How many times have you asked yourself whether your research has a broader impact on society? Why is it so hard to quantify the impact of our scientific endeavors? I recently sat down with a few prominent neuroscientists who are members of both QBIN and the Transforming Autism Care Consortium (TACC) network. I wanted to get a sense of the state of the art in autism bio-imaging research and what the motivating factors and benefits are behind collaborative science and inter-network initiatives in Quebec.
Most academics have at some point in their lives been asked by a well-meaning friend or relative when they will get a “real job”. While the natural response is to defensively explain that completing a PhD or a postdoc is in fact a real job, the question itself is not completely out of line. While for many career paths, people enter the job market directly after an undergraduate degree or an apprenticeship, research training takes many more years – up to ten years from the start of a PhD program to landing a permanent position (with no guarantees!).
Aging is a normal part of life, and just like the rest of the body, the brain changes as we get older. In normal aging, most people will eventually experience some changes in the way they think, like slower processing speeds or certain types of memory loss, although skills and knowledge tend to remain stable or are even improved over time.
QBIN is proud to have sponsored the 2nd edition of the Gradients of Brain Organisation workshop, which took place on the 16th of June, 2021. In total, 395 individuals from around the world registered for the event. At the peak on the zoom call, 164 individuals were online and many more watched the livestream on Vimeo.
Early one January morning, I hurried out of bed and dashed to the front curb, worried that I would be late to take out my garbage and recycling in time for the collectors. Still in my pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair, I hadn’t noticed a woman nearby rummaging through my neighbours’ recycling bags to collect bottles for consignment. She approached me to ask for any refundable bottles from my bag. Suppressing my discomfort at the idea of a stranger examining my waste, I opened my bag to allow her to investigate. She sparked a conversation about her distrust of the COVID-19 vaccine and warned me to avoid it at all costs. When I asked her why, she replied that the government had implanted a tracking device in the vaccine so that they could monitor us at all times. She told me that since we had never needed this vaccine before, it is suspicious for the government to insist on it now. I was so completely dumbfounded that I hardly knew how to respond.
Video games are more popular and more profitable than ever before. Having come a long way since the arcade hits of decades past like Pong and Pac-Man, modern video games often have incredible photorealistic 3D graphics as well as complex narratives and engaging storylines that have helped them outperform even cinema in terms of profit and share of the entertainment industry. Video game players get to become part of the narrative by virtually embodying characters through gameplay, which often runs for over 20 hours or more, rather than just observing the story from the outside for 1-2 hours of film. As a result, people often report that video games can to some extent elicit far stronger emotional responses than movies, making it somewhat unsurprising that many games end up with cult-like followings of devoted fans waiting anxiously for the next release.
While art and science are often presented as opposing forces in today’s world, the aim of the two disciplines has always been fundamentally the same: to provide a representation of the real world. This intricate link between art and science becomes more obvious as we look to past discoveries that were made before the invention of modern scientific technologies that help us capture reality, in a time when it was in many ways necessary for scientists to be artists as well.
With the COVID-19 pandemic persisting for close to a year now, our daily routines and habits have changed dramatically. Those of us working from home have only a short commute from our beds to our desks, which may be convenient, but also reduces our exposure to different environments and blurs boundaries between work and leisure. Those who have lost their jobs or are shouldering childcare responsibilities on top of their work are facing numerous other challenges and changes to their lives, all of which may have lasting consequences. Most obviously, the change in routine due to public health restrictions has resulted in the visible dwindling of our social interactions. Could it be that the pandemic-related shift in our normal routines is also fundamentally changing the way we think and behave as human beings? It might be too early to tell but it’s definitely an interesting question to speculate about.
Although physical distancing does not necessarily mean social distancing, as it was first referenced in the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are often one and the same. Being social usually means spending time with others in a shared physical space, which is undeniably different than the virtual interactions that have become the accepted norm. Seeing our friends and family from behind a monitor is especially dissatisfying when we are only kilometers apart, and while having hundreds of social media “friends” means that we are in many ways more connected than ever, greater use of social media has actually been linked to increased loneliness.
There is a growing movement in the scientific community known as open science that aims to make scientific research fully transparent, reproducible, collaborative, and accessible to all people at all levels of society. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of open science is clearer than ever, and its feasibility is undeniable.