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Joseph Leshin is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, studying the brain basis of human emotion to investigate why and how there is tremendous variability in how each of us experiences emotions.

1. What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Many reasons. For starters, excellent and encouraging mentors. Equally important, I am absolutely intrigued by the human brain–there is so much we don’t know about it!  I also appreciate the latitude of graduate education and academia more generally: I get to work wherever and whenever I want (which is almost always at coffee shops and every day!). I love that I can make a career out of simply learning, and in doing so, I become a hub of information for the world (albeit mildly esoteric information).

  1. What’s the thing you love most about Chapel Hill?

I love its quaintness and verdant features. You definitely don’t get a lot of this in Los Angeles.

  1. If you had any advice for someone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, what would it be?

As I tell my Research Assistants, really think about why you want a graduate degree. Some of the questions I have them ask themselves are: ‘Are you intrinsically motivated to learn? Are you okay with recurrent failure? Is there a basic question that drives you wild that you want to help answer?’ Furthermore, it’s worth noting that it can be incredibly stressful to be a graduate student: you don’t make much money, you might always feel like you never have enough time to accomplish everything you set out to do in a given day, and at times, it can feel somewhat isolating, especially as an underrepresented scholar. Remember that unlike professional schools, in which students are evaluated almost identically, graduate school is slightly different. You’re evaluated based on your creativity and proliferation of scientific papers—underneath all that mess, what makes the difference, I believe, is your pursuit for independence and use of willpower. 

  1. What is your dream career after you’ve completed your studies?

Although I love studying the brain and our human emotions, I place my relationships and well-being first before anything—these two things will govern what I do with my Ph.D., whether that be working as an academic, or as a scientist in an industry position. Both have their pros and cons. But if I’m healthy and happy and have those I love around me, there will always be more pros than cons.

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