UCL Division of Biosciences


With great sadness, we announce the death of our esteemed colleague Professor Mitch Glickstein, on March 14th 2017

7 April 2017

Mitch Glickstein1931-2017 Professor Glickstein was born in Roxbury, south of Boston, in 1931.

He attended different schools in the Boston area and showed the same indifference to nearly all of them, but managed to enter Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and, subsequently, transfer to the University of Chicago. He loved living in Chicago and studying in that great institution known for its academic rigour, diverse student body and lively political culture at a time when McCarthyism was in full swing. Following graduation in 1951, he set off on a great adventure around the world, using commercial ships at sea and various forms of transport on land, to visit England, France, Italy, Greece, Israel, Ceylon, Singapore, Korea and Japan for various lengths of time, before returning to the United States. He returned to the University of Chicago a few years later to begin his postgraduate studies in psychology.
This was a crucial period in his life when he decided that he did not want to be a clinical psychologist, but began to show a keen interest in the study of the brain. Undoubtedly, he was influenced by many of his already renown teachers and associates such as Austin Riesen, Roger Sperry, Ronnie Myers and Garth Thomas amongst others. He followed Roger Sperry to Cal Tech as a Research Fellow upon receiving his PhD in 1958. He found Cal Tech a lively place and Sperry's lab a fertile ground for neuroscience. It was full of excellent people doing brilliant science either on nerve regeneration or on the function of the corpus callosum; the latter of which became the focus of Mitch's work during his 2-year stay in the lab. He subsequently moved to Stanford to work with Karl Pribram in 1960-1961.

Armed with a wealth of experience from his extensive collaborations with renowned teachers and researchers, Mitch decided to seek a 'proper job', as he called it, and opted for a position of Assistant Professor in physiology and psychology at the University of Seattle. The Chairman of Physiology, Ted Ruch, was a figure he admired immensely for his leadership qualities. As always, he was involved in teaching and in various research projects, but his emphasis was the visual pathways in mammals, an area that remained at the centre of his research interests. Family reasons were behind his subsequent move to Brown University in Providence in 1967. Similar to previous moves, he quickly integrated into the teaching and research in the department of psychology and formed fruitful collaborations. It is where he met Ford Ebner who remained a close colleague, friend and sailing partner. At Brown, Mitch became increasingly involved in the study of projections from the visual cortex to the cerebellum, via the pontine nuclei in the brainstem, and in the visual control of movement. A few years after joining Brown, he travelled to Oxford to begin collaboration with the Professor of Physiology, David Whitteridge, and other eminent neuroscientists. During one of his trips to Oxford, he met Lydia Sinclair, who he married later and had two children, Benjamin and Hannah. Lydia joined him in Providence for a while, but her work took her back to England where they eventually decided to settle.

The spring of 1980 was the start of Mitch's tenure at UCL. He first joined the MRC Unit on the Neural Mechanisms of Behaviour, housed at Mallet Place at the time. After the MRC decided to discontinue the Unit, he negotiated an academic position in the Department of Anatomy at UCL in 1987, while the MRC continued to pay his salary until retirement. He was in a unique position all these years as he worked tirelessly and offered so much to the collegiate life of UCL without ever being on the payroll. Upon joining UCL, it was business as usual for Mitch. He quickly established his research programme on the role of the brain in sensory guidance of movement and in particular the structure and function of the pathways that link the cerebral cortex, especially the visual areas, to the cerebellum. Part of this and other related work was done in his own laboratory, while other projects were carried out in collaboration with a network of distinguished scientists throughout the world: The Netherlands (his association and friendship with Jon Voogd was of special note), Italy, Israel, USA, Germany to name a few. In addition to his extensive research and scientific writings, he established himself as an invaluable member of the teaching staff in the department and in the faculty. He loved teaching and all his students appreciated his style which was distinguished by his well-rounded knowledge, infectious enthusiasm, historical and anecdotal background, and facts that were based on solid experimental evidence. He remained dedicated to his teaching duties until earlier this term when he was still lecturing on the Vision course. In addition to very significant contribution to teaching, Mitch will be remembered for starting the neuroscience degree programme at UCL which became a popular course, followed by very successful MSc and PhD degree courses in subsequent years. It took remarkable skills at the time to negotiate with powerful heads of departments of Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology and Psychology a common line to which all departments contributed.

In summary, Mitch was a true scholar in the very best sense of the word and a very popular teacher. He always kept the attention of his students with the depth and breadth of his knowledge and his gentle approach to teaching. Above all, he was a generous friend and colleague who always had time to chat about anything and everything. He often talked about his family with much affection and pride. We all feel extremely fortunate to have known and interacted with him. He will be greatly missed by his family as well as by the UCL community and the countless friends, colleagues and students in many corners of the world.

John G Parnavelas
Emeritus Professor of Neuroanatomy