Ian Fiebelkorn, Ph.D., joined the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience in January 2021 as an assistant professor in Neuroscience. He received his B.A. in Neuroscience from Hamilton College and went on to complete his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from The City College of New York. His research aims to understand how the brain selects the information that is most relevant to our behavioral goals, while also filtering out distracting information.
Tell us a little bit about your research.
The brain is not capable of processing all the information in our complex environment — for example, imagine Times Square in New York City or a cluttered playroom — these are examples of environments where there’s the potential for sensory overload. I study the mechanisms that the brain uses to determine which aspects of the environment should receive preferential processing. These filtering mechanisms are broadly referred to as selective attention. My research specifically focuses on how selective attention evolves over time to adapt to our changing environments and our changing goals. The information that’s most important changes from moment to moment, so the brain needs to be flexible.
How did you become interested in your field of study?
To me, there are few things that are more fascinating than the human brain. You are your brain. Just as no set of fingerprints is alike, everyone’s brain is wired differently. And we are a serious bump on the head away from potentially being a very different person. When I think about the big questions, about existence and subjective experience — that’s neuroscience. It is an incredibly exciting field to be in because we still know so little. There is so much research yet to be done.
What brought you to the University of Rochester?
The University of Rochester was my first choice for a lot of reasons. The University has an incredible history in visual science, and there are a number of investigators focusing on attention research. I am excited about working in a collaborative environment and there will certainly be lots of opportunity for collaboration. I am also fortunate to have colleagues here that I already know very well. Friends from graduate school, as well as people whose research I've known and admired over the years. And then on the personal side of things, I grew up in Buffalo. It is nice to be closer to my parents and my sister, so it has also been a good move for my family.
Who are you looking forward to collaborating with?
The opportunity for collaboration was one of the primary reasons that I wanted to be at the University of Rochester. From the basic science to clinical research, there are a number of researchers I’m excited to work with, like Adam Snyder, Ph.D., Farran Briggs, Ph.D., and Jude Mitchell, Ph.D., who are all doing fascinating research in vision and attention. I am also interested in the clinical applications of my research, particularly for neurological disorders that are characterized by a loss of cognitive flexibility. I’d be excited to work, for example, with Ed Freedman, Ph.D. and John Foxe, Ph.D., who do both basic science and clinical research. I am also interested in working with Brian Keane, Ph.D. There are still lots of colleagues I haven’t met, and I’m sure there will be lots of opportunity for collaboration that I’m not yet anticipating.
Do you have a favorite piece of advice?
My postdoctoral mentor, Sabine Kastner, Ph.D., (professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University), told me I should continue to take risks in my research, because that’s the way to move neuroscience forward. In running a lab there is a balance between not doing work that is perceived as being incremental and not making leaps that aren’t well grounded in previous work, especially when you’re working to get funding. You need to take on investigations that people think are likely to succeed, but you also have to push the boundaries. To me, that’s when science is the most fun. Working at those boundaries and doing things that may be a little more difficult.
Originally published in NEUROSCIENCE Volume 9.