Q & A: Partha Mitra
by Clare Clark
As the bio on his website states:
Partha Mitra received his PhD in theoretical physics from Harvard in 1993. He worked in quantitative neuroscience and theoretical engineering at Bell Laboratories from 1993-2003 and as an Assistant Professor in Theoretical Physics at Caltech in 1996 before moving to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2003, where he is currently Crick-Clay Professor of Biomathematics. Dr. Mitra’s research interests span multiple models and scales, combining experimental, theoretical and informatic approaches toward achieving an integrative understanding of complex biological systems, and of neural systems in particular.
The Mitra lab works in close collaboration with research groups at other institutions, including NYU, Caltech, CCNY, and Cornell Medical School, where Dr. Mitra is also an Adjunct Associate Professor. Dr. Mitra is a fellow of the American Physical Society. Dr. Mitra's work has been previously featured in major media outlets including the Economist, and he is the author of Observed Brain Dynamics, recently out from the Oxford University Press.
Partha has performed in Roald Hoffman's "Entertaining Science" series at the Cornelia Street Cafe, and was the organizer of a series of public science lectures at the New York Public Library (Science Soirees at the SIBL).
Dr. Mitra talks about working at CSHL and how he sees himself as a scientist and person.
Where did you first live when you came here?
I lived in Hell's Kitchen (midtown Manhattan, near the waterfront), and still live there.
Who has influenced you most scientifically since you arrived at CSHL?
The person at CSHL who has impacted the direction of my research most has to be Jim Watson. He encouraged me to start a large scale project in neuroanatomy and this forms an important component of my research now.
If you weren’t a scientist, what would be your dream job?
I don't think of myself as a "scientist" - I try to keep my life integrated and not become unidimensional. I also don't like the idea of a job or profession per se - I wouldn't "dream" in those terms so the question does not have very much meaning for me. The pursuit of truth, beauty and joy motivates me and would inform any work that I would really want to do ("dream of").
If you could pick any one scientist in history or presently at work anywhere, who would you want to sit down and have a coffee or a glass of wine with at Blackford bar?
Stretching the question a bit, it would be Aristotle (but of course that would mean learning classical greek first). I'm not sure Blackford would be the right place, perhaps a gymnasium would fit better.
Did you have a scientific mentor?
I had several. My most inspiring mentor was professor Shyamal Sengupta from my undergraduate college, Presidency College in Kolkata. He was one of the most remarkable human beings I have known, combining a high standard of truth and scientific integrity with a warm humanity, never seeking fame or power for himself but dedicating himself to the pursuit of science and educating young researchers. I have met many high profile scientists subsequently in my career I have not again encountered the constellation of personal qualities that made Professor Sengupta so special.
I have also been influenced strongly by my thesis advisor, Bert Halperin at Harvard, who also combines deep scientific knowledge and insights with inspiring personal integrity and humility.
When you walk the campus, is there a building or a view that you admire like for aesthetic or contemplative purposes?
I have always found the view of the harbor very pleasant. I think the best view of the lab is from the other side of the harbor, as you drive in from Huntington.
Is there one word you could use to describe the experience of working at CSHL?
You can view a list of Dr. Mitra's publications in the CSHL Authors' Publications Database.
You can view the Mitralab's Brain Architecture Project here.
Clare Clark is Archivist at the Cold Spring Harbor Library and Archives.
Posted by carnevale at 2:01 PM