25. April 2022

Growing up in Academia with Molly Henry

Molly Henry
Molly Henry

What is it to be a scientist? How does one become a scientist? Growing Up in Academia is a conversation series with academics at different levels of their career focusing on the sometimes short, sometimes long and winding roads behind the “official CV”.

Each event features an open conversation (interview) with a different faculty member, representing the broad spectrum of academic life. We will cover topics such as dealing with expectations (your own and others’), the role of luck/coincidence in scientific discovery, impostor syndrome, procrastination, and conflicts with advisors. Join us for a conversation about the human factors that universally inform the profession, but that too often remain unspoken. These events will be hosted and presented by Lucia Melloni (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics). 

On Monday, April 25, 6 p.m. CET, Growing Up in Academia features Molly Henry, Max Planck Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and Assistant Professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.


You can register for the event by using this link.

Official CV

I am a Max Planck Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt (Germany) and an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University in Toronto (Canada). My research is focused on understanding why, how, and to what end neural rhythms synchronize with rhythms in the world – we know that brain rhythms synchronize with rhythms in, for example, music and speech, and that this synchronization seems to be important for understanding the auditory world. But we don’t understand the sources of individual differences in this ability and how those differences impact our day-to-day lives. My group uses a combination of psychophysics, electrophysiology, brain stimulation, and mathematical modeling to understand individual differences and lifespan changes in “brain–environment synchronization”.

I completed my PhD in Experimental Psychology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (USA). I then moved to complete a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and then did a second postdoc at the University of Western Ontario (Western University) in London, Ontario (Canada). Since 2019, I’ve been in Frankfurt leading the “Neural and Environmental Rhythms” research group. In 2021 I started as an assistant professor at Ryerson University in Toronto (Canada).


Unofficial CV

I grew up on a farm in rural southern Ohio in the US. My father was a carpenter, and my mother was a mother, until my brother and I were around junior-high-school age and my mother went to university to become a school teacher – we got to see up close and personal what it meant to go to university. We could see and understand how hard she was working while also raising a family to put herself through school. I was told from first grade or so that if I wanted to go to university, I needed to work hard to be eligible for financial assistance, because school in the US is expensive and we didn’t have the money for that kind of thing. I always wanted to be a scientist, so I worked hard. I did my bachelor at Wright State University (named after the inventors of the airplane) in Dayton, Ohio, near where I grew up, completely funded by scholarships and grants. I worked as a waitress to make money for rent.

I did my master and PhD at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. I had absolutely zero expectations about what graduate school was supposed to be like, but at least I knew how to work. Through some universe-level mix-up, the supervisor I was intended to work with retired right before I started the program, and I was left without a plan (not that I had a plan in the first place). A letter from the department chair instructed me to check out the Psychology Department website, and basically beg someone to take me, since I had already been admitted to the program. Back then, I had never heard of psychophysics, rhythm perception, or music cognition, and was absolutely head over heels when I discovered the lab of Devin McAuley, who generously agreed to supervise me. Not to be overly dramatic, but that was one of those defining moments that changes the course of your life. Later, Devin arranged for me to travel to the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, to do an internship with a collaborator of his – Jessica Grahn, with whom I later did a postdoc. It was my first time traveling outside of the US, my second time ever on an airplane. But it set the stage for the rest of my academic career up to now, which has involved numerous trans-Atlantic relocations!

I joined Jonas Obleser’s lab at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences in Leipzig in 2011. It was during this time that I tried hard to earn the cred to pretend to be a neuroscientist. My love for data analysis, signal processing, and methods development started to take on a mind of its own. After my time there ended, I moved to London, Ontario (Canada) to do a second postdoc with Jessica Grahn, who I had been introduced to during my internship at the MRC-CBU when I was a student. A lucky internship stay at the Donders Institute in Nijmegen (Netherlands) reminded me how much I loved Europe, and I decided to give myself one chance to see whether I could get the funding to establish an independent lab in Europe before I committed myself to the North American job market. I got insanely lucky, secured both a Max Planck Research Group and a European Research Council Starting Grant, and chose Frankfurt as my new home.

Shortly after moving to Germany (again) and hiring my amazing team, my partner was offered a tenure-track position and a prestigious Canada Research Chair in Toronto. So now we had a “two-body problem” to solve. A tenure-track position at Ryerson University that looked like it was tailor-written for me (but wasn’t, I swear!) was advertised right when we needed it to be. I was lucky enough to be offered the position, and even luckier to be given the freedom to finish my work in Frankfurt while transitioning to this new position. And that’s where we are now.

The defining theme around all of these choices and relocations is that I never have a plan. I’m not saying that’s the right way to go about life, but it’s the way I do so. I have allowed a combination of my own spontaneity and free spirit, together with the universe putting opportunities in front of me at the right time, to shape my career so far. And I suppose I will continue like this. I am well aware of the incredible amount of luck I’ve been afforded, but also recognize that openness and willingness to work hard made sure that those opportunities have not been squandered.


The event will be held on Zoom. Pleaso note the Data Protection Information Regarding Zoom Webinars.