Where are you from originally?
Folkestone, England. Folkestone is smallish town on the Kent coast, about 60 miles from London. It’s where the channel tunnel burrows under on its way to France. I went to school at Harvey Grammar—founded by William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood. My Dad, brother and sister all still live there.
Where did you study before coming to Toronto?
I first went to the University in Sheffield in the north of England. I spent the first year there realizing that I didn’t like engineering, and switched to psychology. Like many, I liked the idea of understanding what determined human behavior, but in the end I found many areas of psychology not sufficiently scientific and so I was drawn towards neuroscience. In my final year, I worked (and published my first paper) with Peter Redgrave (we recorded from superior colliculus neurons). My PhD was in neuroscience at the University of Toronto where I worked with John Yeomans. In John’s lab, I used electrophysiological and behavioral methods to map brain circuits for the startle reflex. This interest—in understanding the organization of brain circuits—continues to be a major theme in my lab today. For my postdoc I went to Cold Spring Harbor to work with Alcino Silva. These were exciting times—Alcino had pioneered the use of gene-targeting (in Susumu Tonegawa’s lab) to understand the molecular basis of behavior. There, and later at UCLA, Alcino’s enthusiasm always made us feel we were on the cutting edge.
Why science? If you weren’t a scientist, what other profession?
I love the creative and competitive side of science—designing a great experiment that tells us something we didn’t know before. If I wasn’t a scientist, I’d have wanted to be a journalist—I’ve always enjoyed writing.
Your interests outside the lab?
Charlotte, my daughter. I also run, play and watch football.
What is your favorite place in Toronto?
Toronto is full of some great modern buildings—among my favorites are OCAD, the TD Centre, graduate house at the University, BCE place. But I think my favorite recent development is Dundas Square. I love big cities, and, if you squint, it makes Toronto look like New York or Tokyo.