The Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit was established by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation at University College London (UCL) in July 1998 to provide a unique opportunity for a critical mass of theoreticians to interact closely with each other and with UCL’s other world-class research groups in neuroscience and related areas. We were one of the first centres in the world to bring together the fields of theoretical neuroscience and machine learning, and our investigators have pioneered research into the mathematical underpinnings of learning, perception and action in natural and artificial systems.
The Unit was established with Geoffrey Hinton (Turing Prize 2019) as the founding director, alongside Peter Dayan (Brain Prize 2017; director 2002-2017), Li Zhaoping and Zoubin Ghahramani (Royal Society Milner Award 2020). Academic staff since then have included Peter Latham (current member), Maneesh Sahani (current director), Yee Whye Teh, Arthur Gretton (current member), Aapo Hyvaarinen and Peter Orbanz (current member).
In 2016 we moved from our original home in Queen Square to Fitzrovia in London's West End near the main UCL campus, to create a new collaborative partnership with the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour (SWC). The SWC and GCNU work together closely, with shared research appointments, parallel PhD programmes, common day-to-day activities, and joint research projects that bring together theoretical and experimental neuroscience. We are also part of the cross-faculty Centre for Computational Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML), and work with other UCL research groups in Neuroscience and Machine Learning. We are part of the Faculty of Life Sciences at UCL. We also have links with two other Gatsby-funded research centres, the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience in Columbia University and the Gatsby Programme in Theoretical Neuroscience in Hebrew University, Jerusalem, as well as the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS).
The Unit's teaching activities are centered on an innovative four-year PhD programme in Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience and Machine Learning. We offer postdoctoral training opportunities within the Unit with funded 3-year postdoctoral training fellowships, as well as our new joint fellowship programme with the SWC. We also host an external seminar series with talks by guest speakers, and organise workshops and public events.
Around 90% of our former PhD students and postdoctoral fellows work in a scientific or academic setting, with over 60% going on to academic positions in universities or research institutes and almost 30% working in a research setting in companies such as DeepMind (itself founded by two former postdocs, Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg). Two, Yasser Roudi and Misha Ahrens, have won the Eric Kandel Young Neuroscientist Prize in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
We are a small Unit of approximately 40 people, functioning as far as possible as a single large research group. Our small size allows us to interact closely through weekly research talks, journal clubs, lab meetings, and external seminars, as well as meeting almost daily for tea (and snacks!) and a short informal general-interest presentation. On Friday afternoons we have a joint Tea Hour with the SWC with an informal talk, food and drinks. This cohesion is a defining characterising of the Unit helping to build a strong community spirit. We provide flexible working policies and are committed to the career development of our PhDs and early career researchers.