Holiday Presents for a Neurogeek

I know this post might be a bit late in the season to make much of an impact on your shopping plans, but if your loved ones can’t get enough neuroscience then here are some thoughts for great gifts. Some are specific to neuroscience, while others are more general and appropriate for any academic. Enjoy!

General Neuroscience.

– Book: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, by Huettel, Song, and McCarthy. ~$75
I picked this up a few weeks ago since I heard it had a good section on signal and noise in fMRI. What I found was, far and away, the best single introduction to fMRI that I have run across. If I am ever fortunate enough to run my own lab then I will see to it that all new lab members are handed this book as soon as they step in the door. It’s that good.

– Plush: Neuron or set of Neurons. ~$12-$24
How much cute can a few dollars buy? Quite a bit, apparently. I have a set of plush neurons in my office. The best part is that they can slot into each other, forming neural networks! I love it.

– T-Shirt: I ♥ Brains. ~$20
Don’t hide your love, share it with the world. While there may be other organs in the body , the brain is where it’s at.

– Poster: Think Hard Print (Map of the brain’s surface). ~$18
The folks at Ork Posters are well-known for their city neighborhood posters. In this case they turned their creative talent to the neighborhoods of the brain, and created a great piece of art. It’s even anatomically correct.

– Book: This Is Your Brain on Music. ~$11
I purchased this book on a whim two years ago and was very pleasantly surprised at how good it is. Music (and dance) are a key part of the human condition. With this book you can learn more about what makes music so special within the brain.

– Book: The Human Brain Coloring Book. ~$15
What coloring books do your kids have? Disney? Pokemon? Upgrade them to something better – something that even med school students use to help learn neuroanatomy. I purchased my first brain coloring book when I was an undergrad. It was great then, and it remains great now.

– Tool: Atlas of the Human Brain. ~$180+
When you start getting serious about the brain then you are going to need a serious map to help guide you. My personal standby is the Atlas of the Human Brain by Mai, Paxinos, and Assheuer. It is a great reference book with excellent illustrations. As a bonus the atlas comes with a DVD containing PDFs of all the book material. Copy the DVD to your laptop and you will have your atlas with you everywhere you go.

– Tool: Somso Human Brain Model. ~$LOTS
One day someone will explain to me why plastic models of the human brain must cost hundreds of dollars. For now I am a bit lost regarding their exorbitant cost. Still, these models are incredibly handy to have around when discussing brain anatomy or function. The link goes to one example of a human brain model, but there are many variations on the theme available. It is not impossible to spend $1000+ on a really good version.

General Academia.

– Writing Tool: Moleskine notebooks and Copic Multiliner SP pens. ~$8-$15
There are times when academics are out there, on the front line. Lab meetings. Department presentations. Lunch with a collaborator. Conferences. In these battles you need the best weapons you can get. Don’t get caught with your pants down – always have solid instruments along with you. It has taken years of careful testing, but I have settled on Moleskine notebooks and the Copic Multiliner SP pen. Get the Moleskine with graph paper, and get the 0.35 mm tip Multiliner. Make sure to get the SP series, because you deserve a rugged aluminum body.

– Writing Tool: Any kitchen timer ~$15
Sometimes I long for a typewriter when I am writing a new manuscript. Part of the allure is the romance – feeding the paper in and hearing the click-clack of the hammers striking the page. The biggest advantage though? THERE IS NO INTERNET ON A TYPEWRITER. If you know someone who is as distractible as I am then drop the $15 and buy them a kitchen timer. Tell them to set it for twenty minutes and make sure to work for that length of time. Then, when time has elapsed, you get ten minutes to do whatever you want. This ‘dash’ method has saved my bacon, and it is well worth the small cost to give it a try. Learn more here.

– Presentation Tool: Kensington Wireless Clicker. ~$35
From the audience it can be a bit humorous when the speaker can’t seem to get their Powerpoint slides to advance. Conversely, it is hell when forty pairs of eyes are watching you fumble around at the podium. If you are presenting in the near future, get a clicker that you can trust. I have found this Kensington model to be worthy. You can get this clicker with a laser pointer built-in as well, but I prefer the standard model. Also, put new batteries in every time you give a talk – it is worth the three dollars.

– Book: PhD Comics, first, second, third, or fourth releases. ~$8-$14
Let’s get something squared away right off the bat: Jorge Cham saves lives. His creation, PhD comics, details the everyday insanity that every grad student must deal with. Take a few minutes and surf over to the website and read a few panels, just to get a feel for it. If you know anyone who has ever struggled with the soul-crushing madness of grad school then any one of these books will be a cathartic experience. Also check out the PhD Comics online store.

– Software: Papers, the personal research library (Mac OS X). ~$42
I have several thousand PDF files on my computer. Now, suppose I need to find ONE of them. In the bad old days I would have the PDFs organized by topic in a series of folders on my computer. To find the right one I would have to remember what topic it might be under, or else face the time-sucking wrath of the Finder’s search tool. Now, enter Papers, the iTunes of PDF articles. It will properly store and organize all your academic PDF files. Want to see all the articles for a specific author? Done. Want to see all articles you have from a specific journal? Done. Need to build a list of articles that will be useful for your next paper? Done and done. A simple and beautiful program. Try it out for 30 days and decide if it works for you. They even give an academic discount!

– Reading Gadget: Amazon Kindle DX Reader. ~$500
When the Kindle first came out I quickly dismissed it as a device with a lot of promise, but limited by various hardware and software shortcomings. No longer. With the Kindle DX things start getting really interesting for academics. The device natively support the PDF file format, which means that all of the journal articles we have downloaded can be opened. Further, the screen is large enough to be able to read those articles pretty comfortably. The Kindle might be a unique solution if you are looking to go all-digital.

4 Responses to “Holiday Presents for a Neurogeek”

  1. Sara @ - December 17th, 2009

    Many thanks for mentioning our “I heart brains” t-shirt. :) Xmas delivery is still available until Dec 20th by picking 3-day shipping or faster.

    Have a great holiday!

  2. Neuroskeptic - December 24th, 2009

    This is hopelessly late but the new store has some fun stuff too (& is linked to the excellent Neuroscience For Kids site).

    Maybe for next x-mas.

  3. Erin Mazerolle - January 14th, 2010

    Just got a great belated xmas gift thanks to this post! Thanks for giving my loved one the good idea! (It’s the Thinking Cap print)

  4. Speldosa - April 20th, 2010

    I would recommend the free software Mendeley for all your research paper handeling (instead of “Papers”). Check it out at I love it!

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