At the age of five, Heather Berlin started asking some really hard questions about life and death and what comes next. As she pondered this question she asked her father, a physician, about where our thoughts come from and how could she keep them when she died.
When he explained that thoughts come from your brain that answer wasn’t enough for Berlin–she wanted to know how, how does your brain produce thoughts and emotions. Becoming a psychologist was the path suggested to her and she started out with this career goal in mind but with an ultimate goal of understanding how this small collection of neurons and neurochemicals produce all your subjective experiences and emotions.
After earning a bachelor’s degree she was accepted into medical school, but decided to defer her enrollment and study psychology instead, earning a master’s degree in the field. Berlin also studied psychiatric epidemiology and heath care management as part of a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard. At the University of Oxford she was awarded a doctorate in experimental psychology/neuropsychology after which she completed postdoctoral research at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Berlin has been a visiting lecturer at Vassar College, Hebrew University, and ETHZurich. Since 2008 she has been an assistant professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a visiting scholar at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Her research focus is on the interactions of the human brain and mind in hopes of contributing to improved treatment and prevention of impulsive and compulsive psychiatric and neurological disorders. Included in her interests is the neural basis of consciousness, creativity, and dynamic unconscious processes.
An advocate for greater science communication she is the host of the PBS series Science Goes to the Movies and the Discovery Channel series Superhuman Showdown. She has also been featured on other programs including StarTalk, and the History Channel. In 2015 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival she co-hosted Off the Top the critically acclaimed comedy show about the neuroscience of improvisation.
Written by Angela Goad