Dr. Mike X Cohen

Mike as entrepreneur

My identity

Founder of Sincxpress Education SRL, a startup dedicated to democratizing high-quality STEM education globally. Through innovative approaches, I've engaged over 300,000 learners worldwide, showcasing a commitment to leveraging technology for societal benefits.

What I do

  • Operational leadership: I lead all aspects of business operations, from product development and budgeting to strategic planning. I also coordinate with external graphic designers, legal advisors, and accounting professionals to ensure seamless operational flow.

  • Content creation: I develop and continuously update a range of online courses hosted on platforms like Udemy, YouTube, Pluralsight, and INCF.

  • Educational authorship: I write detailed monograph textbooks on topics including signal processing, linear algebra, and statistics. Most of my books are between 300 and 700 pages and include thousands of lines of accompanying code on github.

  • In-person teaching: I teach intensive week-long summer schools focused on advanced data analysis in neuroscience, blending academic rigor with practical application.

  • Community engagement: I have direct and regular (daily) interactions with learners in Q&A forums.

Why I do it

  • Education enhances well-being: Education increases individual and societal well-being. Low-cost education helps to break down economic, geographical, and age barriers to lifelong learning.

  • Innovative teaching methods: I develop novel educational methodologies that extend high-caliber, university-level STEM education to a diverse global audience.

  • Self-publishing: Traditional publishers have name-recognition, but self-publishing allows me to maintain creative and operational control while keeping costs low.

Skills I learned

  • Strategic vision and determination: My journey has honed my ability to envision long-term goals and persist through challenges, driving the company towards continuous growth.

  • Business acumen: I've developed an understanding of legal, financial, and tax-related aspects of running an international business — including knowing when to rely on external experts.

  • Talent management: Proficient in identifying and collaborating with external consultants and students to enhance business operations and product offerings.

Mike as educator

My identity

  • Teaching has been a consistent thread throughout my professional career. Despite a research-focused professorship funded by grants, I have voluntarily taught courses, seminars, workshops, and lectures.

What I do

  • Course creation: I design and deliver comprehensive online courses that blend various instructional mediums—slides, screencasts, direct camera engagement, and interactive coding sessions. My courses typically offer 30 to 40 hours of video content, with total engagement reaching 100 hours per course including exercises.

  • Textbook authorship: I write monograph textbooks on complex subjects like signal processing and statistics, integrating rigorous content with practical coding exercises to enhance learning. Some of my textbooks are complemented by YouTube tutorials where I guide students through exercise solutions.

  • Intensive workshops: I teach multiple week-long intensive summer schools focusing on advanced topics such as signal processing, time-series analysis, and the application of linear algebra in neuroscience. Participants include masters students, PhD students, post-docs, and faculty.

Why I'm effective

  • Continuous and critical improvement: I take an active and experimental approach to improving my teaching and educational materials. Through 20+ years of feedback and self-reflections, I have strengthened effective strategies and abandoned ineffective ones. Improving education is a continual process, for example, I now regularly show learners how to ethically and optimally use ChatGPT and other AI systems to maximize and customize their learning.

  • Clarity in complexity: I excel in breaking down complex topics into understandable segments, making advanced concepts accessible and engaging. Instead of relying on fancy animations and buzzwords, I teach learners how to code their own visualizations for deep and flexible understanding.

  • Empathetic approach: Learning requires cognitive and emotional stamina, and even the most dedicated students benefit from a supportive environment. Empathizing with students’ challenges helps me effectively guide them through their educational journey.

Why I do it

  • Driving Progress: I believe education is a fundamental catalyst for human progress, enhancing individual capabilities and overall societal well-being.

  • Empowerment through Education: My goal is to empower individuals by making high-quality education accessible and relevant, thereby contributing to lifelong learning and personal growth.

Skills I developed

  • Adaptive instruction: Skilled in tailoring educational content to diverse audiences, from physicists to psychologists, ensuring relevancy and engagement across disciplines.

  • Mathematical coding: Proficient in using programming (mostly Python and MATLAB, some R) as a tool to teach mathematical concepts to those who are apprehensive about math, embodying my belief that coding can demystify complex theories. My motto is: you can learn a lot of math with a bit of coding.

Mike as scientist

My identity

  • PhD student (2001-2007; University of California, Davis; and University of Bonn, Germany): Integrated empirical brain data with computational reinforcement learning models to study human reward-based decision-making.

  • Postdoctoral researcher (2007-2015; University of Arizona and University and Amsterdam): Conducted electrical and computational analyses to uncover brain mechanisms involved in recognizing and correcting errors.

  • Tenured associate professor (2015-2022; Donders Institute, the Netherlands): Pioneered the use of custom-designed multisite electrical recordings in rodents to explore spatial-spectral-temporal patterns of transient brain synchronization; developed innovative techniques for analyzing complex, multidimensional datasets.

  • CV: Here is my science CV (last updated in 2021).

My accomplishments

  • Innovative research: Led groundbreaking work on “midfrontal theta,” a brainwave pattern linked to error detection in humans.

  • Publications: Authored and coauthored 126 peer-reviewed articles, including my own work and collaborations with many international research groups.

  • Global influence: My work has been cited over 25,000 times, reflecting substantial impact on the international neuroscience community.

  • €8M+ funding: I have applied for and received many grants, ranging from small training grants to post-doc fellowships to 5-year excellence-based grants. My research has been funded by the US (NIH), German (DAAD), and Dutch (NWO) governments; EU (ERC); and private organizations.

Why I did it

  • Passion for discovery: I am fascinated by the process of quantifying and modeling natural phenomena using numbers, and thereby advancing our fundamental understanding of the brain.

  • Contribution to science: My research contributed to the global neuroscience community by pushing the boundaries of knowledge and developing new scientific methods.

Skills I learned

  • The scientific process: Expert in steering complex scientific investigations, including transforming initial loose ideas into concrete testable hypotheses, designing and implementing experiments, adapting the protocols to meet challenges and new techniques, and optimizing collaborations in diverse teams.

  • Research operations: Experienced with all aspects of research project management, from securing funding to hiring staff to ordering and setting up equipment to labwork to data analysis to facilities management to final presentations and publications.

  • Team management: Skilled in leading diverse research teams, nurturing talent, and optimizing group dynamics for peak performance.

  • Talent development: Identify students and collaborators with a high chance of success; and foster and mentor junior colleagues along their scientific and academic development.

Why I left

  • I transitioned out of academia in 2022 to leverage my expertise for more direct contributions to global challenges and human agency.

Mike as traveler

My identity

  • In a world where many seek stability, I thrive in flux, exploring new environments to foster creativity and lasting impactful work.
  • Diversifying my experiences helps me appreciate the complexities, convergences, and divergences of human needs and emotions.

What I've done

  • Various roles and experiences: from studying music and psychology to bartending to driving motorcycles and flying airplanes.
  • Embracing nomadism: In 2022 I shed all my possessions that didn't fit into a backpack and haven’t stopped traveling since.

What I've learned

  • “Home” is a state of mind, not a physical location. That's true for me but not for everyone.
  • The less I own, the happier I am.
  • How to talk to almost anyone about almost anything.
  • Everyone wants to be happy; different things make different people happy; not everyone knows how to be happy.