Nancy Carlisle

Great chats this morning!

Favourite Thing: I love to talk to other scientists about conflicting findings and try to find one grand explanation that could account for the differences!



Michigan State University (Psychology & Zoology with a concentration in Animal Behavior & Neurobiology); Vanderbilt University (Psychology, Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience, PhD)


I have two undergraduate degrees and post-graduate degree, all in areas related to neuroscience.

Work History:

After obtaining my post-graduate degree, I worked as a post-graduate researcher for 2 years in California before moving to the UK.

Current Job:

Lecturer in Psychology


University of Leicester

Me and my work

I measure electrical activity from the brain to see which objects people are paying attention to and which objects they remember.

Did you know that we can measure the electrical activity of the brain by putting electrodes on our scalp?  I didn’t until I starting studying neuroscience!  Now I take measurements using specialized equipment that can let me see which objects we are paying attention to and which objects we remember.  Even if someone hasn’t moved their eyes to focus on an object, we can see that their brain is paying attention to an object. (Try to look directly at a friend’s ear, but pay attention to their face to see how attention can be separated from where our eyes are pointed.)  We can use these brain recordings to help understand when we can pay attention and remember well, and when we are likely to make mistakes.  Not paying attention to the right information can be dangerous (for instance, if someone doesn’t pay attention to a traffic light when they were driving) so it is very important to understand how we can stay on task!

My Typical Day

I answer e-mails, deliver a lecture, read a paper about another scientist’s experiments, and work on an experiment of my own!

Science is a community effort, so it’s important to stay connected to what other scientists have discovered in addition to doing your own experiments.  Much of my research time is spent connecting to other researchers through e-mail conversations and by reading what they have written about their own work.  As a university lecturer, part of my job is also to teach university students.  The students are taught the basics of how psychology and neuroscience work, but they also get to hear from me about the process of conducting new research to extend what we know as a scientific community.  One of my favorite things to do is collect new data.  There is always an adjustment to make to be sure the recording is even more clear.  Science is like a game- you win when you have collected the best possible data you can and have drawn solid conclusions that you can clearly communicate to other scientists!

What I'd do with the money

I would provide vision and neuroscience education to children in a rural area in Brazil, via the Pantanal Center for Education and Research.

The Pantanal Center for Education and Research is in rural Poconé, Brazil.  The children of the local area rely on the Pantanal Center for their education, as there are no other schools nearby.  While many of us in the UK take our access to education for granted, in other parts of the world schools are not in every community!  Many adults in the  Poconé region never got an opportunity to learn how to read.  With the money from ‘I’m a scientist, get me out of here!’ I would purchase a video system and educational materials to teach the people about how vision and the brain work, as well materials to assess vision function.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Energetic, inquisitive, & fun-loving!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Jenny Lewis

What's your favourite food?

Garlic (seriously- I love the stuff roasted and spread on some toast!).

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Formed a rock band!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A writer, an actress, or a doctor.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I sometimes got in trouble for talking after I finished my work (mainly because the people I was talking to hadn’t always finished theirs).

What was your favourite subject at school?

Science (but I also loved math and English).

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Publishing my first paper in a scientific journal. I knew then that I had contributed to scientific knowledge and so I was officially a ‘scientist!’.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Rachel Carson, who was an environmental scientist and activist who wanted to prevent the use of certain pesticides that were killing animals. After I found out about her work I made a petition in my primary school to start a recycling program (we didn’t have this in the early 1990’s) because I wanted to help save the environment, too!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A teacher.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

More hours in the day, unlimited funding for my research (science can be expensive!), and a sailboat.

Tell us a joke.

Where is the eye located? Between the H and the J.

Other stuff

Work photos:

Presenting a poster at the Vision Sciences Society Meeting. myimage1

Talking to other scientists at the Society for Neuroscience Conference. myimage2

Checking out bug-eye glasses at the Demonstration night of Vision Sciences Society. myimage3

Reading a scientific paper (another scientist’s experiment).  myimage4

Modeling the electrode cap that allows me to record the electrical activity of the brain. myimage5