Get to know our IMPRS Faculty: Dr. Carmen Varela

The first of its kind in uniting Universities and Max Planck Institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Brain and Behavior offers a competitive world-class PhD training and research program. In this series, we are learning more about the scientists who make up our IMPRS Brain and Behavior faculty, and get an idea of what it’s like to be a part of their labs.

October 23, 2020

Dr. Carmen Varela

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University

 What’s going on in your lab that you are most excited about?

Understanding the neural basis of learning is one of the most fascinating questions a neuroscientist could tackle, and I believe it will become a central topic in neuroscience and medical research in the near future. Work in my lab contributes to this goal in the field in two ways: we use molecular, cellular and behavioral approaches to provide unique insights into the spike dynamics and brain states that allow animals to learn and make sense of their environment. In addition, these projects provide advanced training and a solid career foundation for students and postdocs to lead the field in the future.

How would you describe the culture and environment of your lab?

We are a highly interactive and multi-disciplinary lab. A major strength of our team is the diversity of backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints, which all enhance the learning experience for trainees. As a small young lab, our environment resembles a startup company; we love what we do and work closely to support and help each other succeed.

What do people in your lab do for fun?

Outside the lab, the interests of lab members range from painting to enjoying the beautiful Florida beaches or listening to world music.

What advice do you have for prospective grad students?   

A successful applicant to the lab will have a strong motivation to tackle the research questions we are interested in, be knowledgeable about the field, and be ready to contribute to a positive team environment.

Learn more about education opportunities through IMPRS Brain and Behavior, please visit 

To learn more about the Varela lab, visit