Science Student Spotlight: Sameer Sabharwal-Siddiqi
The next stop for this Cognitive Neuroscience student is a Ph.D. at the University of Arizona.
This fall Sameer Sabharwal-Siddiqi will start his first year in the Ph.D. program in psychology at the University of Arizona, an institution known for its research on the hippocampus — an area of the brain that is involved in many phenomena that fascinate him, such as the feeling of self in memory and in physical space.
Sabharwal-Siddiqi, who plans to concentrate on cognitive and neural systems, credits the Graduate Center’s M.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience with preparing him for this next step in his academic career. During his two years in the program, he worked in the lab of his adviser, Professor Elizabeth Chua (Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience), where he researched the relationship between body, affect, and memory. Specifically, he investigated whether bodily and emotional signals are associated with feelings of familiarity — that “tip of the tongue” experience of, say, seeing someone on the subway that you think you know but can’t quite identify. “There’s an emotional and physiological reaction — heart acceleration, frustration — that may come with the feeling of not being able to put a name to a face,” Sabharwal-Siddiqi says.
Neuroscience, he says, is still a relatively young field, and the subspecialty of cognitive neuroscience asks fundamentally different questions than what students might encounter in programs that focus solely on biology or psychology, such as: How we get from the brain to the mind?
Before coming to the Graduate Center, Sabharwal-Siddiqi worked as a laboratory associate at NYU’s Center for Neural Science. He earned a B.A. in neuroscience and in history from Amherst College, and he continues to explore the connections between the two disciplines on his site, The Living History Blog.
One of the ways that the Graduate Center prepared him to pursue a Ph.D. was the significant degree of freedom he had while conducting his own experiments in Chua’s lab, Sabharwal-Siddiqi says. The other was the involvement of faculty and students in rigorous debates during class. He finished up his time at the Graduate Center with Consciousness, a class co-taught by Presidential Professor Tony Ro, who directs the Cognitive Neuroscience Program, and Professor Richard Brown, a philosopher. “We all argue with each other, but not in a mean-spirited way — everyone’s opinion is valid — and we’re arguing about consciousness in this absolutely engrossing, lovely class,” Sabharwal-Siddiqi says. “What could be more interesting than that?”