Humans have always been fascinated with how the mind works. How can a unique ‘you’ with memories, thoughts and feelings be created by the activity of 100 billion neurons (or nerve cells) in the brain? And what happens in the brain when people suffer from mental illness, or from diseases like Alzheimer's?

Scientists today

Chelan Weaver, PhD student
Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge

WeaverPHDCareer path and qualifications

I grew up in Olympia, Washington, US and fell in love with biology thanks to two outstanding high school teachers who inspired me with their limitless curiosity about living things. I studied for a BA degree in Biopsychology at Vassar College, New York and then went on to look at how brains drive our behaviour, and began researching cognitive control for a Masters degree in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Oregon. I am now studying for my PhD in Biological Sciences at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge on a Gates Scholarship.


What inspired you?

My interest in the complex relationship between brain and behaviour came when I was studying for my undergraduate degree. I enjoyed a wide range of hands-on experience in research and had the opportunity to see how scientists were investigating fundamental questions about how brains work. I decided I also wanted to be involved in answering questions about how brains drive our behaviour.


My project

In my PhD I am studying control mechanisms in the brain - such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. Inhibitory control is very important and is the ability to modify our behaviour by stopping unwanted responses. I am looking at whether two different types of responses, thoughts and actions, are stopped using the same processes. Being able to stop inappropriate behaviours is important for happiness, health, and academic success


The future

My ultimate goal is to learn as much as I can about how people control their thoughts and actions. I'm excited by the prospect of a career in research because every day brings the possibility of making a fundamental new discovery. Equally thrilling is the ability to share these discoveries not only with colleagues around the world, but also with the next generation of scientists and members of the public. What most attracts me to university research is the incredible capacity to make significant and enduring contributions at so many levels.


Outside the lab

I enjoy doing all sorts of stuff, but I especially like cooking, hiking, reading, baking and exploring.