Peggy Mason

Bio: Peggy Mason grew up in the Washington DC area and worked in taxidermy at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History under the direction of the late Dr Charles O Handley Jr. She went to college at Harvard, graduating with a degree in Biology in 1983. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard in 1987. After postdoctoral work at the University of California - San Francisco under the direction of Dr Howard Fields, she joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1992. Dr Mason is now Professor of Neurobiology. Dr Mason is committed to teaching neurobiology to anyone that will listen. She has taught medical students since her arrival at UChicago, with the exception of a 2 year hiatus during which she wrote a textbook, Medical Neurobiology (Oxford University Press, 2011). Dr Mason also teaches undergraduates both on the Chicago campus and in Paris! She is a sought after mentor. Dr Mason is now offering a massively open on-line course, Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life. It is not too late to join an enthusiastic group of NeuroMOOCers that number 41,000 and counting (https://www.coursera.org/course/neurobio). Dr Mason has won several awards for her teaching and mentoring. For more than 20 years, Dr Mason's research was focused on the cellular mechanisms of pain modulation. In the last 5 years, she has turned her gaze to the biology of empathy and pro-social behavior. For a lively discussion of her empathic helping work, see her Reddit AMA at: http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/23o5w4/science_ama_series_hi_im_peggy_mason_i_study/

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  1. Hats off to your efforts in spreading the awareness about “the matter” through Neurobiology course on Coursera. It has rekindled my interest to pursue higher studies in the field. How can I be your mentee? I am a 49 year old behavioral change facilitator & a coach, with 27 years of work experience in diverse areas.


  2. Hi Peggy,

    Thanks for a quick response. What I like is your dexterity, be it technology or the science; you are au fait.
    Well, I am based out of Hyderabad, a metro in South India. I see that you grew up in DC. I have some very fond memories of my stay there, when I was based out of Bolling AFB in 2009 (especially the Cherry blossoms’ around this time, besides the visits to museums and monuments nearby).



  3. Hi Professor !! Nice to see you again !! Do you remember me? I’m Alessandro Balzerani, the “Italian biker” that frequented your amazing course in 2015. I’ve sent you a pic on Twitter … taken from my final project ““A motorbike day on track – neurobiology of the speed”. Cheers 🙂


  4. Dr. Mason,

    I am taking your class online. Thank you for putting so much effort into this class and for your sense of humor 🙂 I am really enjoying every video.


    • It’s such a good question. One definition of pain (this is from Howard Fields) is that it is an unpleasant perception that arises from a part or parts of the body and is commonly associated with tissue damage. By this definition itch would be pain. It’s unpleasant and comes from a part of the body. But we all have different words for pain and itch and that belies a deeper truth that they are distinct perceptions. Laboratory researchers working in non human animals define itch as something that elicits scratching and pain as something that elicits shaking biting ducking or guarding. [Think of a kid and how they react to an injury to picture this.]


  5. Hi,
    Despite my total lack of scientific vocabulary, I’m very much enjoying your Neurobiology class on Coursera, but while I’m traveling (now in Africa) it’s very difficult to find internet connections strong enough for videos, and when I download them, I can’t find them anywhere in my computer.

    So, my strategy has been to get through the necessary sections and skip the extras until I’m back in the US in April. Now I realize that the course will be completed a week before I return to the US, so will I still have access to the materials at that time? or do I have to wait until the course is offered again?

    I’m having eye surgery this summer due to some cranial nerve damage and chose this course to learn more about how nerves, vision, hearing and balance all work — before meeting with the surgeon (to at least partly understand his explanations), so timing is important.

    Thank you!


    • Hi Hilary,
      Lots of issues. Let me go one by one. The course will be forever open to you, I don’t know about the certificate but certainly the course resources. You can only enter the course at certain times – the start of each month – but then the course remains open indefinitely.
      I would love to hear about your CN damage and about the surgery you will be having. I am sure that blog readers will also be interested if you’re willing to share.
      Enjoy Africa. I was in Burundi for a summer way back in 1975 and it was a profound experience.
      All the best,


  6. Hi,

    [I’m not looking for a certificate, but just want to gain enough of an overview to participate in the medical decision about how to proceed.]

    And yes, I’ll be happy to share. Apparently what I have is rather unusual, so hopefully my experience can help someone. After this upcoming event (in Morocco), I’ll dig out my medical reports to figure out what’s relevant and share it.

    Take care,


    • You should have no problem getting into the site forever more.
      Enjoy Morocco. Sounds very exciting and extra-ordinary. Looking forward to hearing from you when you have time.


  7. Hello professor Peggy
    i’m an Engineer, i’m interested in learning about the brain and how it is working to know how to deal in my life and how to control myself, i’m currently learning your general course of the nervous system , it is very satisfying and simple , you don’t make it complex, i can also feel your passion and motivation at this course and also i feel from videos that you are having fun teaching this course which make me so satisfied and simply understand you
    i’m very grateful for this course and thank you for your effort, i have searched a lot about your contacts to say these words till i found this website
    thank you and looking forward to contact with you
    wish you the happiness at all your life


    • Dear Mustafa
      Thank you for finding me and sending me this message. I’m so glad that you like the course. It makes me very happy that you and others can learn about the joys of Neurobiology.
      All the best


  8. Hello Professor Peggy!

    My name is Kristina, I’m 27 years old, I live in Ukraine. My first legal education, but with the child’s birth and the search for answers to many questions regarding the upbringing and development of the baby, I came to neuropsychology and neurobiology.

    And the future I want to share information with the world, based on neuroscience, on the upbringing and development of children from birth to 6 – 7 years, possibly age qualifications, with time, will change. I still do not know how and in what form this will take place, but I know that I can not remain silent and watch how most mistakes in the upbringing and development of a child can be avoided, understanding how our brain works.

    Now I will continue your course, after, I want to study your book. But, unfortunately, not having a basic knowledge of biology and neuroscience, studying such a huge layer of knowledge is quite difficult.

    I ask you, tell me the vectors by which I could move in the study of this field. From what works, courses I should start and what to strive for.

    Thank you for your knowledge, experience and time,
    Kristina Ledenova


  9. Dr. Mason, I am also taking the Coursera MOOC on Neurobiology and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have 0 science background and English is not my first language but your explanations are very clear. Probably because one can immediately feel how passionate you are. So, thank you!!


  10. Hi Peggy sorry 2 hear that youe wonderful dad passed away but happy he didnt suffer too much. I wish u and all your loved ones much health and happiness


  11. “The ions that are involved in “making” the membrane potential are potassium, hydrogen and calcium ions.” I’m doing your online course and I just love the way you explain things. HOw can we contact you in case of need? I know you have plenty of students and you surely will not have time to answer all, but in case on need or in case that we find a mistake in the explanations who should we contact? Thanks – Toni


  12. Hi there, I just started your course on Coursera. Just wanted to drop by and say what a wonderful soul you are!! Very grateful for a teacher like you, and for the first time I’m actually enjoying science! haha Awesome work, much blessings to you, and thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us.


  13. Dr. Mason,

    To echo what other MOOCers have said, your enthusiasm for neurobiology is captivating. Having a passion for psychology (for personal enrichment) but no science background led me to your MOOC on Coursera. So many times I found myself laughing at your familiar anecdotes and smiling at your vivacity for neuroscience. I have thoroughly enjoyed your MOOC and wish I could learn from you endlessly! Would you believe that you made a cameo appearance in a dream of mine (normally, folks with whom I’ve had a profound conversation appear in my dream, but I believe you are the first person who I haven’t met IRL) ? Thank you for your passion and insight. You are a brilliant prof!



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