Maximilian Riesenhuber, PhD: Seeing the whole person.

Professor, Department of Neuroscience

“Georgetown is an incredibly rich environment where the attitude is: ‘We’re not going to rule out anything, let’s see where the evidence leads us.’”

At Georgetown University since 2003


We are greater than the sum of our parts.

For a neuroscientist, a core underlying belief of our motto, “Cura Personalis,” is that people aren’t just bags of chemicals. Sometimes people take the view that the human experience must be reducible to molecular interactions. But, while this assumption might be convenient for science, the question is, what is the justification for this assumption? Our human experience is that there is more to us than that. We have this experience of self that has not been adequately explained yet. Georgetown is a good place to look at question like this because the scientific community here is open to a holistic view of what it means to be human.

For instance, if you think about law, there is the question of responsibility. In philosophy, it’s the question of free will. These are areas where cognitive science is getting more and more important and connects to other areas that Georgetown is traditionally strong in, such as law, philosophy and theology.

Exercise your gifts, but don’t let it determine your happiness.

Graduate school is a really exciting time. You have a better idea of what your gifts are, and it is the time to find an environment where you can maximize your potential. Hopefully, you are at a point where you do not base your value on your academic accomplishments. That perspective is going to burn you at some point. You should not make your grades or your papers be the determinants of your worth as a person, especially in grad school. If you do that, and sort of “sell out to science,” it will be great when things are going well, but it will be devastating when they are not.

“One of Georgetown’s strengths is getting you to see science not as a 100-yard dash, but as a marathon.”

Running the race.

Science can be very subversive. It’s a wonderful privilege to get to figure out how this world works, but along the way, you have papers and grant applications and maybe even projects that might not work out. A graduate education at Georgetown should not just be about learning to do great science, but also about providing a broader foundation and a mind set that allows you to do great science and make meaningful contributions for decades to come.