Earl K. Miller

Born: November 30, 1962 | Columbus, OH, US

Earl K. Miller was born near Cleveland, Ohio and attended Kent State University, originally for biology. After taking advice to get research experience, he worked in Richard M. Vardaris's psychology lab. Once he started doing experiments and collecting neurophysiology data, he fell in love" with research; Miller switched his major to psychology so Vardaris could be his advisor. He attended Princeton University for graduate studies, working in the laboratory of Charles G. Gross, studying the visual cortex. Next, Miller undertook postdoctoral work with Robert Desimone at the National Institutes of Health, transitioning from studying vision to studying the cognitive operations that operate on sensory information. He is now at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has focused his lab on cognitive neuroscience and executive brain control.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0589
No. of pages: 80
Minutes: 300

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
26-27 August 2004
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Earl K. Miller was born and raised in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, one of two siblings—the other being his identical twin. His mother was a homemaker; his father an accountant. As a child, Miller was interested in science and continuously performed well in science classes in school. He entered Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, originally pursuing a degree in biology (and undertaking pre-medical coursework). After taking advice to do research in order to better his chances of getting into medical school, Miller volunteered to work in Richard M. Vardaris's psychology lab for his senior thesis. Vardaris was doing work on memory in the hippocampus, and, as Miller noted, once he started doing experiments and collecting neurophysiology data, he "fell in love" with research; Miller switched his major to psychology so that Vardaris could be his advisor. He matriculated at Princeton University for his graduate studies, ultimately working in the laboratory of Charles G. Gross studying the visual cortex, though his research in neuroscience evolved from object recognition to cognition; during this time Miller met his wife, a psychologist who later worked for the American Psychological Association. From Princeton Miller undertook postdoctoral work with Robert Desimone at the National Institutes of Health, transitioning from studying vision to studying the cognitive operations that operate on sensory information; he had a number of publications in top tier journals come out of this work. He moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts upon accepting a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; he focused his lab on cognitive neuroscience and executive brain control. The remainder of the interview with Miller focuses on what he believes are the practical applications of his research; the future of his research in cross-translational neurophysiology (from gene to system level); and his professional responsibilities. The interview concludes with his thoughts on the peer-review process; the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences; competition and collaboration in science; experimenting on living animals; and the privatization of scientific research. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 Kent State University BA Psychology
1987 Princeton University MA Psychology and Neuroscience
1990 Princeton University PhD Psychology and Neuroscience

Professional Experience

National Institute of Mental Health

1990 to 1995
Intramural Research Fellow, Laboratory of Neurophsychology

Kent State University

1983 to 1985
Research Assistant

Princeton University

1985 to 1989
Assistant in Instruction
1985 to 1990
Research Assistant
1989 to 1990
Lecturer

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1995 to 1999
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
1996 to 1999
Associate Member, Center for Learning and Memory
1999 to 2002
Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
2000 to 2005
Director of Graduate Studies in Brain and Cognitive Sciences
2001 to 2005
Associate Director, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
2002 to 2003
Professor of Neuroscience, The Picower Center for Learning and Memory and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
2003 to 2005
Picower Professor of Neuroscience, The Picower Center for Learning and Memory and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
1999 to 2005
Investigator, RIKEN-MIT Neuroscience Research Center

Honors

Year(s) Award
1985

Phi Beta Kappa

1985

Graduate summa cum laude with honors, Kent State University

1986

National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Training Fellowship

1987

National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship

1996

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow

1996

Whitehall Foundation Fellowship

1996

McKnight Scholar Award

1996

Pew Scholar Award

1998

John Merck Scholar Award

1999

Class of 1956 Career Development Professorship

2000

National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award

2000

Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award

2002

Elected to The International Society for Behavioral Neuroscience

2003

Picower Professorship (endowed chair)

2005

Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Table of Contents

Early and Undergraduate Years
1

Family background. Twin brother. Early interest in science. Childhood activities. School in Cleveland, Ohio. Defining moment when at Kent State University. Parental expectations. College experiences. Undergraduate neurophysiology project in Richard M. Vardaris's laboratory.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
22

Princeton University. Works for Charles G. Gross studying the visual cortex. Typical day in graduate school. Research evolution in neuroscience from object recognition to cognition. Postdoctoral fellowship in Robert Desimone's laboratory at the National Institutes of Health. Meets his wife. Grant-writing process. Writing journal articles.

Faculty Years
39

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Setting up his laboratory. Current research in cognitive neuroscience on executive brain control. Practical applications of his research. Research in cross-translational neurophysiology from gene to system level. Teaching responsibilities. Peer-review process. Tenure at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Final Thoughts
60

Lab management style. Leisure activities. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Patents. Competition and collaboration in science. Prioritizing research projects. Educating the public about science. The national scientific agenda. Privatization of scientific research. More on competition, specifically in neuroscience.

Index
78

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten