Episode 3 of Neural Pathways features Dr. Benjamin De Leener, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Engineering and Software Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal, and Co-Founder of Chrysalabs. Listen to the full episode on Spotify.
Dr. Benjamin De Leener took a traditional route to academia after his graduate and post-doctoral studies – however, he had some less traditional sidetracks along the way. Benjamin is an Assistant Professor in the department of Computer Engineering and Software Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal and is also affiliated with the department of Biomedical Engineering at CHU Sainte-Justine. As a professor, his teaching and research focuses on brain and spinal cord imaging in pediatric populations. On top of this, he is the Chief Science Officer at ChrysaLabs, a company that he co-founded during his PhD which develops technological tools for agriculture.
Benjamin began his academic career while completing a double master’s degree at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Polytechnique Montréal, working on spinal cord imaging. He went on to complete his PhD at Polytechnique to develop tools for spinal cord imaging, and made major contributions to the development of the Spinal Cord Toolbox, an open-source software with everything necessary to analyze MRI images of the spinal cord. At some point, Benjamin realized he might need a little break from studying the same subject for so long. “Trying to always be creative on one topic can be pretty demanding. I needed some brain ventilation,” he explained. “I was working on the spinal cord, so maybe spinal cord ventilation.”
Throughout his PhD, Benjamin became involved with a number of extracurricular activities to balance his workload. He volunteered for non-profits such as NeuroTechX, and became very engaged in PolyFab, a fabrication lab at Polytechnique. As he was working on developing robots with a colleague at PolyFab, they ended up setting up a robotic garden – and realized this side project may have an impact in the agricultural sector! This led to Benjamin and his colleague participating in entrepreneurial programs, applying for grants, recruiting partners, and eventually, the Chrysalabs company was up and running.
This experience helped Benjamin realize that he loves research and developing tools, and even enjoys grant applications for projects that he is passionate about. He especially appreciates the chance to develop tools for the biomedical domain because of the potential impact they may have on people – something that he didn’t realize until his post-doctoral studies when he began to have direct interaction with patients. When Benjamin started his post-doc at The Neuro, he was once again working on spinal cord imaging, but this time with individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He explains that working with the patients first-hand reconnected him with the research he was doing. “At the end of my PhD if you asked me if I wanted to do academia, I would have said no. During my post-doc, I was considering it.” Benjamin later went on to apply for a faculty position at Polytechnique, where he was hired and has helped create a new research program.
Benjamin says his vision throughout his studies was just to open doors for himself and try different things. “You don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know if you’re going to like something until you try.” He believes that you should have different things that you enjoy, and even if you are passionate about what you are doing, it’s sometimes important to “ventilate your brain” to build your creativity.
To find out more about Dr. Benjamin De Leener, Polytechnique Montréal, and Chrysalabs: