Q: Are you accepting graduate students in the coming year?
In any given year, we might or might not be accepting students. Usually this is difficult to tell until the application deadline has already passed. If you are interested in applying for graduate school at Davis, please contact Dr. Ranganath (cranganath@ucdavis.edu) to indicate your interest.
Q: Do you recommend prospective students to apply for the psychology or neuroscience graduate programs?
The psychology and neuroscience graduate programs are very different from one another, but we are open to accepting students from either program. In psychology, you are directly admitted to work with a sponsor (e.g., Dr. Ranganath), but in neuroscience you are admitted into the program and must rotate through three labs before selecting a home lab. Also, psychology training focuses more on statistics and (obviously) psychology, whereas neuroscience requires students to gain proficiency in neuroanatomy and molecular, systems, and developmental neuroscience as well as cognitive neuroscience. At UCD, students are expected to gain expertise in both neuroscience and psychology, so which program you choose should depend more on your interests and the direction that you see yourself heading after graduate school.
Q: What advice can you offer to graduate applicants?
Both the psychology and neuroscience programs at Davis are very competitive. Successful DML applicants have typically had the following characteristics: High GRE scores and GPAs, at least 2 years of research experience (preferably in memory or cognitive neuroscience research), experience with presenting work at conferences, publications, and strong letters of recommendation. We use cutting-edge methods, so you should be interested in learning about these methods and acquiring the necessary expertise (signal processing, programming, statistics, computational modeling, etc.) to make the most of these methods. Finally, successful applicants are familiar with the research we are doing, and have interests that are aligned with our current research directions. Prospective students are encouraged to contact Dr. Ranganath, as well as Drs. Andy Yonelinas, Arne Ekstrom, and Daniel Ragland.
Q: Do I really want to become a tenure-track cognitive neuroscientist?
A: Ok, this question is not asked as frequently as it should be. If you have the necessary skills and talent to join our lab, you probably also could be doing many other great things with your life. A Ph.D. in psychology or neuroscience is not worth pursuing unless you plan to use it to discover something great about the brain. Furthermore, to become a successful researcher you will have to overcome many hurdles and tolerate much more frustration than success. Even successful senior researchers deal with rejected papers and grants and spend much of their time doing tedious administrative tasks. To succeed as a scientist, you will have to have a great deal of commitment, so think carefully about whether this is what you want.
Q: Do you have an opening for a post-doc?
A: We do not typically advertise for post-doctoral positions, so please contact Dr. Ranganath if you are interested in joining the lab as a post-doc. If funding is available, and the timing and fit is right, we can work it out. Also, it might be possible to pursue a joint post-doc with Dr. Ranganath and another mentor from the memory group (esp. Drs. Yonelinas, Ekstrom, and Ragland). The most important criteria for a successful post-doc is a good fit in terms of research interests and professional attributes. Given the broad range of techniques we use in the lab, we do not expect that post-docs will come in with all of the necessary methodological expertise, and in fact we encourage applicants who are seeking to develop new skills. Post-doc applicants with backgrounds outside of cognitive neuroscience (e.g., rodent electrophysiology, cognitive psychology, clinical neuropsychology, etc.) are also encouraged to apply. It is important, however, to have a specific research direction in mind that fits well with Dr. Ranganath's interests. Also, it is important to have published first authored papers as a graduate student and to have the majority of your dissertation research written up before you plan to start. Finally, it would be helpful if you have sufficiently specific ideas to apply for external funding prior to starting a post-doc. Most of the current and past post-docs in the lab have successfully obtained NIH funding (a post-doctoral NRSA fellowship) within a year of joining the lab.
Q: What makes UC Davis the world's leader in research on the cognitive neuroscience of human memory?
A: A number of factors. First, we have one of the world's largest concentrations of human memory researchers at a single institution. Second, we have the resources and expertise to study human memory in a number of ways, including structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electroencephalography (EEG), electrocorticography (ECoG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), eye tracking, and pharmacology. We use these techniques to study the developmental trajectory of memory processes across the life span (young adults, children, and older adults). Additionally, UC Davis is relatively unique in that we have the infrastructure to study how memory goes awry in a number of special populations, including patients with focal cortical lesions due to stroke, hippocampal damage due to hypoxia, medial temporal lobe damage due to epilepsy, age associated memory impairment due to white matter damage or hippocampal atrophy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and other disorders. Finally, perhaps the most significant strength of UC Davis is that we collaborate. Dr. Ranganath's lab collaborates with the labs of other UC Davis memory researchers, including Drs. Andy Yonelinas, Arne Ekstrom, Daniel Ragland, Cameron Carter, Simona Ghetti, Charles DeCarli, Petr Janata, John Olichney, and others.
Q: Do you host international scholars?
A: We have hosted visiting students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty from all over the world, including University of Leiden (Netherlands), The Donders Centre (Netherlands), University College London (UK), Cardiff University (UK), Cambridge University (UK), University of Bonn (Germany), University of Magdeburg (Germany), and University of Marburg (Germany). In each of these cases, the visitors were able to provide funding to support their travel costs and there was a mutual scientific goal in mind. Our visiting scholars have invariably found the experience to be rewarding and we in turn learned a great deal from working with them on experiments, conference presentations, papers, and in subsequent collaborations.
Q: How is your research funded?
A: Most of our research is supported by research grants from the federal government (particularly the National Institute of Mental Health) and private foundations. We are also initiating collaborations with pharmaceutical companies with the goal of facilitating the development of memory enhancing drugs. Dr. Ranganath also recently received a UC Davis Chancellor's Fellowship to support work on innovative projects. Finally, you can help through philanthropy! If you are interested in specifically supporting memory research at UC Davis, please contact Dr. Ranganath. You can read more about our research projects and funding in the "Research" section of the DML website.
Q: Why is my memory so bad?
A: Memory can fail for a variety of reasons. One might not pay sufficient attention at the time of encoding, the memory could be displaced by interfering events while consolidation is taking place, or one might lack the appropriate retrieval cues when it is time to find the memory. When you look at it this way, it is a miracle that any of our memories survive. So, our research focuses on the factors that help increase the survival rate of memories and the brain mechanisms that make it happen.
Q: Where are my keys?
A: Sorry we can't help you there.