From Stevens to Synapses: A Conversation with Kelsey Martin

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

martin_10_18Take your wildest guess.  How many neurons make up the human brain?  You’re not guessing wild enough if you said anything less than a trillion.  The circuitry of the human brain consists of a quadrillion (1015) synapses.  These neural circuits aren’t necessarily hard-wired and have the capacity to be re-wired in response to experience. In our interview with Dr. Kelsey C. Martin, Professor of Psychiatry and Biological Chemistry at University of California, Los Angeles, we discuss the long-lasting forms of plasticity that enable memories to be formed.  During the course of our conversation, Dr. Martin shares stories from her time in the Peace Corps. and discusses what it was like to study memory formation as a post-doc in the lab of the Nobel Prize winning scientist, Eric Kandel.  In this highly anticipated interview from Knowing Neurons, we sit down with Dr. Martin to get advice on what it takes to become a Principal Investigator, to discuss her upcoming Presidential lecture at SFN, and to find out exactly what this English major turned M.D./Ph.D. is currently reading.

To read the full transcript of our conversation, download this PDF: A Conversation with Kelsey Martin.

Be sure to catch Dr. Martin’s talk at #SfN14 on Saturday, November 15, 2014 5:15pm – 6:25pm in WCC Hall D.  Her talk is titled “The Living Record of Memory: Genes, Neurons, and Synapses.”


What we asked Dr. Martin:

[1:08] So, I’m really interested in how you went from working in infectious diseases to doing a post-doc with Dr. Eric Kandel. So, I was wondering if maybe you could talk about how that transition came about and also what you worked on.

[4:51] So, when you left Eric Kandel’s lab, what did you go into being a PI wanting to study?

[6:18] I was wondering if you could give us a sneak preview of what you’re going to be talking about at Society for Neuroscience.

[7:17] I’m wondering as well, you talked also that you have an M.D., you have medical training, how do you see your lab in the grand scheme of translational neuroscience, in terms of what you’re doing…

[8:48] So, in the realm of neuroscience, do you have a favorite technique that you think opened up the field in new ways that was particularly exciting to you?

[9:45] OK, well, I wanted to get back to your life as a grad student. What would you say was your favorite memory of grad school?

[11:15] I don’t think we’ve quite gotten to how you went from English and Literature to…

[13:54] So, looking back, what do you think had a big influence on becoming successful. Was it luck?

[14:47] So, “never give up,” is that your advice?

[15:44] I think that one thing that brings us back to the bench is having an exciting discovery or having a hypothesis and being right about it. Do you remember a time when you had a hypothesis, it may have been controversial, but that you stuck with it, stuck with your guns, being in the lab, and it was just an exciting day of discovery?

[17:52] Who has been most influential?

[19:21] Lightening round!


Image made by Jooyeun Lee and from

Jillian L. Shaw

Jillian decided to dedicate herself to a life of exploring the mysteries of the brain after reading neurological case studies by Oliver Sachs and Ramachandran as a student at Vassar College. After completing a B.A. in Neuroscience with honors in 2009, Jillian headed to USC to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience where she is now in her 5th year. A research stint in Belgium exposed Jillian to the complexities of cell signaling pathways, and her interests shifted from cognitive neuroscience to cellular and molecular neuroscience. Her current research focuses on the link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease using Drosophila as a genetic model to explore axonal transport, mitochondria dysfunction, synaptic defects, and neurodegeneration. When she is not in the lab, Jillian is forming new synapses by rock climbing throughout Southern California.

2 thoughts on “From Stevens to Synapses: A Conversation with Kelsey Martin

Comments are closed.