December 13, 2010

Futures Seminars to determine academic direction

Ten distinguished cognitive neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and linguists from top institutions across the country will gather at Shriver and Mason halls this week to discuss what promise to be the most exciting new developments in the study of the mind and brain over the coming decade. Sponsored by the departments of Cognitive Science and Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, this seminar will do more than stimulate discussion: It will create a blueprint for the future of cognitive and brain sciences at The Johns Hopkins University.

This event is the seventh in a series of Futures Seminars that began in September with the Classics Department and has included sessions for the departments of Physics and Astronomy, Anthropology and History; the Humanities Center; and the Film and Media Studies program. By this time next year, 21 Futures Seminars comprising every department, discipline and program in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences will have been held, according to Katherine Newman, the James B. Knapp Dean of the school.

“These Futures Seminars are opportunities for our colleagues in all departments to engage with other top experts in their fields to debate the future and to consider the important questions and implications not only for their disciplines but also for the methods we use to train our students and engage with our colleagues across the country and, indeed, around the world,” Newman said. “Most important, as a result of these events, each department and program will develop a coherent, thoughtful and ambitious roadmap for its future.”

The first step in a strategic planning process put in motion by Newman, the Futures Seminars allow each department to devote time to taking a close look at the state of its field and where that field is headed in the coming decade, said Steven Yantis, chair of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

“The goal is to plan for continued excellence in research and education by further strengthening areas of current excellence and also developing new areas that are likely to experience significant growth in the coming years,” he said.

Following each Futures Seminar, the departments, disciplines and programs involved create a white paper: a vision statement summarizing the state of the field, along with the department’s current strengths and challenges and proposals for future growth. That document will be evaluated by a committee of faculty from other universities and institutions that will visit the Homewood campus to meet with Johns Hopkins faculty, students, administrators and other constituents and will make recommendations about how the university’s resources can best be used to turn each plan into reality.

“Our goal is not to just wait for the future to happen but, instead, to anticipate the future and meet it head on, understanding Johns Hopkins’ place in each field and discipline and what special contribution and flavor Johns Hopkins brings to the table,” Newman said. “We want to carefully consider Johns Hopkins’ position in the global scheme of things and the particular implications of that in terms of what we do here in research and teaching and the experiences we offer our undergraduates and graduate students.”

This week’s seminar includes panelists from the University of California at Berkeley and at Irvine; Howard Hughes Medical Institute; University of Maryland; National Eye Institute; Salk Institute; University of Rochester; and New York, Rutgers and Yale universities. Together, these panelists will provide a broad overview of the most exciting new developments in perception, learning, memory, emotion and language, using a variety of methods and approaches.

For more information about the Futures Seminars, go to