Charles E. Connor

Born: 1955 | Baltimore, MD, US
Photograph of Charles E. Connor

Charles E. Connor was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up with relatives who had a science background and knew he wanted to be a scientist from a young age. He attended Loyola College in Maryland for undergrad and Vanderbilt University for his master's degree in pharmacology. After a stint in law school, he entered the neuroscience program at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied neural signaling for texture. He stayed at Hopkins for a postdoc with Gian F. Poggi and Michael Steinmetz, then took another postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis with David C. Van Essen. Connor returned to Hopkins for a faculty position in the neuroscience department, where his research has focused on understanding the neural code for object shape in the brain. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0474
No. of pages: 93
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
19 and 20 July 2004
Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, Maryland

Abstract of Interview

Charles E. Connor was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, spending the first few years of his life in Parkville, but then moving with his family to Towson, a suburb nestled in a wooded area through which Connor used to love to run. He grew up with some relatives who had a science background; religion also played an important role in Connor's upbringing (as well as later in life). Throughout his early education, Connor had an inkling that he wanted to be a scientist, despite a bevy of other talents and interests; with his junior high and high school science classes that feeling solidified. He attended Loyola College in Maryland and, after some time in various labs, chose Vanderbilt University for his master's degree in pharmacology. He attended the University of Maryland to pursue a degree in law, but after finishing law school, he realized that the career was not for him. Connor then entered the neuroscience program at Johns Hopkins University began his work with Kenneth Johnson. In the lab, Connor focused his studies on neural signaling for texture. He stayed at Hopkins for a postdoctoral fellowship with Gian F. Poggi and Michael Steinmetz, and then continued to another postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis with David C. Van Essen. Ultimately, Connor returned to Hopkins for a faculty position in the neuroscience department, where his research has focused on his long-term research goal: an understanding of the neural code for object shape in the brain. The availability of both funding and of students, topics Connor discusses at length, has shaped—and, he believes, will continue to shape—his research. While there is currently no industrial application for his research, he and some of his students have explored possible future applications, including a visual prosthesis and machine vision. His work in the lab, which historically included managing students, designing and overseeing production of new equipment, and benchwork, has evolved with the lab's growing reputation and Connor's added responsibilities, including teaching, writing grants, and administrative tasks. The interview concludes with Connor's reflections on another task that occupies some of his professional time, writing journal articles, and on the effect these publications have on his lab and his science. He talks about the role of creativity, serendipity, and technology in his research, and broader issues such as the national scientific agenda, ethics, and the public's view of science. Finally, the interview ends with his comments on the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Science and his happiness with being a principal investigator. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1978 Loyola College BS Biology
1982 Vanderbilt University School of Medicine MS Pharmacology
1989 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine PhD Neuroscience

Professional Experience

Washington University School of Medicine

1992 to 1996
Postdoctorate, Neuroscience, with Dr. David C. Van Essen

Johns Hopkins University

1996 to 2003
Assistant Professor
2003 to 2005
Associate Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

2003 to 2005
Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience

Honors

Year(s) Award
1998 to 2002

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Childhood, Family as an Adult, and Early Education
1

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. Family background. Parents. Sister. Marriages. Son. Religion. Childhood experiences. Interests as a boy and young man. Early schooling. Interest in reading. Influential teachers. First biology class in junior high school. Extracurricular activities. Parental expectations.

College, Law School, Graduate Study in Science, and Postdoctoral Work
23

Attends Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland. Defining moment in aphilosophy course. College experiences. Master's degree in pharmacology from Vanderbilt University. Attends law school at the University of Maryland. Decision to pursue science rather than law. Enters the neuroscience graduate program at Johns Hopkins University. Works with Kenneth Johnson. Johnson's laboratory management style. Research project in neurophysiology on the neuralsignal for texture. Ethics of experimenting on primates. Typical day in graduate school. Neuroscience department at Johns Hopkins University. Postdoctoral fellowships at Johns Hopkins with Gian F. Poggi and Michael Steinmetz. Postdoctoral fellowship with David C. Van Essen at Washington University in St. Louis. Van Essen's laboratory management style.

Moving from Postdoctoral Position to Faculty
42

Work in David Van Essen's laboratory in systems neuroscience on themechanisms of visual attention. Accepts a position at Johns Hopkins University. Setting up his lab. Tenure at Johns Hopkins University. Current research in the neurophysiology of vision on how the brain represents shape. Wife's career. Future research on the neurophysiology of shape recognition. Professional goals. Practical applications of research. Funding history. Role in the lab. Administrative duties. Teaching responsibilities.

Science as a Career and General Thoughts
60

Grant-writing process. Typical workday. Leisure activities. Management style. Writing journal articles. Competition. History of science. Patents. Privatization of scientific research. Role of the scientist in educating the public about science. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
90

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten