Kenneth H. Britten

Born: July 2, 1958 | Washington, DC, US
Photograph of Kenneth H. Britten

Kenneth H. Britten was born in Washington, DC. He received his BS in biology from the California Institute of Technology, where he became interested in neuroscience and neuroethology. He received his PhD in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and remained there for his postdoc in William T. Newsome's lab, later moving with Newsome to Stanford University. Britten and Newsome worked together closely, using psychophysics to map and measure the neuromechanics of perceptive visual fields in primates. In 1993, Britten was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior at the University of California, Davis. Britten's research focuses on extrastriate visual cortex in primates and how they respond to complex visual stimuli. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0448
No. of pages: 123
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
24-26 January 2001
University of California, Davis Davis, California

Abstract of Interview

Kenneth H. Britten was born in Washington, DC in 1958, the younger of two brothers. His father, Roy J. Britten, was a biophysicist who made notable achievements in the heyday of genetics, working at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and later at the California Institute of Technology. Kenneth Britten's mother, Barbara H. Britten, was primarily a homemaker, but who would later be involved in defending marine environmental causes in Washington, DC. Due to his father's strong influence and his early appreciation for the outdoors, Britten knew from an early age that he wanted to study biology. Britten received his BS in biology from the California Institute of Technology in 1980. Britten's interest in neuroscience increased greatly as a result of an integrative neuroscience course taught by Jack D. Pettigrew. Research in Mark Konishi's lab led Britten to neuroethology. He then took a year off to travel around the American continent before applying to graduate school. He matriculated into the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he studied receptive visual fields in David H. Cohen's lab and received his PhD in neurobiology in 1987. Britten remained at the State University of New York, Stony Brook to pursue his postdoctoral research in William T. Newsome's lab and later moved with Newsome to his new lab at Stanford University. Britten and Newsome worked together very closely, using psychophysics to map and measure the neuromechanics of perceptive visual fields in primates. It was through these projects that Britten developed his current scientific focus and research. In 1993, Britten was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior at the University of California, Davis where he received academic tenure as an associate professor in 1999. Since his arrival at the University of California, Davis, Britten has focused on specific areas of extrastriate visual cortex in primates and how they respond to complex visual stimuli. Throughout his oral history Britten emphasizes the need to remain enthusiastic about one's occupation and the importance of balancing professional responsibilities and free time. He has received several grants, including a fellowship, and most notably a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which he discusses in the oral history interview. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1980 California Institute of Technology BS
1987 State University of New York at Stony Brook PhD

Professional Experience

State University of New York at Stony Brook

1987 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow

Stanford University

1987 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of California, Davis

1993 to 1999
Assistant Professor, Center for Neuroscience and Section of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior
1999 to 2002
Associate Professor, Center for Neuroscience and Section of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981 to 1984

Graduate Council Fellowship, State University of New York, Stony Brook

1994 to 1998

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Growing Up
1

Father's Influence. Interest in Biology. Mother. Ancestors. The Outdoors. Schools. Influential Teachers. Summer Ecology Trips. Boating and Sailing.

Undergraduate Education
22

California Institute of Technology. Choosing a College. Discoveringneuroscience. Influential professors. Jack D. Pettigrew's lab. Neuroethology. Social scene. Applying to graduate schools. Taking a year off. Trips to Alaska and Mexico. Gary Lynch's lab.

Graduate School Education
34

State University of New York, Stony Brook. Balancing life and academics. David H. Cohen's lab. Receptive visual field research. Independence as graduate student. Thesis.

Postdoctoral Research
40

State University of New York, Stony Brook. William T. Newsome's lab. Follows Newsome to Stanford University. Perceptual psychology. Psychophysics.

Reflections on Early Scientific Beliefs
46

High school influences. Religion and science. Nature. Parental expectations. Grades. Difficulties with mathematics.

The Job Market
52

Applying for Jobs. Help from William T. Newsome. Working at the University of California, Davis. Funding.

Principal Investigator Research
55

Grant Writing. Receives Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences award. Lab management. Publication. Competition and cooperation. Gender and race in science. Tenure. Teaching. Administrative duties. Current research and its applications.

Biomedical Science
78

Patents. Funding. Ethics of genetic modification. Scientific responsibility. Quality control. Technology. New ideas. Personal happiness. Professional goals.

Index
118

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen