Featured IOG Insider: Raphael Serota, Lab Manager
Tell us about you personally and the work you currently do at the IOG Raphael:
This is my second year working in the Ofen Lab. As the Lab manager, I am responsible for all of the lab’s daily functions, but I am most directly involved with handling the lab’s technical needs. This includes computer programming, data analysis, and server administration for the Ofen Lab’s shiny new server.
In my free time, I play piano, bass guitar, and I make electronic music on my computer. I’m currently learning to play the drums, but I’m not very good yet. I enjoy computer programming for fun, even though I do it for work too. I usually like to make games, often music games. I also like to spin glowsticks. I practice meditation regularly.
Where did you grow up?
I was born into an orthodox Jewish community in Chicago, but my parents got divorced when I was very young. I lived mostly with my mother in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where I went to public school and had a mostly secular life.
Where did you go to school?
I went to college at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts. It’s a small hippie school in the woods. There are no grades, no tests, and no predefined majors. You study pretty much whatever you want. I really liked Hampshire because it gave me the opportunity to be more adventurous with my education, without worrying about ruining a cumulative GPA.
What did you study?
I settled into psychology early because I just think humans are fascinating. After dabbling a bit in the psychology of language, I ultimately ‘majored’ in Affective Decision Making, which is the study of how human emotions affect the choices we make. I was particularly interested in situations involving risk and uncertainty, where a lot of important information is missing, so your emotions are really the only information available to guide you.
How did you end up in aging?
After graduating from Hampshire, I looked around everywhere I could for research assistant positions, hoping to get some more research experience before applying to graduate school. Dr. Ofen stumbled upon my CV, and she must have been impressed with my skill-set, because here I am.
What surprises you being here, at the IOG or in your lab?
One thing that really struck me while working in the Ofen Lab is the extent to which neuroscience is computationally isolated. Neuroscientists need software that is very powerful, but also very specific to our particular needs. There is no ‘Microsoft Neuroimaging’ software bundle that covers all of our software needs, and there is certainly no tech-support person who would get paid to answer my questions over the phone. Many of the programs we use were made by small teams of five or six people, possibly graduate students or post-docs. If I have any technical problems with our software, my only hope, beyond trouble-shooting the problems myself, is to look on internet message boards where questions are answered pretty much exclusively by those few developers of that specific program, because they are the only humans in the world who truly understand how it works. I am very fortunate that Wayne State University has several talented computer experts that I can talk to about my technical difficulties, but their support stops at general computer problems. Most of the technical issues we encounter in the Ofen Lab are too obscure for me to expect a general ‘tech expert’ to be able to help me.
To make matters more complicated, for any task we would need to do that is not broadly relevant to most neuroscientists, there is practically no support available at all. The Ofen Lab, like many labs, has many unique needs, due to the unique nature of our research (in theory, every lab does unique research). Working in the Ofen Lab has forced me to develop a “Do-It-Yourself” attitude, as I have had to write various programs to perform tasks that are specific to our research.
To learn more about the IOG click here.
To learn more about the Ofen Lab for Cognitive & Brain Development click here.