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A Day in the Life of a Neuroethicist: Adrian Carter

Adrian Carter is an associate professor and director of Community Engagement and Neuroethics at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University. Dr. Carter has been an advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the Australian Ministerial Council on Drugs Strategy and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

1. What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

I don’t check emails. I’ve realized that you can easily spend the first few hours of a day responding to overnight emails before you even think about the things that you want to do.

2. What’s your work routine like?

My day usually begins with some form of yoga, mediation or stretching. I then start my day by thinking about what is it that I want to achieve as well as those things that I need to get done and plan my day accordingly. I try to get the hardest thing done first while I’m freshest. I save mornings for deep thinking and may work from home in the mornings if I am writing. Ideally, I will go for a run or exercise before lunch in order to break up the day and refresh before afternoon meetings. This is in an ideal world.

3. Are you involved in the theoretical, investigative, or the practical/translational aspect of neuroethics? Describe your research area briefly.

All three, although my research leans towards investigative and translational aspects. I am curious about how neuroscience knowledge and the technology it produces changes the way that we understand ourselves and treat others. Initially, my focus was on addiction, mental illness and neurological disorders, but I am increasingly interested in how we use neuroscience and neurotechnology to order our behaviour and structure society. I use social science methods to engage with a wide array of stakeholders to ensure that we innovate neurotechnology responsibly.

4. What’s a challenge that you face on a daily basis as a neuroethicist?

Keeping focused on a manageable range of projects. Like most academics in this area, I’m curious about a wide variety of issues, and I’m energized by working with people from different disciplines. However, this can leave you spread a little thin. Keeping on top of a wide scope of literature, topics and approaches can be challenging, particularly if you’re prone to imposter syndrome like I am.

5. How do you determine what questions deserve the most focus and attention in your work?

By what excites me most. These are usually areas that are neglected or not given what I believe is due consideration. I am particularly drawn to perspectives of those less served in society or the most vulnerable. I think historically, neuroethics and bioethics have given undue attention to questions affecting the more affluent and powerful in society, particularly the impact of expensive high tech solutions available to a select few, and less attention on issues facing the majority of society. It is important to consider more low tech, policy or public health solutions that address the social drivers of health and wellbeing. These are less attractive to funding bodies and journals, but are more likely to have a bigger impact on a wider segment in society. Thankfully this is beginning to change.

6. What do you wish more people understood about being a neuroethicist? Whether it be from a schooling, interest, or day-in-the-life point of view? Describe neuroethics in your own words.

I tend not to get too involved in discussions of what neuroethics is and defining the field. I am more interested in the sorts of questions that we want to ask, and how we can increase people’s ability to create a life that they want for themselves. People are inherently interested in questions about how to live, how we understand ourselves and how we treat and think about others. The brain and mind is clearly important to these big questions. When you talk to people about how neuroscience may or may not impact these questions, they are fully engaged and curious. If I talk about neuroethics, most people outside of the field glaze over. As a dear friend and mentor once said: “I don’t care what we call it, just as long as we do it”.

7. What skills or training do you most frequently use in your work and how do you suggest more people gain these skills if they want to contribute to the field?

So much of what we do is communication and writing. Being able to express my views or thoughts on a topic in a clear and coherent manner is probably the most important skill that I use every day. Writing is the most important tool in our neuroethics toolbox. It is something that you need to practice and cultivate. It is also something that we do on our own. So to write well, we need to read well. Look for good mentors with strong writing practices. Write every day and write often. Interrogate your own writing: who am I writing for and what am I trying to say. And become a voracious reader of good writing.

8. What do you love most about your work? What keeps you motivated?

Being able to address questions or issues that I think are important. And being able to do so from the perspective that I think is most important. I love that my work requires to me think critically and reflexively, and to work hard at being a better critical thinker. I hope that if I’m doing it well, it is also making me a better person.

9. What’s one thing you wished you did differently in your career trajectory?

Have less regrets.

10. What’s one thing you could advice the next generation of neuroethicists?

Enjoy what you do, and work with good people who make you feel better about the world and your job. Try not to be driven too much by your CV. It can be hard to avoid in academia but you will derive more pleasure from relationship building than CV building.

11. What’s the last thing you do when you leave work in the evening?

Say goodbye to my colleagues.


This post is part of the Neuroethics Today blog series 'A Day in the Life of a Neuroethicist' where we bring you answers to questions by junior and senior neuroethicists about a day in their life to give you a better idea of what neuroethicists do, what have they learned throughout their trajectory, and ways that you can do it too.


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