UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Ray Dolan

What colleagues said about Ray: Supportive of junior colleagues regardless of gender or whether he directly line manages them. 

Overview of current position and main responsibilities

Currently, Direct the UCL-Max Planck Centre for Computational Psychiatry.
Here I have a wide range of responsibilities. Firstly, I have a responsibility for the scientific direction and day to day operation of the centre. Secondly, I have responsibility for renewal of the centre, which is on a five-year recurrent funding cycle. Thirdly, I run a large research group and have a responsibility towards each of the individuals in the group, post docs and PhD students. More broadly I represent the centre in relation to its visibility within and outside of UCL and crucial interactions with the Max Planck Society. 

What was you career path to this position and subject area?

In many respects I sleepwalked into all the positions I have ever held. There has been a huge amount of serendipity too. Some people seethe with ambition but for me it has never been about wanting to occupy a particular position, per say.  What is always more interesting is the pursuit of the science, first and foremost.
I started out as a clinical psychiatrist and was appointed to the National Hospital as a consultant, in 1987. I had already completed a Wellcome Fellowship and was desperately trying to find a scientific direction for my career.  By good fortune I hooked up with a group at the Hammersmith Hospital who were pioneering Functional Neuroimaging to study the human brain, using Positron Emission Tomography (PET). This was probably the single most important career move, although at the time it provided no obvious future. Then the whole field took off and we found ourselves at the forefront of a giant leap in cognitive neuroscience.  The then founded the Functional Imaging laboratory(FIL) at Queens Square in 1994. I subsequently became Head of Department, and then the founding Director of what is now the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, serving for nine years.  I hold to a view that it is important that people like me move on and make space for younger people, and part of doing this was subsequently creating a new Centre, the UCL- Max Planck Centre which is now blossoming. 

Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Why?

This answer to this question depends on who you ask. If you ask my wife, she will say that I work too much, including weekends.  Personally, I feel that my it is reasonably good in so far as I really love what I do. I am also fortunate that I have many interests outside of my day job which includes hiking, travel, literature and music. 

Lockdown has been a particularly interesting time as it has created a greater sense of space to devote time to new areas of music.  One highlight has been the outstanding streaming service that is available from the Metropolitan Opera, New York   For vast chunks of lockdown we as a family have enjoyed opera almost on a nightly basis, where among other things I have learnt to appreciate Wagner. One other highlight is a recent production of Norma. Amazingly, one of my sons who palate not too long ago was rap music  has been the driver of the deep immersion into Operatic.

Who has inspired your career?

The inspiration has been from a range of sources. I would say both my parents. My mother and father always valued the importance of education and respected what I now call “the life of the mind”.  Inspirational figures in literature include George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans) and James Joyce (who had a deep knowledge of science). In science I would say Charles Darwin and evolutionary biologist Ernest Mayr.  Although I trained as a clinical psychiatrist I found little scientific inspiration within this field. In many ways I reinvented myself as a neuroscientist to escape what I perceived was a cul de sac.. Many of my collaborators have been great sources of inspiration, and here I would highlight Peter Dayan who is now Max Planck Director in Tübingen.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would forewarn that the biggest challenges  I will face will not be the research questions or challenges but other people. On this basis I would advise strongly to choose one’s collaborations and immediate colleagues wisely. 

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

The institute exemplifies what I think is the ideal model for  a large organisation, namely a relatively small community working where one gets to know people through human face to face contact.  The biggest threat in  society is alienation induced by a sense of lack of local autonomy I hope that those in power appreciate that a tendency to increasing centralisation will not serve the long term interests of IoN. I have long formed a view that centralisation is neither conducive to creativity or efficiency.  The ION has its own identity and values and still represents the truism that “small is beautiful”.