It is with a broken heart that I write to let you know that our dear colleague and friend, Mark Stokes passed away around 7:00pm on 13 January at Sobell House. There are no further plans at the moment, but these will be announced in due course.*
Mark spent his last days lucidly and courageously in harmony, tenderness, and love with his family members.
Mark battled his vicious cancer for longer than all odds. In his final days, he reflected he was happy with what he managed to achieve in the time. He spent sunny joyous times travelling and hanging out with his young children, planting fertile seeds for future memories.
Mark worked on the foundations of cognition and changed how we think. In his casual understated way, he combined broad scholarship, deep inquisitiveness, and gifted craftsmanship to shift understanding beyond established tenets and open new spaces for exploration. His work unshackled working memory from its static representational explanation as the consistent firing of neurons and created dynamic functional possibilities with synaptic plasticity, silent coding, and future-facing states.
Mark’s pioneering spirit of enquiry was contagious. He brought all along with his brimming curiosity, sharp analyses, probing questions, and alternative perspectives and with his good humour, friendly banter, caring attentiveness, and a twinkle in his eyes. He made us better scientists and better people.
He left us too soon. Now, it is up to us to carry his vital brilliance and warmth forward.
Mark was an internationally renowned cognitive neuroscientist and highly valued member of our Department. As the Head of the Attention Group, Mark’s research focused on the role of selective attention in perception, working memory and flexible decision-making. He was particularly interested in how these core cognitive functions are integrated for goal-directed adaptive behaviour.
As head of Attention Group at the Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity (OHBA), he coordinated a programme of cognitive neuroscientific research to gain insights into the mechanisms that underpin high-level cognition in the human brain. The group explored new directions to translate their research in fundamental cognitive neuroscience to psychiatric models of mood disorders.
Mark maintained a neuroscience blog, The Brain Box, to disseminate his own research to a more general audience, as well as to comment on other public-interest topics in neuroscience from the latest breakthroughs to ongoing controversies. Mark also co-hosted Brain Metrics at Nature.
Mark moved to the UK from Australia in 2004 to do his PhD with John Duncan and Rhodri Cusack at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University. In 2007, Mark was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at St John's College Oxford, working on attention and memory with Kia Nobre in the Brain and Cognition Laboratory. He was elected to a Tutorial Fellowship in psychology at New College, Oxford in 2015.
Amongst other accolades and prizes, Mark was awarded an MRC Career Development Fellowship in 2012 to explore the neural basis of selective inhibition as a principal investigator in Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology, awarded the title of University Research Lecturer, and elected to a Science Research Fellowship at St John's College.