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John F Stein
professor of physiology at the University of Oxford, head of the Sensorimotor Control Lab, and scientific adviser to Pro-Test


To begin with I wanted to be an engineer. I was brought up on a farm and was always fascinated by the farm machinery – how when it broke down, people could take it apart, find the broken piece, repair it, and put it together again. So I was doing mathematics, physics and chemistry for my A-levels, with a view to doing engineering.

Then my father began to suffer from manic depression, and I read everything I could lay my hands on by the pioneers of psychology Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, to see whether the mind could be put right in the same way as machinery. My uncle, who was a cardiologist, convinced me that to put the mind to rights, I’d need to do medicine and train as a psychiatrist.

During my degree in animal physiology preparatory to clinical medicine, I became fascinated by how much we can learn about the human brain by studying the nervous systems of animals. On finishing my medical degree, I began training as a neurological psychiatrist, but soon discovered how little we really understood about the brain. So I decided to devote my life to research in neuroscience.

I have studied using animals, computer models and human patients, to discover more about how the brain controls movement and behaviour. This has been very rewarding, because this work has given me powerful insights into how to help people with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and even dyslexia, since many children with reading difficulties have poor control over their eye movements.

John Stein is coauthor of Neuroscience: An Introduction (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and a contributor to Neural Control of Skilled Human Movement (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website.