Where are you from? What is your background?
I was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan but moved all across the prairie provinces in my childhood. I grew up primarily in Chestermere, Alberta, which is where I graduated high school. After high school, I moved to Saskatoon to attend the University of Saskatchewan, where I received an honours degree in psychology and a master’s degree and PhD in cognitive neuroscience under the training of Professor Ron Borowsky. From there, I moved to London, Ontario, to do a BrainsCAN postdoctoral fellowship with Professors Ingrid Johnsrude and Jody Culham. My partner and I were only there for less than a year before I accepted a position in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge. We moved to Lethbridge this past June and started my work at the U of L in July. I knew for a very long time that I wanted to study the brain, so that has been my focus since my first year of university.
Are there any challenges or barriers to success that you’ve had to overcome to get where you are in your career?
Academia is not an easy road—it’s a huge commitment filled with many highs and lows and a lot of self-motivation. I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing and supportive mentors along the way that have helped me through the challenging times. Unfortunately, rejection is all too commonplace in science. It is definitely difficult to hear that a manuscript you worked hard on has been rejected or that your scholarship application was unsuccessful. In particular, succeeding in academia and science has a lot to do with coping and growing from these periods of rejection without letting them interfere with following your passions. I also had a bit of a unique experience because I knew I wanted to get a PhD and spend my life studying the brain since as early as grade 8, so I had a very linear trajectory through my schooling. I know that’s often not the case for many people who find themselves in grad school. I count myself pretty lucky to be where I am now and to be able to pass on my passion for neuroscience to the next generation of students.
Why did you choose the U of L? Was there something in particular that drew you to the university or the community? Was there a particular person or project that influenced your decision to pursue a career here?
One of the biggest draws for me to choose the U of L was the possibility of helping to build a world-class human neuroimaging program back in my home province of Alberta. I was blown away when I saw the infrastructure that U of L had to offer from a science perspective. The new Science Commons building is absolutely beautiful and offers an amazing space to build a lab, and the neuroscience program and students at the U of L are fantastic. There is just something so exciting about being able to be a part of something big right from the get-go. It’s weird to say that I moved across the country for an MRI, but that was kind of the case! Another huge draw was the outstanding researchers here at the University of Lethbridge. Not everyone gets to say that their mentors and co-workers are the people who literally wrote the book on neuroscience! It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of such a strong neuroscience department and be part of a university that provides such outstanding training for students. From a more personal standpoint, I’m a prairie girl at heart and grew up in Chestermere, Alberta. We also have immediate family in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, and it’s great to be back within driving distance.
What do you teach? Outside of the classroom, what kind of support do you offer to your students?
My dream classes to teach are anything related to the human brain—I am such a brain nerd, and I find everything fascinating and love to share with students. I taught NEUR 3645: Cognitive Neuroscience I in the winter term. I am currently developing a new course for the spring that will take a deep dive into the Neurobiology of Language. A lot of my PhD work focused on language and reading, so it’s an area I am very interested in. I will also be teaching some courses in the near future related to human neuroimaging data, where students will get hands-on experience in analyzing brain activation during different cognitive tasks.
Outside of the classroom, I try to keep as open a line of communication as possible. I’m happy to meet with students over zoom to talk about any questions they might have from lectures or to discuss anything they are interested in. I like to think of myself as a pretty approachable person, and I try not to take myself too seriously.
What do you value most about the U of L? What is the best part of your job?
I haven’t had much of an opportunity to be on campus yet, as I just started in July at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and have primarily been working from home, but it’s one of the most beautiful and unique campuses I’ve ever been. I’m looking forward to lunchtime hikes through the coulees in the summer! One of my favourite parts of the job is teaching, and I’ve had the opportunity to teach a fantastic group of students in NEUR 3645 over the winter semester. This teaching year has obviously looked much different from other years, but I’m very grateful for the inquisitive questions and fun conversations I get to have with my students during and after class.
How has your job changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year? How have you adapted to the unique challenges?
This is my first independent academic position. I can definitely tell you that starting as an assistant professor during the height of a global pandemic has its fair share of challenges. One of the strangest parts of it all is that I have never actually met the majority of my colleagues in person, and I took the position without ever setting foot on campus. Even my interview was done over Zoom! The lack of human interaction has been challenging, so trying to find ways to connect with other people digitally, including my students, has been very important. I’m lucky to have a great group of students willing to start conversations in the chat on Zoom and hang out after class to have “normal” conversations. They probably cringe at home watching me make the same bad jokes I would in-person to an audience of blanked-out screens, but I think it’s important to lighten things up for everyone as much as I can. That being said, I am very much looking forward to meeting all my co-workers and students in person one day!
Please tell us about any research or publications. Do you have students involved in your research?
My research focuses on using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to get a glimpse into how people’s brains are processing the complex world around us. The MRI scanner is a very constrained environment, so my research uses movies to approximate what we are experiencing as we navigate the real world. My previous research focused mainly on identifying brain regions and networks involved in reading and attention, as well as developing models that allow us to predict brain activation from the structure of the brain.
I currently have a few independent studies students and one potential honours student lined up for next semester who will get a chance to dip their toes into human behavioural and neuroimaging work, so I’m really excited about that. As a shameless plug, I am currently recruiting students at all levels into my lab. If anyone reading this wants to get involved in an awesome human neuroimaging project at the Honours, Master’s, or PhD level, please feel free to get in touch!
Are you involved in any community activities or groups outside of the university? Is there anything else about you that we should be aware of?
At present, I am not really involved in any groups or community activities. I’ve been trying to do my part to limit spread during the Covid-19 pandemic by staying home as much as possible. I love to get out and walk my dog Philly through the coulees and explore all the amazing outdoor areas Lethbridge has to offer. I’ve noticed that Lethbridge is quite an active city, so I’m going to have to up my running and biking game!
If you were speaking to a prospective undergraduate or graduate student, why would you tell him/her to attend the U of L?
First, the new Science Commons building is AMAZING and provides the perfect opportunity to develop innovative new research projects that would be difficult to coordinate at other centres. Students here can learn from some of the best neuroscientists in the world and will be able to receive training that would be difficult to get at other institutions, such as training on how to use the MRI scanner. We are poised to develop an integrated translational research program here at U of L that spans animal physiology, human behaviour, human neuroimaging, and clinical applications to answer unique and exciting research questions. All in all, the U of L has far exceeded my expectations in terms of what it has to offer undergraduate and graduate students. I’m really excited for the future of research here at the University of Lethbridge, and I think it is an excellent time for students to get involved at the U of L.