Shin has obtained an MD degree from Seoul National University Medical College in 1974 and a PhD degree on genetics and cell biology from Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Cornell University Medical College in 1983. He taught at MIT in USA, and POSTECH in Korea. He was the founding Director of Brain Science Institute, Korea Institute for Science and Technology (KIST), and then Director of Center for Cognition and Sociality, Institute for Basic Science (IBS). After stepping down from the directorship of Center for Cognition and Sociality, he continues his research as an Honorary Fellow at IBS.
Since mid-90’s his group has been studying neural mechanisms of animal behaviors, primarily focusing on the role of the thalamus in normal and diseased brains. His approach has been to elucidate the behavioral and physiological consequences of deranged regulation of intracellular Ca2+ levels in brain cells which is induced by gene knock-out. Three groups of genes were targeted: voltage-gated Ca2+ channels for Ca2+ entry into cells, phospholipase C enzymes for Ca2+ release from internal stores upon activation of metabotropic receptors, and Na+/Ca2+ exchangers driving Ca2+ out to restore the resting Ca2+ level.
Beginning in 2010 his research interest has evolved to include neurobiology of social behaviors. He has pioneered to establish a behavioral paradigm, observational fear learning in mice, a rodent model for emotional contagion which is the basic form of affective empathy. This mouse model allowed, for the first time, to study affective empathy at the molecular and cellular levels. Using this animal model, his group has been able to define genes, circuits, and brain rhythms that control empathy behavior. This behavioral paradigm is becoming a widely adopted model in the field of social neuroscience to study neurobiology of empathy.