Growing Up In Science: Geoffrey Goodhill (WashU Developmental Biology)

September 1, 2022
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Moore Auditorium (Medical Campus, North Building)

Growing Up In Science is a global series dedicated to sharing the personal narratives of scientists, with a focus on the hidden challenges of becoming and being a scientist throughout all stages of one’s career. We’ll feature scientists at WashU via in-person talks at 4pm in McDonnell 928, typically on the first Thursday of the month.

Full schedule, Growing Up In Science

If you have questions or are interested in getting involved, please contact Julia Pai.

Official Story:

Prof Goodhill originally trained in Mathematics, Physics, Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science in the UK. He then did postdocs at Edinburgh University, Baylor College of Medicine and the Salk Institute before starting his own lab in the Neuroscience Deparment at Georgetown University Medical School, where he was awarded tenure.

In 2005 he moved to Australia to take up a joint appointment between the Queensland Brain Institute and School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. In 2021 he returned to the US to the departments of Developmental Biology and Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine where, together with colleagues from the Danforth Campus, he is establishing a Center for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience.

Prof Goodhill has published over 130 papers, and in 2014 received the award for the best paper by a member of the Australasian Neuroscience Society. He has been awarded over 30 grants to fund his research from the NIH, NSF, DoD, Simons Foundation, Human Frontiers Science Foundation, Whitaker Foundation, Australian Research Council, and Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. He has trained over 30 PhD students and postdocs, many of whom are now faculty members in universities worldwide, or work as scientists in tech companies such as Google Deepmind. From 2005-2010 he was Editor-in-Chief of the journal Network: Computation in Neural Systems, and has also served on the Editorial Boards of Neural Computation, Brain Informatics, Communications Biology, Neural Systems and Circuits and Scientific Reports. He has reviewed manuscripts for over 60 different journals and grants for 15 different research agencies worldwide. In 2006 he founded the Australian Workshop on Computational Neuroscience which now runs annually, and in 2015 he founded the Systems and Computational Neuroscience DownUnder (SCiNDU) conference which now runs bi-annually. During his career he has taught courses in Medical Neuroscience, Developmental Neuroscience, Mathematical Neuroscience, Numerical Methods and Scientific Computing. Besides giving many radio interviews and public lectures about his work he has also written several articles for The Conversation and given a TEDx talk.

Unofficial story

After spending the first 2 years of my life in China (where my parents were teaching English) I grew up in the UK in Birmingham and London. My academic interests rapidly converged on Math and Physics and I completed a joint degree in those at Bristol University. However I was also very interested in playing clarinet and saxophone, and almost decided to go to music college instead of university. My musical interests evolved from classical to jazz, and I spent a lot of time playing gigs with rockabilly, blues, jazz and rock bands in London and Bristol.

By the time I graduated I’d temporarily lost interest in Math and Physics, and so played music and did various odd jobs for a while. However I then got interested in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and so did a 1-year Masters in AI at Edinburgh University. During that time I also gigged with a locally popular jump-jive band, including most memorably some TV and radio work and 30 live shows in 3 weeks during the Edinburgh Festival while also attempting to write my Masters thesis during the daytime.

I then moved to Sussex University in Brighton to do my PhD. The project was supposed to be on human-computer interaction but it ended up being on neural network modeling of the development of the mammalian visual system. While this established my future academic path, sadly I never gelled with the music scene in Brighton as well as I had in Edinburgh. However I did still play in several bands and was a DJ at the Brighton Jazz Club.

My intention had been to move to the US to do a postdoc straight after my PhD, but because of a personal relationship I instead went back to Edinburgh for a postdoc with my previous Masters supervisor. Naturally almost as soon as I arrived back in Edinburgh this personal relationship ended. However I had fun playing more gigs with the jump-jive band and others. The postdoc fellowship required me to start doing some experimental as well as theoretical work, so during this time I got my first ever experience with bench work, and also for the first time attended some neuroscience courses.

I finally then moved to the USA to do a postdoc in Houston. However this didn’t  work out so I rapidly moved on to the Salk Institute in San Diego. It was there that I met my wife Linda Richards, who was a postdoc in the same lab. After many applications on my part and 2 applications on her part we both got faculty positions on the East Coast, her in Baltimore and me in Washington DC. We got married and had two kids. I played Principal Clarinet in the Georgetown University Orchestra and also regularly with jazz and blues bands around the DC area, though not with quite the same level of intensity as before.

For a combination of reasons we eventually decided to move to the UK or Australia (where Linda’s from), and the best combination of jobs for both of us was in Brisbane. This was very productive scientifically, a wonderful place for our kids to grow up, and we loved exploring the Outback and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. However musically nothing really gelled for me.

Out of the blue the opportunity then came up to move to WashU. By this time our kids were adults and it was too good an opportunity to miss. However as soon as we accepted the offers Covid hit and Australia closed its borders in both directions. We then had a challenging 18 months involving many cancelled flights, enormous amounts of paperwork from both the Australian and US governments, periods confined to strict hotel quarantine in Australia, having zoom meetings with our new WashU colleagues at 4am because of the time difference, and lots of PCR tests.

But it’s all been worth it. On top of all the great scientific opportunities at WashU I’ve rediscovered my inner musician in St Louis, and have been sitting in regularly with fantastic local jazz musicians who have all been extremely welcoming. I’ve even started getting some real gigs. This for me is just the right balance: great science and great music.