Humans of Neuroscience

Interviews with those that are a part of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, or play a major role in supporting it.

Interview with Mehul Pal

Mehul Pal, a third year neuroscience student.
  • What inspired you to study neuroscience?

I originally had no idea what I wanted to study and in grade 11 thought about doing a math/physics, computer science and even a cell biology degree. When I went to the open house I learned of the Neuroscience program and was immediately captivated. The brain was the perfect combination to explore both my passion for artificial intelligence and biology. The brain is so complex it is almost a privilege to study it as I really love learning.

  • What do you like to do in your free time to practice self-care and/or alleviate stress?

First-year was very challenging but I tried to take an hour a day to sit in the library and read a book, which helped calm me down. However, I often skipped this to work on assignments. In the next years of my degree I really focused on doing things outside of school. I find volunteering enriching and a better way to occupy my time as opposed to watching Netflix. I started tutoring and volunteering at a retirement home, both things I really enjoyed doing in high school. With Covid I am left with all this free time at home and started to learn new languages as a hobby. It is really interesting to learn about the culture through the languages and how different words compare across the languages. I keep trying to learn so many languages I am not fluent in any, but have a good knowledge of Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Finnish, and Portuguese. I also picked up my violin which had been sitting in my closet for years and got a guitar as well. I find leaving the guitar out encourages me to play it a little each day. The one upside to Covid is that it has allowed me to try new things, but I still play video games and watch Netflix from time to time.

  • What is your favourite class that you have taken or are currently taking, and why? How did this class impact your life or your outlook on life?

This is a hard one! Neuro 375 was really interesting because it was one of the first real Neuro courses I got to take. But I think I like Psyco 377 a bit better than Neuro 375 because while anatomy is interesting, learning about all of the disorders of the nervous system really makes you appreciate how complex it is with such small things having a really profound effect. Psyco 377 also gave me a better appreciation of mental health disorders which are often not seen as comparable to physical injuries.

  • If you were not studying neuroscience, what is another passion that you might have pursued and why?

I might have done a major in Comp Sci because I love AI and machine learning and then a minor in biology or psychology to still take some biology related courses. I did consider switching to a different program, but am now really happy I stuck with Neuro.

  • Who is someone that inspires you/that you look up to, and why?

In general I never want to put too much emphasis on one individual because I think human history isn’t the accomplishment of only a few people. However, Stephen Hawking is a great inspiration to me and someone I look up to. Despite his diagnosis and the physical limitations he had he kept going and made such a revolutionary impact in his field. He inspires me that if you keep persevering you can achieve what you want.  

  • What do you hope to do after you graduate (academically and personally)?

I am really torn right now between research and medicine. I wrote the MCAT to try and push myself towards medicine and I think that is what I am leaning more towards. I will be getting more research experience so this might help me with my decision because I really love learning about the brain. Personally, I love travelling, which ties into my love of learning languages. When I went to Italy by myself I fell in love with travelling and learning all about different cultures. I would like to become fluent in French and then go to Quebec or France.

  • What are some lessons you have learned by living through a pandemic (about yourself and human nature in general)?

I have always been pretty introverted and didn’t think I cared about meeting people but it only took about 2 months for me to start going crazy just sitting at home and not seeing anyone. Zoom is not the same and I really gained an appreciation that all humans need social connection.

  • What are you most looking forward to coming out of the pandemic? Do you think your life/outlook will be forever changed in any way?

I am most looking forward to the simple things like being on campus and seeing my friends. I would also really like to take a summer to travel. It’s hard to say what the future will bring because I haven’t thought that far ahead.

Interview with Zoë van Klinken

Zoë van Klinken, a third year neuroscience student.
  • What inspired you to study neuroscience?

I developed an interest in neuroscience when I learned about the nervous system in high school, and I am fascinated by the implications of changes in the brain on mental health. Specific fields relating to neuroscience such as neuropsychology are what drew me to study this subject.

  • What do you like to do in your free time to practice self-care and/or alleviate stress?

In my free time, I like to play volleyball. Nowadays, since that isn’t possible, I enjoy reading, painting, and trying out new baking recipes.

  • What is your favourite class that you have taken or are currently taking, and why? How did this class impact your life or your outlook on life?

My favourite class that I have taken so far would be PHYSL 403. Dr. Hamza made the course fun and engaging, and learning about the ways that the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems interact was super interesting. Learning about the stress response and its effect on all the major body systems changed my sense of urgency around managing my stress. The class dove into long term health effects of chronic stress, and I had never really understood before that being stressed all the time could lead to serious health outcomes.

  • If you were not studying neuroscience, what is another passion that you might have pursued and why?

If I were not studying neuroscience, I would likely be studying psychology. This field would also allow me to study mental health and the nature of mental disorders.

  • Who is someone that inspires you/that you look up to, and why?

Someone who inspires me is my partner. His confidence inspires me to believe in myself. He is also super supportive and is always pushing me to step out of my comfort zone, which really helps me grow.

  • What do you hope to do after you graduate (academically and personally)?

After I graduate, I plan to pursue a career as a teacher through an after-degree education program. I recently discovered that teaching is my passion so I’m super excited to pursue this dream.

  • What are some lessons you have learned by living through a pandemic (about yourself and human nature in general)?

While planning and goal setting is important, not everything in life will go out as planned,
I’m a huge planner, but I had to expect change and a be able to change my plans.
I learned that unexpected changes can be used as a way to refine your goals and explore new opportunities.

  • What are you most looking forward to coming out of the pandemic? Do you think your life/outlook will be forever changed in any way?

I’m most looking forward to getting together with friends again; inviting people over to my house to cook for them. Going forward, I won’t take the opportunities to socialize and get together for granted anymore.

  • What inspired you to study neuroscience?
  • What do you like to do in your free time to practice self-care and/or alleviate stress?
  • What is your favourite class that you have taken or are currently taking, and why? How did this class impact your life or your outlook on life?
  • If you were not studying neuroscience, what is another passion that you might have pursued and why?
  • Who is someone that inspires you/that you look up to, and why?
  • What do you hope to do after you graduate (academically and personally)?
  • What are some lessons you have learned by living through a pandemic (about yourself and human nature in general)?
  • What are you most looking forward to coming out of the pandemic? Do you think your life/outlook will be forever changed in any way?

Interview with Amanda Buchner

Amanda Buchner, a fourth year neuroscience student
  • What inspired you to study neuroscience?

“Neuroscience has always been a subject of interest for me, as I grew up my nana got dementia when I was 12 and that was really influential for me to gain interest in this field and see how these diseases affect people and what can be done about it. In high school, learning about the nervous system was fascinating and that continued to increase my interest in neuroscience.”

  • What do you like to do in your free time to practice self-care and/or alleviate stress?

“I love to stress bake and that’s definitely been amplified with online school. Every time I have an assignment that stresses me out, I decide that it might just be best to bake some cookies. I’ve also started exercising outside more by taking daily walks in the ravine by my house. It helps me get some alone time and fresh air.”

  • What is your favourite class that you have taken or are currently taking, and why? How did this class impact your life or your outlook on life?

“Physl 403 (neuroendoimmunomodulation) has definitely been my favourite class because it focuses on how the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system are all interconnected. In a lot of neuro courses we just learn about the nervous system as being discrete, when in reality it is actually super interlinked with the body’s other systems. It gave me a strong perspective and understanding of the human body and how small things can have such a huge impact. There was a huge focus on how stress can impact the body. Now I look at school stress and life stressors differently because I know how it  affects my nervous system and body, and I’m trying to manage this better.”

  • If you were not studying neuroscience, what is another passion that you might have pursued and why?

“Probably theater, I’ve been doing improv since grade 10! Improv and theater both bring me a lot of joy and I love performing shows for Rapid Fire Theater! I know a career in the arts is not the most stable, but it is something I would have liked to pursue more.”

  • Who is someone that inspires you/that you look up to, and why?

“Malala Yousafzai, who has been a strong advocate for education and she refused to accept less than ideal circumstances that she was in and continued to try to bring about change that almost cost her her life. She continues to be a strong advocate for girls and pursues the things she’s passionate about at any cost because she knows how important all these issues are.”

  • What do you hope to do after you graduate (academically and personally)?

“Academically, I am currently waiting to do med school interviews, so I hope to start medical school in the fall! In the long term, I hope to still specialize in neurology as a branch of medicine, because it is so fascinating. Personally, I really want to travel and see the world, to broaden my experiences. Switzerland is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go for both the scenery and history, especially their science history.”

  • What are some lessons you have learned by living through a pandemic (about yourself and human nature in general)?

“I’ve learned that I have a lot of patience. A lot of things have been very frustrating this past year, involving everything from political issues to just living with parents and now having to be around them constantly, but I now know that I am  someone who is good at dealing with these frustrations. With regards to human nature, this year has exposed both good and equally bad stuff about people. Seeing some people posting about parties has been tough because you think that they would care more, but some people have been super generous, doing grocery runs for other people and constantly showing how caring they are.”

  • What are you most looking forward to coming out of the pandemic? Do you think your life/outlook will be forever changed in any way?

“I’m not necessarily looking forward to anything major, but I can’t wait to be in the same room with all my friends and to be able to hug them. I miss the proximity of hanging out with people, it’s very different only seeing them through zoom. I also miss performing shows and getting to do improv with people or being able to go see a concert. I hope that I will have a greater appreciation for the smaller stuff!”

Interview with Sarah Jacob

Sarah Jacob, a third year neuroscience student
  • What inspired you to study neuroscience?

“I always thought it was a really interesting field of study, and ever since her mom got diagnosed with ALS, I wanted to study it even more. Over all, I’ve always been interested in neurodegenerative research.”

  • What do you like to do in your free time to practice self-care and/or alleviate stress?

“I love to do henna, it’s very therapeutic! I also love listening to or playing music and I recently got into painting again. Watching Netflix to alleviate stress is also my go to.”

  • What is your favourite class that you have taken or are currently taking, and why? How did this class impact your life or your outlook on life?

“I really enjoyed NEURO 375, it was a super interesting course that gave an in-depth explanation of neural processes and pathways. I liked how detailed the information in this course was.”

  • If you were not studying neuroscience, what is another passion that you might have pursued and why?

“I was interested in biomedical engineering at first, I thought it was an interesting field because it contained a lot more applied science. I would pick that because I like seeing when the things I learn about apply to real-life problems.”

  • Who is someone that inspires you/that you look up to, and why?

“My mom, because she’s going through a lot, and it’s really inspiring seeing someone you can look up to as a parent. She still does so much for me even though she needs people to care for her and she is always encouraging and very supportive. She is a very strong person, and handles her illness so well, it’s inspiring that she is still so kind despite losing so many functions.”

  • What do you hope to do after you graduate (academically and personally)?

“I hope to go into medicine, I am very passionate about wanting to be a doctor in the future!”

What are some lessons you have learned by living through a pandemic (about yourself and human nature in general)?

“I have learnt that it can be really easy to feel like you’re living in a loop all the time, limited to the same daily routine, which has been draining. This pandemic has made us all very isolated, which can make it harder to talk to other people. But I have also learned to treasure the small things like going for a walk and anytime I find an excuse to go driving, I take it, even if it’s just a bubble tea trip or a Starbucks trip.”

  • What are you most looking forward to coming out of the pandemic? Do you think your life/outlook will be forever changed in any way?

“I am definitely looking forward to big social gatherings, because I am a very social person and I miss being able to interact with many people at once in an in-person setting. I also miss being able to meet new people, so I can’t wait to do that.”

Interview with Taylore Czorny

Taylore Czorny, a third year neuroscience student
  • What inspired you to study neuroscience?

“I wasn’t in the program originally, I started off in general science and was trying to map out my four years. I looked at all of the programs and decided to do neuroscience because I loved understanding what was happening in my brain with certain things in real life.”

  • What do you like to do in your free time to practice self-care and/or alleviate stress?

“I like to do yoga and I live in Jasper, so I also love to ski and go for walks.”

  • What is your favourite class that you have taken or are currently taking, and why? How did this class impact your life or your outlook on life?

“My favourite class so far was NEIM (PHYSL 403)! I liked it because I have a huge interest in how your behaviours are correlated to your physiological responses. Knowing how stress impacts you physiologically also changed the way I looked at things.”

  • If you were not studying neuroscience, what is another passion that you might have pursued and why?

“Honestly, I’d probably be in physiology! Or something completely different like forensics and criminology.”

  • Who is someone that inspires you/that you look up to, and why?

“Definitely AOC, everything she does is so inspiring! It makes me want to make a difference in the world.”

  • What do you hope to do after you graduate (academically and personally)?

“My goal is to go to medical school! I’m realistic though and don’t expect to get in right after my undergrad, so in my gap year(s), I would love to be able to travel and volunteer teaching English to people in foreign countries.”

  • What are some lessons you have learned by living through a pandemic (about yourself and human nature in general)?

“I’ve learned stuff about human nature in general, people do not often act in a rational way. About myself, I’ve learned that I am more than enough and have everything I need. I definitely used to be more codependent on others.”

  • What are you most looking forward to coming out of the pandemic? Do you think your life/outlook will be forever changed in any way?

“I will not take anything for granted, like opportunities to hangout with friends or even just being able to collectively study with people at the library. I will definitely do as much as I can once it’s possible to again!”

Interview with Amber Lapointe

Amber is the Student Program Administrator for the NMHI and works closely with the NSA.
  • How did you get your position at the NMHI and what is your connection with the NSA?

“My main goal when applying to the NMHI was to assist students and their programs. I was new to the neuro world and was interested in what students were studying. As I started reading proposals and hearing about the research being done by students, I started doing my own research on topics I found interesting and attending seminars! I have a business background that helps the NSA to build their initiatives with the extended community. It also helps me with the role of connecting the NMHI to the Faculty of Science, which is crucial in multidisciplinary, multi-faculty programs. Talking to students, offering support and most of all watching them succeed is why I love my role.”

  • What do you love most about neuroscience? What really got you hooked?

“The thing that really got me hooked was seeing a diagram of a human skeleton with all the nerves visible! The study of the brain and nervous system is amazing! There is so much that is still unknown and here at the University there is a lot of forward-thinking science working towards discovery. I must admit I have a love for watching videos of brain mapping and seeing how everything is so connected.”

  • What are your other passions? 

“My biggest passion is cooking and trying new recipes, you know, trying to keep the microbiome happy. I also have children at different stages of growth, so watching them develop and helping them go through milestones is incredibly rewarding.”

  • What is one experience that really impacted you when you were growing up?

“I had a close friend in junior high diagnosed with cancer and during her treatments, her mom died of a brain aneurysm. With such a life altering tragedy, I watched my friend as she stuck to her routine of going to school and continued to carry on and I admired her strength immensely. This really shed light onto the fact that you really have no idea what someone else is going through, so to approach situations with more understanding and kindness. You never know the struggles your friends or peers may be enduring.”

  • What is one piece of school related advice that you would want to offer to students?

“Stay curious and find what makes you passionate. You will find success and happiness when you are doing something that you love. Accept that you may face rejection, but with determination, a circle of support/mentors and a bit of a sense of humor, your resilience will be rewarded.”   

  • What is one piece of non-school related advice that you would want to offer to students?

“You are not alone. The University community has a wide variety of outreach groups and programs, starting with your NSA peers.  It is important to reach out for help you with your struggles and build connections with others. It is also equally important to take the time to a celebrate your successes and milestones. I will celebrate with you – my office door (virtual for the time being) is always open.”