Monica Linden


Monica Linden

Lecturer in Neuroscience

Mike Cohea/Brown University
Unlike some of the other sciences, brain science seemed wide open and ready for important discoveries to a college freshman. Monica Linden was a double-major in mathematics and computer science, but brain and cognitive sciences is where she ended up.

“I’m very excited by Brown students who have this attitude about changing the world,” she said. “I’ve seen a couple of transcripts just in trying to get TAs for my classes. The variety of classes they are taking and the other activities they participate in is really exciting.”

For the last two years Linden has been a lecturer in the brain and cognitive sciences department at MIT where she also did her undergraduate and doctoral studies. In 2005 as a teaching assistant in the department she won an award for excellence in undergraduate teaching, but she counts among her most rewarding classroom moments a more recent — and more personal — experience.

Like many scientists, Linden makes extensive use of Matlab data gathering and analysis software. It was a key part of a class she was teaching, but a particular student was having an especially hard time with it during the semester. This concerned Linden because the senior would likely continue to encounter the software in graduate work.

“She was in all my office hours and she was really struggling,” Linden said. “On the last day when they were working in class to finish up their project she burst out and said, ‘You know this is really fun’ — about Matlab.”

The chance to reach students, not just from the lectern but also one-on-one, is what Linden prizes.

“I really like forging the personal relationships with the students, getting to know them,” she said. “Even in large classes I get to know a good handful or so of the students well. Really seeing them embrace the material and get excited about it and be able to use it and to have them tell me it was valuable to them… I really like that.”

Much of Linden’s teaching agenda will be to fill in for professors who are on sabbatical. That will start right away, as she takes the reins of Neuro 1030 “Neural Systems” this fall. The class concerns the underlying principles of functions such as vision and motion.

Linden is no stranger to visual systems. As a graduate student, she worked in the lab of Mark Bear, who is an expert. Bear had left Brown for MIT in 2003 and Linden turned out to be his first graduate student in Cambridge.

“When I started in the lab pretty much everyone was from Brown,” she said. “We went back to Brown for lots of people’s thesis defenses.”

Linden’s interest in neuroscience is clearly deep and sustained, but she acknowledges a reason that’s “a little silly” for latching on to it during her freshman year in 1998. John Horgan, author of the book The End of Science, spoke about his inquiry into whether much of scientific discovery has already occurred. Fields like physics and chemistry were perhaps now gleaning diminishing returns. The brain, on the other hand, still seemed a comparatively wide-open frontier.

As a freshman, Linden joined a lab that studied infant cognition. She started taking brain science classes and enjoying them, although she double-majored in mathematics and computer science, focusing on topics such as artificial intelligence. When it was time for graduate school, she decided it would be more important to study neuroscience, for instance to gain the experience of doing wet lab experiments. She could always continue to use computers in that research.

Ultimately her choice of research group helped her choose teaching.

“One of the reasons I was really glad I ended up with Mark [Bear] is that I ended up TA’ing for him in the intro to neuroscience class, which we tried to model off the class at Brown,” Linden said. “Helping him adapt a class that was hugely popular at Brown to a different kind of class at MIT and getting to see him teach the class was really great. It was very important for my decision to be a teacher.”

Her dedication to the profession goes beyond her own classroom. Linden has also been involved in a new project for the Society for Neuroscience called ERIN, for Educational Resources In Neuroscience. It will be a database of resources for university teachers to draw upon.

Starting this fall, she’ll be an enthusiastic educational resource for Brown neuroscience students.