Linguistics Grad Students Should Take a Class in the Brain Lab

Thursday, December 10th, 2009 @ 11:37PM

A day in the McKnight Brain Institute at University of Florida.
–Article by Tyler McPeek

Last year I had a chance to visit the McKnight Brain Institute Lab at UF.  I was at a formal dinner event and made the acquaintance of a Japanese brain surgeon who was studying for one year with other brain surgeons at the institute.  He was a young guy, and Japanese being my second language, we started chatting away in Japanese about different places we had both lived in back in Japan, as well as our experiences and studies at universities both here in the US and back in Japan.
After that, I would sometimes meet him and some other doctors for coffee or drinks and discuss various issues.  I had originally been a pre-med student and spent countless hours in labs doing animal dissections and the like as an undergraduate, and felt somewhat at home with this group.  The Japanese surgeon gave me an open invitation to the brain lab, and I eventually went around to observe and take part in the lab studies.  I don’t want to make anyone lose their lunch here, except to say that, for me, it was a fascinating experience to dissect and study human brains and cadaver heads.
This led me to think about the merits of having an elective course (or possibly even a required course) listed in our University of Florida Linguistics Department course catalogue.  It is one thing to contemplate the ramifications of Chomsky’s and other’s ideas that the brain is hard-wired for language, and to read about different types of aphasias and their implications for the fields of neurolinguistics, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, and others.  It is quite another perspective to actually touch, study in-person, and have these parts of a human brain under your scalpel in a laboratory setting.  Regardless of catalogue listings, I would like to strongly recommend a neuroscience or brain anatomy lab class to my colleagues here at UF and at other universities.  It is truly a worthwhile experience.

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