Many of us have experienced the power of the arts on the brain and behaviour. Perhaps you felt a lift in mood after a choir practice, or maybe you were better able to balance on one foot after some dance lessons. As a pianist and dancer, a passion for the arts has always been a driving factor in my life. I wanted to learn more about why training in these skills can have such a noticeable effect on the way we feel and act.
In 2012, I began my doctoral studies in the IPN under the supervision of Dr. Krista Hyde in the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS). My project investigated brain structure in expert dancers versus expert musicians and untrained controls. Using structural MRI and multi-method analysis (voxel- and surface-based morphometry as well as structural covariance), we found brain characteristics that are common to both dancers and musicians but differ from controls, as well as characteristics that differentiate dancers from both other groups. We also found correlations between brain structure and measures of dance and music ability. This work provides insight into how brain traits may be associated with different types of long-term, specialized training. This is particularly exciting as it can be applied to the development of dance- and music-based therapies for clinical populations.
The IPN provides the ideal environment for conducting this type of research, since the neuroscience community at McGill includes world-renowned experts in brain plasticity and neuroimaging methods. It was an honour to connect with pioneers in these fields, including scientists who conducted key plasticity studies and those who developed the methods that I used.
The IPN also provides exceptional opportunities for students outside the lab. For all five years of my PhD, I was involved with BrainReach, a non-profit organization run by IPN students that designs and teaches neuroscience classes for elementary and high school students. I started off as a presenter, then joined the lesson development team, then held the role of President of the elementary school division. This experience made me realize how much I enjoy designing and giving presentations, which led me to start exploring some career options where this would be a key component.
In the second half of my doctoral studies, I held the position of Graduate Education Assistant at Teaching and Learning Services at McGill. I worked on the SKILLSETS and SKILLS21 programs, which provide professional development opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, respectively. I designed and delivered professional development workshops, and broadened my horizons with management and communications tasks.
I completed my PhD in 2017, and am now working as a Program Officer at Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives. I am building the HBHL-SKILLSETS program – a professional development program specially-designed for graduate students and postdocs with an interest in neuroscience. HBHL-SKILLSETS offerings aim to facilitate the development of skills such as communication, leadership and teamwork that will help trainees to excel in their current research and stand out in the job market. I am grateful for my experience in the IPN and at McGill for leading me to a position that combines my passion for neuroscience with creativity, teaching and making a lasting impact on the McGill community and beyond.