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David J. Anderson

Linda Bartoshuk

Malcolm Cohen

Jim Cordes

Bernd Heinrich

Richard Herd

Clément Imbert

Maja Mataric

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Zandy Hillis-Starr

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Manuela Veloso

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Back to Cool Careers in Science
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Photo of Linda Bartoshuk Meet Linda Bartoshuk.

She's a psychologist and a Professor in the Ear, Nose and Throat section of the Surgery Department at the Yale University School of Medicine. Linda studies taste and the genetics of taste. How cool is that?!
Question Why did you decide to become a psychologist?
Answer I started college as an astronomy major. However, I was told that I would not be allowed to work with certain telescopes because I was a woman (they were supposed to require greater strength than a woman could muster). Although I am sure that no one would show such outrageous prejudice today, I was so disgusted by it at the time that I decided to find another field. My courses in astronomy made me interested in our abilities to compare the brightnesses of various stars and that got me interested in the senses. I decided to switch my major to psychology.
Question What do you do during a typical day at work?
Answer I spend a lot of each day in front of my computer. My students and I design experiments to study the sense of taste, we run the experiments, and then we analyze the data. The availability of computers has made the analysis much easier and much more fun than it used to be.

Some of my time is spent as a subject in experiments. As a matter of ethics, I never do an experiment on another person that has not been done on me first. For example, I am the subject of an anesthesia study. One of the taste nerves goes through the middle ear on its way to the brain. My colleague, Dr. John Kveton (a surgeon) can anesthetize that nerve by injecting lidocaine under the skin next to the ear drum. When the taste nerve going to the right front of my tongue is anesthetized, I experience an intense sweet phantom on the left rear of my tongue. We are studying such phantoms not only to help patients who experience them, but also to learn about the mechanisms of phantoms (e.g., phantom limbs and tinnitus).

I also spend time with patients. This is hard to plan since I hear from patients whose symptoms may be only temporary. I drop whatever I am doing to evaluate these individuals.
Question What do you enjoy most about your work? Is there anything about it you don't like?
Answer I love understanding how things work. The most rewarding experiences for me are those moments when you finally understand something you have struggled to grasp. When I began teaching, I discovered that watching students have these experiences produces that same pleasure. However, once I understand something, I feel impatient about writing the results into a paper for publication. Writing grants (to get funding for research) and writing the papers to describe the results requires discipline for me.
Question If I'm a student thinking about a career in psychology, what can I do now to prepare?
Answer You will need to have a good background in mathematics and science. However, equally important, observe the world around you and yourself. Behavior is fascinating. Psychology includes many sub-specialties. The more you learn about them, the easier it will be to pick an area that will use your skills and give you great satisfaction.
Question Is there anything else you'd like to let Frontiers visitors know about yourself or your career?
Answer I feel very lucky to be able to do the work that I love. The best advice that I ever gave myself was to go with my heart!

If you would like to know more about Linda Bartoshuk, you can read her biography and check out the questions she answered for Life's Little Questions (Show 904) in the Ask the Scientists section.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.