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Cognition and perception

One on One... with Hugo Spiers

Lecturer in the UCL Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences

05 September 2012

One person who inspired you
Steven Rose gave a wonderful lecture on neuroscience at the Edinburgh Science Festival when I was a child. It tipped me towards choosing my field.

One journal article or book that you think all psychologists should read
Advice for a Young Investigator by Ramon y Cajal.

One moment that changed the course of your career
When I decided to switch to learning electrophysiology. I discovered on a Friday that the following Monday was the deadline for grant application for a Wellcome Trust Advanced Training Fellowship. That was a hell of a Friday phoning a lab head (Kate Jeffery) and generating ideas and doing costings. It worked out though — several papers in the pipeline.

One challenge you think psychology faces
Keeping up with and integrating the latest technical advances.

One thing that you would change about psychology
I’d like to see fewer journals churning out poor-quality research.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Don’t ever get put off approaching senior scientists to ask them about their work or opinion.

One celebrity I have MRI scanned
Can I be greedy and have two?? I’ve scanned Will Self and Karl Pilkington. Will Self we put through our challenging Soho experiment – featured on Channel 4’s Hidden Talent. I was interested to see if Will Self’s detailed thinking about space would emerge in the data. We will release a short film about it at the end of the year. Karl Pilkington

I scanned as a favour for his book Karlology. Both were fascinating to chat to about their personal untested theories about the brain.

One cultural recommendation
Enter the Void by Gaspar Noe is an amazing film set in Tokyo, dealing with consciousness, death, memory and space. The camera work is very clever. I loved the shots moving in Euclidean lines through the space of the city passing unobstructed through people’s bedrooms and intimate worlds. I did have to stop for a triple whisky halfway through to recover from one scene.

One alternative career path you might have chosen

One amazing thing about the hippocampus
During sleep, it can replay its internally mapped journeys through space 20 times faster than reality: a fact played with by Christoper Nolan in the film Inception.

One problem that psychology should deal with
We need to get people from a greater diversity of backgrounds into psychology. According to research by the Sutton Trust (2010), only 16 per cent of children from deprived backgrounds go on to study at university (compared with 96 per cent of students from independent schools).

One reason I got interested in working with artists
I met artist Michaela Nettell  (@MichaelaNettell) when she approached UCL Neurology for a scientist to collaborate on a project. Since that initial contact, I’ve gone on to have two installations funded by the Wellcome Trust and invited to help act as a scientific adviser on a play (Reykjavik).