The first PhD in Neuroanthropology!

Congratulations goes to Juan Dominguez from Colombia who has spent the last seven years in Australia completing a Post-graduate diploma in Arts (Anthropology), Honours in Anthropology and the first ever PhD promoting neuroanthropology! I am sure that Juan would also like me to mention the role of his principal supervisor, Dr Douglas Lewis, who has also played a role in the formation and development of Neuroanthropology. (In fact, we only registered three days before Dr Douglas Lewis attempted to do the same thing). Dr Lewis has been teaching a subject called “The Evolution of Consciousness” at Melbourne University for some years (he lectured me in the subject in 2005). His principal field-site is in Flores and will be publishing two books based on his fourteen years of research there (that may be an under-estimation because Dr Lewis has been working there since 1977). Those books will definately be worth keeping an eye out for!

On Saturday, 23rd August, Juan (from the department of Social and Environmental Enquiry) was presented his PhD by Associate Dean of the School, Associate Professor Mary Wlodek. (I did honours in her department, the department of Physiology, in 2004. I was always known to ask the ‘left-of-field’ questions in our weekly seminars and everyone was aware of my interests in Neuroanthropology. Prof Wlodek and my Physiology supervisor, Prof Joel Bornstein, were very supportive of my research interests, so it was great that down the track she has been able to see one of my colleagues and close friend’s complete some landmark research in this area!)

On page 43 of the program for the “Conferring of Degrees”, it reads:

“Juan Fernando Dominguez Duque who investigated the relationship between culture and the human brain. Drawing upon anthropology and neuroscience, he showed that the brain becomes enculturated through the interaction of neurological, cognitive, and social processes. He demonstrated that the phenomenon of enculturation should be the subject of a science of neuroanthropology.”

I look forward with great anticipation to reading Juan’s thesis!!! Since first meeting Juan, (we met at the Australian National University where we were both undertaking summer research scholarships in 2002), I have always found Juan’s writing original and inspiring! Even more incredible is that he writes in his second language (Spanish being his first).

Funnily enought, the program for the “Conferring of Degrees” also revealed that another one of my friends, Anna Proietto, with whom I studied Biomedical Science (2000-2002) has also completed her PhD. Anna “studied the development and functions of an important immune cell named the dendritic cell. She found that thymic dendritic cells play an important role in inducing immune tolerance to one’s own tissues. Her discovery provides new knowledge for the design of novel therapies for autoimmune diseases.” (p.28 ) Congratulations Anna! And best of luck on your journey into Medicine!

Marissa Parrott, yet another friend, would probably also enjoy knowing that her photo was featured in the program. Marissa completed her PhD in Zoology a couple of years ago and has done some great work with Orang Otangs in Borneo as well as some crucial research on some native species here in Australia!

But back to Juan… Juan will hopefully be furthering his research with a post-doctorate in Neuroimaging! He has some pilot studies all ready with an incredibly complex and sophisticated experimental design. I’ve worked in neuroimaging and I’ve seen his protocol, and I can assure you, these experiments will be worth holding your breath for! Whether you’re a symbolic anthropologist, a social neuroscientist or a psycholinguist, Juan’s career will be one to watch!

During Juan’s celebratory dinner (good choice of restaurant by the way!!!) I had the chance to catch up with a few of Juan’s friends (some of whom I know and some new faces). I found it particularly enlightening to chat with a few of his colleagues from the Anthropology Department at Melbourne University including Jules, Josephine, Daniel and Alan Thorold. My prolonged conversations with the PhD candidates in Anthropology at the University of Melbourne were a great way to consolidate fieldwork experiences and share research ideas. If one may measure a person by his friends, then Juan would be off the scales. That is he “WOULD BE” if he didn’t keep me around to bring down the mean  (Hahaha! jk)…

To celebrate Juan’s PhD I offered him a book (that I found by pure chance in a second hand book store) co-written by an author that Juan will have no doubt quoted in his PhD thesis, Warren Ten Houten. Ten Houten was one of the first people to pre-empt the ethnoneurologies.

From med-student to Colombian Journalist to Australian student and researcher, Juan Dominguez’s journey is an inspiration! On saturday 23rd of August, 2008, I was proud to see him awarded his PhD by the Chancellor of Melbourne University! I look forward to seeing your research evolve, the possibility of future research collaborations and many more achievements in the field of neuroanthropology! Best of luck Juan!

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Paul Mason

I am a biomedically trained social anthropologist interested in biological and cultural diversity.

9 thoughts on “The first PhD in Neuroanthropology!

  1. Wow, that’s fantastic. I’m fairly convinced that PhD’s in multidisciplinary areas will be the wave of the future. At the very least, it’s my plan. I’m in graduate school studying Mathematics and Evolution.

    Getting people in different fields to talk to one another in their own “languages” isn’t always easy. People with hybrid degrees can act as bridges of communication and be in a unique position to see connections others wouldn’t.

  2. I should also mention that Juan completed a Bachelor of Anthropology in Colombia. I look forward to him becoming an interdisciplinary diplomat.

    As long as there is an abundance of people specialising in their disciplines and becoming lost in their own jargon, there there will always be a need for systems generalists and those people that can communicate across disciplines!

  3. I intend to pursue my phd in neuroanthropology, looking for a platform/university admission to start and the supervisor available. please help me to connect.

    1. Depends where you are located. If Australia, Greg Downey. If US, Daniel Lende or programs like UCLA, Chicago Human Development, UCLA, Emory. If Europe, Aarhus (Interacting Minds) and some of the biocultural programs in France and England.

      1. Dear Dr. Daniel,
        So kind of you and highly appreciate your extremely helpful response. If you can please share your email ID so could send you my profile and idea, for your more kindly guidance, and thank in advance for that.
        Best Regards,
        Mumtaz Ali, Pakistan.

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