The difference in our brains; Joel Stein wants a new career; become a friction fixer

February 27, 2024

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We may not be from different planets, but . . . 

You can all sleep easier knowing that it’s official: The brains of men and women are different. Stanford Medicine researchers used a new artificial intelligence model to detect patterns in brain activity and become more than 90 percent successful at determining whether scans came from a woman or a man. The findings help resolve a long-term controversy about whether reliable sex differences exist in the human brain. 

The areas of the brain that seem to differ are in the default mode network, a brain system that helps us to process self-referential information (including thinking about oneself, daydreaming, or thinking about the future or the past), and the striatum and limbic network, which are involved in learning and how we respond to rewards. Those areas are also involved in neuropsychiatric conditions—including autism, attention deficit disorders, depression, addiction, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease—that can affect men and women differently. Identifying sex differences in the healthy adult brain “is a critical step toward a deeper understanding of sex-specific vulnerabilities in psychiatric and neurological disorders,” said Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the director of the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Laboratory. The researchers note that the findings do not reveal how our brains become different—whether from hormonal differences or the societal circumstances men and women encounter.

Finding a new career is hard.

Joel Stein, ’93, MA ’94, says he spent 20 years writing “self-obsessed articles full of penis jokes for magazines, a line of work that has become less meaningful for me and even less meaningful for society.” Unsure of what to do when that shriveled up, he spent a week at Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute, hoping his alma mater would once again launch him into a career. There, he learned that what he really wants is enthusiasm. Well, that and maybe a sweet gig in international tax law.

Stein’s musings got Stanford magazine wondering: How many careers have you had? Tell us in our quick survey (Speaking of: Check out the results of our last survey, which asked whether you believe humans have free will.)

It’s a family thing.

A family standing in front of Memorial Church Photo courtesy: H. Taghap

Last week, hundreds of students learned where their dorm vacuum cleaners are kept, ahead of a visit from their family. More than 5,000 loved ones visited campus to reunite with their students and learn about life on the Farm.

Protests on campus.

Student protestors from the Sit-In to Stop Genocide disrupted the Family Weekend Welcome Q&A with the President and Provost in Memorial Auditorium last week. The protestors were escorted out by security and cited for misdemeanors. They will also face disciplinary action through the university's Office of Community Standards. The protest followed the end of overnight camping in White Plaza, which went into effect on February 16 after an agreement was reached between university leaders and representatives of the sit-in.

Give it some thought.

Dennis DeGray was taking out the trash one night when he slipped—and became paralyzed from the neck down. Eighteen years later, he’s got a leading role in an ongoing Stanford study of experimental devices that allow brains that can no longer fully communicate with their bodies to instead communicate with computers. Through tiny arrays implanted in his brain, DeGray has been able to take mental control of a cursor, imagine handwriting that translates into letters, and even fly a drone. Such brain-computer interfaces aim to transcend the barrier between the interior of the brain and the external world, a leap that may one day enable people with a wide variety of neurological conditions to regain function in movement, communication, and vision, and that ultimately may provide a novel platform for treating and monitoring brain health and recovery.

But wait, there’s more.

Three scholars from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, including former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, ’86, MA ’86, shared their memories and perspectives of Alexei Navalny, who died while incarcerated in a Russian penal colony.

Stanford researchers created a voice-based artificial intelligence application that can turn a smart speaker into an on-demand clinician, helping manage blood glucose levels for those with Type 2 diabetes.

Changes to the nomination process; a campaign reform act; a more polarized political class—these changes (some of which are decades old) are factors that have led to political parties becoming weaker . . . and why you may feel exhausted by them.

This year marks the 45th Viennese Ball at Stanford. Katiana Uyemura, ’19, wrote about her attempts to make the famed black-and-white-clad Opening Committee and how she learned to appreciate the beauty of dancing with a stranger. You can also read about the origins of the ball, started during “one of the tackiest fashion eras in modern history,” in Stanford.

The university is restarting (following a pandemic pause) its Town Center Project, which will alter the area roughly from Tresidder Memorial Union to Meyer Green (including White Plaza, the Bookstore, and the post office), providing spaces for large and small gatherings. Opportunities for community members to provide feedback are available.

Drop the jargon—and other tips for becoming a “friction fixer” at work.

Note: The Loop sometimes links to articles outside of Stanford that may require a subscription to view.

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