History of MBB Graduate Activities
Over the years, MBB faculty leaders have considered how best to incorporate interdisciplinary opportunities and training into doctoral programs: how can MBB best support interdisciplinary interests without distracting graduate students from their primary goal of becoming fluent in the methods and language of their own discipline? How can we design a program or fellowship with enough structure to ensure that graduate students are genuinely engaging in interdisciplinary scholarship (rather than using the funding to support the same type of work they would otherwise do in their own field), while simultaneously remaining flexible enough to accommodate individuals' varied needs given the diverse requirements and timetables of the many departments and doctoral programs at Harvard? How might differences among the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities affect the form of cross-disciplinary conversations and training?
For two years beginning in 1998, 20-30 graduate students from diverse departments and schools met biweekly to discuss works-in-progress and relevant journal articles. From this group a consensus emerged that the meetings, while beneficial, served only a small number of the many potentially interested graduate students and did not take full advantage of the promise and possibilities of the MBB Initiative that has been well recognized at the faculty and undergraduate level. With encouragement from MBB faculty leaders, in 2000 a small committee of doctoral students from GSAS, HGSE, and HMS were charged with thinking creatively about ways to extend the role of MBB at the graduate level. This group developed a proposal for expanding the institutional and financial support for Harvard doctoral students' interdisciplinary research and training in topics related to mind, brain and behavior.
Three graduate working groups (described below), based on the MBB faculty model met during 2000-2001. The groups included students working in history of science, psychology, sociology, human development, education, medicine, neuroscience, and molecular biology. Regular communication between the working groups allowed the students to learn from collective successes and challenges and led to collaborations between two of the groups. One working group, "Buddhism and Brain Science," met in FY02.
The ongoing discussion grappled with the fundamental problem of how "decision" can be defined so as to be amenable to an interdisciplinary approach. For a neurobiologist studying lobsters, decisions can be synonymous with reflexes and learned reflexes. Behavior of the lobster is the appropriate measure then of whether a decision has been made. For a psychologist or economist, there is more ambiguity. A decision might not be manifested by an action; a self-report about an intended action may be a sufficient indicator. Given these gaps, what are appropriate questions related to decision making that are amenable to an interdisciplinary approach?
Cognition, Learning and Memory (CLM)
This group began with a methodological focus. What are the benefits and limitations of using computational neural networks to understand the neurobiology of long-term memory? Through the course of the year, the CLM group became interested in using neural networks to explore systems level questions. For example, it has been proposed that neural networks can model disorders of memory, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As the CLM group became interested in PTSD, they conceived of the possibility of applying a PTSD diagnosis to a traumatized community. Continuing parallel discussions of the value and constraints that a computational neural network approach offers in explorations of these systems level question, the CLM group has recognized overlapping interests with the ideas pursued by the Health, Disease and Behavior working group.
Health, Disease, and Behavior group (HDB)
This group began with a focus on addictions and quickly became interested in the socio-historical construction of the disease diagnosis, particularly in the case of mental illnesses. Intrigued by the question the CLM generated about the possible validity and implications of applying a PTSD diagnosis to a community, the HDB group began working in tandem with the CLM group. The HDB perspective brought a heightened awareness of the controversial nature of a PTSD diagnosis and the potential socio-political ramifications of diagnosing a community with a disease.
Graduate Summer Institute
A 5-day graduate interdisciplinary institute on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was held in Woods Hole, MA in September, 2002.
The student coordinators of the summer institute, with input from MBB faculty advisors, chose PTSD as the main topic because it met a number of important criteria: (1) PTSD has been studied from multiple disciplines and with multiple methodologies; through animal models (neuroscience), with studies of the cognitive and emotional effects of PTSD (psychology), using neuroimaging to further understands aspects of cognitive functioning in PTSD (cognitive neuroscience), agent-based computer models of PTSD (computational neuroscience), effects of PTSD on development and learning (developmental psychology), the history of this category of mental illness (history of science), and the social and political implications of this disorder (anthropology, cultural studies). (2) PTSD was a particularly controversial and timely topic, especially given a renewed and more public interest in it following the September 11th attacks.
Go here to learn more about this institute.
MBB Research Awards (funds for graduate student research)
The Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative (MBB) has funds available to support novel, interdisciplinary, Harvard graduate student led research projects relevant to its mission.
The primary mandate is that research focus on the multitude of questions concerning how the brain functions to sculpt human nature, ranging from biomedical concerns linking mind to culture, economic experiments targeting the dynamics and universality of cooperation, neurobiological analyses of the relationship between brain plasticity and environmental structure, and psychological studies of mental development in normal and abnormal populations. Proposals that bring together two or more disciplinary perspectives or transcend disciplinary boundaries and that are not yet ready for traditional sources of support (e.g., NSF and NIH Predocs) will be favored. We envision that many of such projects will involve students working with faculty in different departments but may also involve faculty within the same department working at different levels of analysis. In either case, letters of support from two faculty members; one the applicant's advisor, must accompany the application. We will also consider projects that include cross-department collaborations between graduate students submitted as a single proposal. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the work, we are particularly keen to see proposals that would normally fall between the cracks of traditional disciplinary boundaries at federal agencies such as NSF and NIH. It is hoped that these funds are either sufficient to carry the work through to completion or can serve as the basis for submitting a larger grant to these agencies or others.
MBB plans to make a maximum of eight awards of up to $5,000 each that cover the anticipated costs of conducting the research (e.g., supplies, human or animal subject fees, research assistance, duplicating). The award cannot be used as a stipend. Any student currently enrolled in a Harvard doctoral or master's program in a relevant field is eligible to apply. Applicants must provide evidence from their department that they are a degree candidate in good standing. Due to the limited nature of the funding for these awards, no student may apply more than once.
Successful applicants will be expected to make a "brown bag" presentation at MBB during the award period and are encouraged to participate in other MBB activities. Awardees will be expected to 1) submit a final report at the end of the award period that includes an accounting of how the funds were spent, 2) give MBB a copy of any publication based on the project, and 3) acknowledge the Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative in the dissertation and any resulting publications.