2016 Neurosciences Retreat

Written by Neurosciences Graduate Student, Jacob Blum

The beach at the Stanford Hopkins Marine Station, overlooking the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the horizon.


When the interdepartmental Stanford Neuroscience PhD program began in 1962, it was among the first of its kind. The pioneering affiliated Stanford professors, led by former Chairman of Neurology Frank Morrell , ventured forth into unexplored territory. Together, they sought to bridge the gap between the the fields of biological sciences, genetics, and psychology, which were at the time composed of professors from vastly different academic pedigrees. While the funding scheme, size, and name of the program has changed several times during the intervening years, the program continues to connect colleagues across disciplines. An integral ingredient in producing fruitful and novel collaborations is interpersonal cohesion within the program and community involvement. There are many ways that the Stanford Neurosciences Program achieves this goal, but none that better embodies our spirit than the annual fall retreat in Monterey at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Each year the Neuroscience program hosts the retreat at the Hopkins Marine Station, gathering students, faculty and guest speakers alike to discuss the latest research findings and build a scientific community. It is a time for students and faculty to get to know each other in a different, more relaxed context outside the usual school environment of lab and lectures. Beyond the focus of research, activities such as picnics, lawn-games, a bonfire (drought-permitting, of course), and student-led skits help strengthen the experience.

This year, we have an exceptional lineup of internal and external speakers that were nominated, voted upon, and invited by our graduate student body. The visiting faculty will discuss a variety of topics and technologies: Brenda Bloodgood (UCSD) is highly interested in the molecular regulation and function of inhibitory synapses, Takaki Komiyama (UCSD) focuses on the activity of neuronal ensembles in behaving animals using 2-photon imaging, Chris Harvey (Harvard) studies how cortical circuits perform computations underpinning working memory and decision-making, and Zachary Knight (UCSF) researches the homeostatic neuronal mechanisms that control hunger, thirst, and thermoregulation in mice. 

John Huguenard and students at the 2016 Neurosciences Retreat at the Stanford Hopkins Marine Station.

A Faculty Perspective

We sat down with John Huguenard, former Stanford Neurosciences Director (2006 - 2013) and current Stanford Intensive Neurosciences Bootcamp Co-Director, for his insight and thoughts about our annual retreat.

Jacob: So John, what are you looking forward to most about this year's retreat?

John: The retreat is in an outstanding location, offering an opportunity to meet informally with great students, and hear fanatastic inside/outside speakers.  I'm particularly excited about the mix of speakers this year.

Jacob: Has the retreat changed over time since its founding--if so, how?

John: The original retreat was in the early '90s, when Howard Schulman was director.  He provided funding (~$75) to student Tom Otis, to organize and run the retreat at Hopkins Marine Station, where Tom had done undergraduate research with Bill Gilly.   Rumor has it that to keep costs down, the students surreptitiously camped on the grounds, getting up early in the morning and covering tracks so no one would know. 

Aside from a few years when Hopkins was not available, it has always been held there.  A notable exception was a mountain retreat at Bear Valley, where it snowed and we were able to entice Carla Shatz to visit as an outside speaker.  One might speculate this helped convince her to return to Stanford one day. What has NOT changed is that the retreat is entirely student run and student oriented.  Students pick the speakers, invite them, and organize all activities, which is great. 

... the Stanford retreat is really about the students... 

Jacob: How is Stanford's different from Neuroscience retreats at other schools?

John: I think that the Stanford retreat is really about the students, and not so much an opportunity to network with Stanford faculty.

This has the advantage of allowing students to let their hair down a bit in a relaxed environment, and have very good opportunities to network with outside speakers for career advice, post-doctoral placement, etc.  The fluctuating faculty turnout is a challenge, but for the entering students, this is alleviated by the numerous opportunities to learn about faculty research at SIN boot camp and the evening faculty talks held in the Fall and Winter quarters.