Nicholas Tolley

2021 Chateaubriand STEM Fellow
Brown University - INRIA Paris Research Center

Nicholas Tolley is a PhD candidate at Brown University, and was a Chateaubriand fellow at the INRIA Paris Research Center in Paris, France for 6 months.

What is your current occupation?
Graduate Student

In which field did you carry out your research for your PhD and what was your specific area of study?
I am currently in a Neuroscience PhD program. My specific area of study is biophysical modeling of the neocortex, and applying deep-learning based Bayesian inferences to such models.

Please give a brief description of the work you completed in France:
Computational modeling allows many scientific fields to run simulated experiments that are not possible in real life. For my research in neuroscience, I utilize detailed models of a brain region called the neocortex to understand how it generates large oscillations that can be measured with tools like MEG and EEG. My work in France focused on applying recent deep learning based methods to “fit” these models to real neural data recorded from patients. This fitting allows us to take real neural data recorded outside of a patient’s, and make predictions about neural activity at the level of individual neurons.

How was your experience as a researcher in France?
I had a fantastic time as a researcher in France. The group I was working with at Inria is composed of world-class experts in neuroimaging and deep learning. Being able to just walk down the hall and ask them any question really helped me progress in my work.

Comments on your experience as a researcher in France and conditions in your host lab
The “MIND” team at Inria is exceptionally collaborative and composed of well rounded people that are just fun to be around. As a whole the team was super welcoming and we hung out outside of work quite regularly.

Did or will your research in France lead to any co-publications?
If yes, please describe (name of journal, date of publication):

We are currently preparing a manuscript to submit in the next few months. Additionally the methods I developed during my time in France will be important tools for the rest of my thesis research and will likely be used in following publications.

Did you or one of your supervisors present your work at a seminar? Do you plan on doing so?
If yes, please describe (name of seminar, date, type of presentation):

I will be presenting a poster at Society for Neuroscience 2022, November 12-16

In your opinion, did the Chateaubriand Program contribute to closer ties between your US and French labs (why or why not)?
They certainly helped bring the labs closer together. Apart from the publications/presentations directly related to my work in France, we intend to continue collaborating on projects combining novel deep learning techniques to biologically realistic models of the brain.

Did you improve your French while in France?
Definitely! Before applying for the fellowship I had absolutely no experience with French. I committed to learning a decent amount before arriving, and was very happy that I was able to hold full (albeit very slow!) conversations with my colleagues.

Do you plan on returning to France in the future?
If yes, please describe your plans:

I will be considering post-doc opportunities in France after finishing my PhD, otherwise it’d be great to return for a vacation.

Did you participate in any extracurricular activities or travel while in France?
I certainly took the opportunity to travel! I was particularly fond of Grenoble and Strasbourg.

Call 2023-2024

The 2023-2024 call for applications is opened.