Michael W. Cole earned his bachelor’s degree in cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. His doctorate was supplemented by involvement in the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a joint program across the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. He arrived as a tenure-track faculty member at Rutgers University-Newark in 2014 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. His lab’s research focuses on discovering the cognitive and neural mechanisms that make human behavior flexible and goal-directed. This is accomplished using a variety of techniques, applying network science, computational modeling, and machine learning approaches to data collected from the human brain (with fMRI, MEG, EEG, diffusion MRI, and behavioral measures) and neural network simulations. Much of this work involves understanding the role of brain connectivity in producing the computations apparent in task-driven brain activity patterns and behavior. This facilitates theoretical understanding of cognitive processes as they emerge from brain network interactions, providing insights into both natural and artificial intelligence.
Michael attended UC Berkeley for an undergraduate degree, starting out with broad interests in philosophy, psychology, literature, and computer science. He tried his hardest to remain indecisive by pursuing a degree in cognitive science (combining philosophy, psychology, linguistics, computer science, and neuroscience). While still in college, he leveraged his experience in computer science classes to get an internship at Apple in nearby Cupertino. With his head in the clouds (rather than his wallet), he passed on pursuing a career in software engineering at Apple (the world’s most valuable company 10 years later). He passed on that opportunity because the cognitive science major also exposed Michael to neuroscience, leading him to volunteer in a cognitive neuroscience lab. After making some friends in that lab and annoying others (a postdoc once complained that his opinions were too strong for an undergrad), he eventually completed an honors thesis in cognitive neuroscience. Just before graduation, Michael’s father had a stroke and passed away, deeply affecting him and his family on many levels. This almost led Michael to go to medical school, but he decided that he was too excited about research to focus on the practicalities of medicine for 4+ years. Nonetheless, after starting as a student in the psychology PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh he decided, in part to honor his father, to switch to the neuroscience PhD program. After overworking to get his PhD done on time, he realized he had graduated just as the academic job market was drying up due to the delayed impact of the 2008 financial crisis. Michael then started a postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis. Soon after, several of his NIH training grants were rejected, followed by an NIH K99/R00 grant somehow getting funded. This led to a position at Rutgers University-Newark, where he has been able to realize his dream of starting his own lab, getting to work with amazing people to pursue one of life’s greatest mysteries: how the human brain produces our minds, nothing short of the thing that makes us each ourselves.