academia remains an environment that favors white men. Structural barriers discouraging women from pursuing careers in life science, especially those that are family-unfriendly, must be dismantled. Bias against women and minorities also remains a problem, albeit less so than in the past.
What’s your favourite science quote?
“The biggest adventure is to move into an area in which you are not an expert. Sometimes I joke that I am not interested in doing re-search, only search.” Andre Geim, Nobel Laureate Physics 2010
Thank you Rudolf - we hope you enjoy your Cell-NERF Neurotechnologies Symposium!