NeuroMOOCers, you overwhelm me!!

This is a picture of Anish Gakipati while he was a student in Understanding the Brain at an age of 10 years.

This is a picture of Anish Garikipati “in class” for Understanding the Brain.

I have tried and tried, over and over, to write a post relating how teaching Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life on Coursera has changed my life. Every time that I have thought of sitting down to summarize my experience in writing, I quickly become overwhelmed by my feelings of deep gratitude for this journey that NeuroMOOCers and I have taken together over the last year plus.

Which stories do I choose to tell? How can I leave that story out? Or that one? Or the one about….. and so on until once again, I write nothing. Then I received a message that made everything simple and easy. Let me set the stage. I received a message on LinkedIn from Mekhala Vithala:

Hello Dr. Mason,
My son Anish Garikipati wants to become neurosurgeon and enjoys learning from coursera on neurology. Needless to say the first one he loved was your course. Tomorrow is his Birthday. He would be elated if he gets a Birthday wish from you!! If it’s not too much to ask, may I request you to send a Happy B’day note to him? H
ere, you can see him on a candid video. Thank You!

The video that Anish’s mother attached showed a happy, playful young boy, with a spark in his eye, choosing to watch a video on the brain’s blood supply in his free time. This simultaneously playful, ambitious and studious young boy made me smile. So I fired off birthday wishes:

Happy Birthday Anish!

Study and think deeply and use your brain for good. And also get outside and play with others and with your imagination.

Best wishes,
Peggy Mason

The next day, I heard again from Anish’s mother who sent me this video recording of Anish’s priceless reaction along with this note from the now 11-year old Anish:

This letter from young Anish G, thanking me for birthday wishes that I sent him.

This letter from young Anish Garikipati, thanks me for birthday wishes that I sent him.

I don’t think that I could possibly add to the beauty of Anish’s eloquence and Mekhala’s love for Anish. I am moved by a mother’s thoughtful love for her son and for her knowledge of what would make him happy; and by Anish’s beautiful expression of emotion and his amazing letter.

This entire interaction exemplifies what NeuroMOOC has meant to me. It is not that most of my students are young aspiring neurosurgeons. It is in fact nothing about the specifics of Anish or Mekhala although I am excited to see the future that Anish will help create. Instead, the core gift that I have received is the opportunity to reach thousands with Understanding the Brain: the Neurobiology of Everyday Life, leading to so many more fans for my beloved neurobiology. Meeting all of you, connecting  with you, intellectually, emotionally and socially has enriched my life immeasurably. And I have emerged as a more fulfilled person. Thank you all.

23 Comments »

  1. Your course is among those rare courses that capture curiosity and anticipation. Unlike Anish, I am a 64 year old social work professor and you captured my interest in week one by making the information very relevant and by how you deliver the material. Your style is very engaging. I am taking what I have learned and applying it to my teaching with masters level students. Thank you!

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  2. Dr. Mason,

    There is but great respect and deep gratitude for the efforts made by you and your fellow MOOC teachers (and assistants too) for these classes. So many thanks for bringing your knowledge to our collective benefit! This whole thing is a great ride, personally I am very happy to live in these times when one can start learning online, thank you for everything! 🙂

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  3. Looking back to the start of this class and the comments that I shared with one of my friends also doing the course, we were in love from the start, you had us from Bauby! What a journey, what an adventure, what a joy. I am a veterinarian so the material was not entirely new to me, but you took it to a level that has not only helped my understanding, but also assisted enormously in my ability to explain things to my clients. But that is only scratching the surface of what this course has been to me. Not just a lesson in anatomy and physiology, but a celebration of what we are and who we are. All my weekly exams are done, and I am now luxuriating in my final assignment. That in itself has been a gift to me. Enormous thanks from DownUnder!

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    • “You had us from Bauby” brings a huge smile to my face. It’s so important to be able to explain things. Understanding and a diagnostic/ prognostic framework means the world to people. Too bad I can’t explain things to my kitty cats. If you figure that one out let me know.

      Best
      P

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  4. I don’t think you understand what a big impact you have on some of us Dr. Peggy. You have a special place in my heart and mind together with Salman Khan from khanacademy. Without him I would never be able to go to university and study computer science. I was just too terrible at math and had a really hard time following what teachers say because of anxiety and other reasons.

    Now you come across my path while I’m working in a big software company and you ignite a fire in me. While I always wanted to learn about inner-workings of the brain I always felt intimidated because I never learned proper biology and because of not knowing where to start. I tried even reading neuroscience books on my spare time but they felt so dry and boring and simply couldn’t understand what the heck they were trying to convey. You showed me (like Salman) that learning doesn’t have to be about memorization of words and concepts, neither dry and boring. I mean I can’t believe that I remember what saccades and microsaccades are just by watching a video once. It’s all just proof that you don’t have to make 50 hours of boring lectures to teach. You just make 5 and make them FUN and INTERESTING so they automatically stick in your head! (An other option would ofcourse be to be sticking people’s hands with needles while they watch the lectures since emotion makes us remember as you said.)

    Anyhow I just wanted to express my appreciation. In Ancient Greece there were sophists and there were philosophers. Sophists were being paid to teach people (similar to today’s teachers) while philosophers taught because they loved it and really believed in what they taught. For me people like you and Sal are the philosophers of the new millennium. I really thank you for what you give to total strangers! I assure you that when I will have the chance in my life I will do the same.

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    • I loved your note. Thank you so much. The lesson of 5 minute lessons is HUGE. One of my challenges now is to carry that MOOC-lesson into my classroom teaching.
      Btw Rebecca Goldstein s Plato at the Googleplex has really brought philosophy to life for me. And so without commenting on its accuracy the idea that I could be called a philosopher is high praise to me.
      P

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    • Dear Anish,
      Thank you for allowing me too. I think many people are finding joy in your joy at learning about the brain. Let’s talk soon, my young friend. Best to your mom too,
      P

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  5. What a neat story. I appreciated the advice that Anish also include play — reminds me of my 3rd grade teacher who, when I was struggling with a math problem told me to forget it and try again after recess. Worked like a charm. Now that I know the memory has had to leave my neocortex and go to my hippocampus every time I’ve retrieved it I can only say I think that’s the way it happened. 😉 Aquameerkat is right Dr. Mason, you have had a huge impact on many people I’m sure. Just last night I was out chatting with an 11 year old neighbor telling her about empathy in rats and that they shared chocolate chips even more generously than the scientist’s sister in law. 😉 Unfortunately I don’t have Aquameerkat’s memory but it’s always good to be reminded of just how awesome life is. BTW, I just took my cat Fluffy in to get her teeth cleaned — you wouldn’t believe how expensive it is, I’d never spend that on my own teeth….. 😉

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  6. Good night, I am a 23 year old medstudent interested in neurology, I saw your course in coursera but it is almost over, I would really, reaaaaaaally love it if there would be another course soon.

    hoping for you to see this,
    A young excited student.

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  7. Morning Professor Peggy!

    That is such a sweet letter! Impressive that he’s so young and wants to be a neurosurgeon. I have no doubt he’ll make it happen 🙂

    I’m in your current Neurogiology MOOC and it is OUTSTANDING! I’m also taking a Foundational Neuroscience course also offered on Coursera and it is a challenging course but this one really helped me understand the basics so I don’t get super lost with all the neurobiological terms. I’v had an obsession with trying to learn neuroscience over the last year and a half and since I haven’t finished my bachelor’s and school is on hold, I’m taking advantage of these free courses to expand my knowledge. Seeing the real brains or telencephalon is exciting! It is the most fascinating, most complex, and most mysterious organ we possess. It’s incredible all the mechanisms that go into the mundane tasks we complete daily without awareness.

    Thank you for this course – For someone like me with challenges returning to school it is priceless. It is also extremely well taught, laid out and intriguing every step of the way!

    Take Care!
    Ivanna

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  8. Dear Dr. Mason,

    Thanks so much for being such a wonderful teacher! After many years in academics, I can point to only a few teachers who have made such a big difference, and you’re one of them. I was interested in the brain and the mind in medical school, but neuroscience was still in its infancy. Fast forward several decades, and there’s so much to learn in the field — I’m delighted to have discovered in you such an inspiring tour-guide+explainer+cheerleader. The brain really is soooo cool. Even though I’m sitting on the clinical sidelines, I consider myself a born-again neuroscientist, with many thanks to you. Now I’m writing a user’s manual book and blog for my fellow Boomer-aged brain owners. I’ll recommend that the more adventuresome learners head over to your next course, and I’ll join you too.

    Thanks again!
    Dr. Sharon Webb

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    • Dear Sharon,
      Thank you for writing!! I hardly consider the clinical view a sideline perspective. I think you are on the front line. I have great admiration for you and your fellow clinicians. I’d love to see the user’s manual for my (late) boomer brain. Lovely idea.
      Best,
      Peggy

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  9. Once upon a time, over 20 years ago, I was first taught about the brain and the nervous system. I fell in love… I wanted to become a neuropsychologist. Life got in the way and I ended up doing something entirely different, which hasn’t been fulfilling in a long time, though I try to make the best of it and use my job to be of service to society and people.
    Your MOOC has been such a joy, I have fallen in love with the brain all over again. I’ve put the next offering of your course on my watchlist and in the mean time have moved on to “The brain and space” and will start “Sleep: neurobiology, medicine and society” on Monday. Now that I’ve found my passion again, I won’t let go!
    You’ve enriched my life in a way that is just priceless. Thank you very much, professor Mason!
    Sincerely,
    Iris

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  10. When will you be doing another course? Coursera’s catalogue makes it look like one is coming soon yet the comments here are from the course in May??

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  11. I really liked this! I personally know Anish as a friend, because he goes to my school. This is a very inspirational article and thank you to Dr. Mason for your inspiration, kindness, and knowledge as well!

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  12. Dear Dr Mason
    Thank you very much for your course. It has litterally changed my life in many way and inspired me to follow other Moocs on neurobiology and related themes. Expecially is helping me to better understand my own work , chi gong and healing, and with this to help other people.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart

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