30/05/2013

Interview with Dr Mark Eldridge (May 2013)

Categories: Meet the researchers


Mark Eldridge works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Mark and his family moved to the USA two years ago, as he was offered a post-doc position in the Laboratory of Neuropsychology. Mark was one of the participants at the ‘Destination Europe’ event in Washington, DC on 11 April 2013.

Q: Mark, please tell us a bit about your background and your research in the US.

I obtained my PhD from the University of Bristol, UK, where I worked on the neural correlates of visual memory. While doing that research, I became interested in the influence of attention and reward on visual perception and memory. My current PI had published some interesting research in this area, so I contacted him directly to ask if I could pursue research in the aforementioned areas in his lab. We met at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago, and I began my post-doc position in his lab in 2011. I am currently attempting to establish how categorical information is stored in the brain, and to determine how reward contingency influences recognition memory.

The year we moved to the US, I proposed to my girlfriend (now wife) down at the tidal basin in Washington DC during the cherry blossom festival. We returned to the UK to get married in Wales, and 13 months later our first child was born - a beautiful daughter whom we named 'Olivia'. We tease her mercilessly for being a real 'merican, but luckily she hasn't developed the language skills to be able to comprehend us yet!

I currently work at the NIH in Bethesda. It is an inspiring place to do research. The resources available to me are exceptional, and, combined with the friendly, collaborative nature of the Lab of Neuropsychology (NIMH), I am rapidly advancing towards my research goals. Ultimately, my wife and I both intend to return to Europe. We have made a number of very good friends this side of the pond, but our family and childhood friends are all still based in the UK. For this intention to become reality, I will need to be able to secure a sufficiently well-funded position to allow me to continue driving my research forward. Fortunately, this seems like a realistic possibility, as I learned at the 'Destination Europe' career symposium at which I met with research mobility professionals from Europe.

Q: Thank you Mark for telling us about your life here in the USA and your research work. What did you learn in particular at ‘Destination Europe’?

I learned about the attractive offers available from Marie Curie to encourage researchers to move to Europe. The well-funded ERC project supports new PIs with good ideas. I left with the general sense that, despite the uncertain economic climate in Europe, most countries are committed to expanding their R&D sectors to drive growth in their economies, which means that funding for the biological sciences is likely to grow rather than shrink in coming years.

Q: Would you consider conducting research in Europe again?

Yes. There is a lot of good research being done in Europe at many well-resourced institutes and universities. My family has strong roots in the UK, and I have also enjoyed living and working in Belgium and France previously.

Q: What would you say to those researchers that have never been to Europe? Is it worthwhile? Will you be able to use the knowledge gained to further enhance your research career after returning to Europe?

As someone at a relatively early stage in their career (this is my first post-doc), I can't comment on how easy or satisfying it is to establish a lab in Europe, but from a cultural perspective I would argue it is a very rewarding experience to live in another country, and to immerse yourself in their traditions and lifestyles. I believe that the knowledge I have gained here at the NIH has helped to establish strong foundations for a successful career in research, be it in Europe or elsewhere.

As a researcher planning on returning to Europe, Mark Elridge is particularly interested in funding opportunities for researchers in the EU. At the ‘Destination Europe’ event in Washington, DC he was given the opportunity to gain first-hand information on the different, attractive funding schemes operating in Europe as well as chat with the event speakers responsible for the implementation of these programmes. The ‘Destination Europe‘ Conference was truly a great source of information to him and many other participants.