ELIZABETH DU PRE
Elizabeth is a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrated Program in Neuroscience at McGill University. She is currently undertaking her graduate research project in the lab of Dr. Jean-Baptiste Poline, where she is interrogating functional alignment as an analytic method.
Welcome, Elizabeth! Let's begin by looking back on your educational history. Having completed your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Cornell University, what motivated you to pursue your Doctoral degree with IPN, in Montreal?
The IPN has a rich history of ground-breaking neuroscience research. After over a year in the program, it’s still exciting to be in the building where Wilder Penfield once worked. Its location in Montreal is also important—having had the chance to establish collaborations across Montreal’s vibrant neuroscience and machine learning communities has made my training in the IPN a dynamic experience.
I’m glad to hear that McGill University and Montreal have made a positive impression on you. Moving on to your research, what is its origin story? How did you come about your scientific question?
Cognitive neuroscience asks fundamental questions about our minds, such as the nature of memory. The answers to these questions have far-reaching implications. Despite this, the methods we have available to answer those questions are tightly-controlled, making it difficult to judge how our findings in the lab will extend to the real world.
I became interested in using naturalistic stimuli such as movies and podcasts to bridge this gap. These stimuli open up many new kinds of analyses, and I am exploring one in my Ph.D.: how we can use naturalistic data to more directly compare brain activity patterns across people.
What real-world applications does your research pose?
Many of the inferences that we draw in neuroimaging rely on being able to establish a correspondence across our participants. This is particularly difficult in regions where we have relatively few anatomical landmarks. Through my work, I hope that we will continue to improve these “functional maps” using more realistic measures of function, like naturalistic stimuli. This will enable us to more precisely define targets for intervention.
Sounds very interesting! Have you received awards/funding for your research during your time in IPN?
I’ve been fortunate to have my research supported by a Tomlinson Doctoral Fellowship and a Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives graduate fellowship. I was also recently awarded the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform (CONP) student scholarship.
Aside from the exciting research that you’re working on, what else are you passionate about and allocate your free time toward?
I’m actively involved in trying to promote open research practices within the neuroscience community. Some of this is helping to develop open infrastructures to facilitate shared analyses and results. However, I’ve learned that problems in open science are, like many other hard problems, “20% technical and 80% social.” That means a lot of this work is in talking to other researchers and collaboratively thinking on what open science could look like and who it can help.
What do you hope to achieve within the next five to ten years?
In the long run, I hope that we’ll be able to read fully open publications where data, analysis code, and results are all integrated directly into the manuscript. I believe that this will revolutionize the way we think about research. It will also certainly save time in trying to replicate methods sections, where details are lost to word count restrictions!
What legislation do you wish to change in order to improve how science in your field is performed?
I think we need top-down change to transform the way we publish and communicate research. For example, legislation that enforces requirements on publications to be open access, such as Europe’s recent Plan S, is necessary to move our field towards fully open journals. I’d like to see Canada and other countries adopt a similar legislation.
I do agree with you on that issue. To conclude, what has your graduate school experience been like thus far?
Graduate school often feels like a marathon: even as I master one skill or resource, I realize I need another to complete my dissertation. I’m starting to realize that part of graduate school is being at peace with that process. After all, part of the reason I decided to pursue a Ph.D. was to keep learning!
Great perspective, Elizabeth! Thank you for your time, and I wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Published on July 9, 2019
If you are an IPN student or Principal Investigator, and would like to be featured as part of the #IamIPN series, please e-mail Dhabisha Kohilanathan at projects.ipn [at] mcgill.ca.