I am the recently minted Doctor Blake Porter and I study neuroscience. I am currently a post-doctoral fellow working with Dr. Kristin Hillman on our Marsden funded project aiming to uncover the neural mechanisms of persistence and quitting behavior at the University of Otago. We’re interested in how brain regions communicate to one another when an organism makes a simple but important decision; do I persist at this task or quit? This may be quitting a hard workout or quitting going to the gym all together. We plan to investigate how the brain makes this persist/quit decision and, most importantly, how this decision is carried out. Is there a brain signal that make us persist at something or quit? What would a persist signal look like? How does this signal influence the brain to produce quitting behaviors?
I also work in the lab of Dr. Mike Colombo where I help to train students and use Matlab to analyze pigeon electrophysiological and behavioral data. Recently we have been investigating how pigeons evaluate costly behaviors and their outcomes. For example, how does the brain keep track of how long it takes to get a reward? Mammals find instant reward more valuable than rewards in future, do birds have the same concept of discounting value based on the delay to receive it? What about the effort cost it takes to obtain a food reward?
In 2017 I completed my PhD under the supervision of Dr. David Bilkey. My PhD research was focused on the neural mechanisms of self control and effort based experiences. Specifically I investigated how the how the brain encodes the effort cost of a particular experience or decision. For example, how do we encode how difficult a run is? How does our brain process travel across flat ground versus up a steep hill? How do those memories of difficult experiences influence decision making, say, deciding on going for a run again?
Prior to swimming to New Zealand I completed my B.A. with Honors in Neuroscience at Boston University. I began my research pursuits in the late Dr. Howard Eichenbaum’s lab for Cognitive Neurobiology my junior year. I worked on various projects with exceptional post-doctoral researchers, Dr. Andrea Frank (junior year and a summer UROP grant) and Dr. Anja Farovik (senior year, honors distinction work). After graduating in May 2013, I continued to work in the Eichenbaum lab as a research assistant with the remarkable Dr. Lara Rangel until I began my PhD in 2014.
Outside of science and research I enjoy photography, podcasts, the stock market, weight lifting, video games, and New Zealand craft beers. I also consult for Analytic Fitness, a website taking an analytical approach to fitness by reviewing scientific literature and making it accessible and digestible for the public.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Otago.