“To Understand Man Himself”

If you walk up University Ave to the Montreal Neurological Institute, you will see a stone plaque right outside the front doors with a quote by the famous Dr. Wilder Penfield – “The problem of neurology is to understand man himself”.  That’s precisely what drew me to neuroscience in the first place.  I’ve always imagined myself to be a bit of a philosopher – always seeking to understand why we do the things we do, where we’ve come from, and why we as a species have come to be the way we are.  After years of asking myself these questions, I realized a perfect place to start searching for the answers was in the study of the brain.

Our brain is a beautifully complex yet intricately connected super-computer – the sheer number of connections alone is enough to baffle even the sharpest of minds.  It’s fascinating that this chunk of meat in our heads is responsible for the development of civilization, the exploration of space, the creation of technology, and constant innovation.

McGill’s neuroscience department is the largest in Canada, and one of the biggest in North America.  From Donald Hebb and Hebbian learning to Brenda Milner and the study of HM, this school has contributed crucial discoveries to the field.  Today, with hundreds of neuroscience labs and some of the most cutting-edge technology, brain research at McGill is still going strong.

From the molecular to the systems level, neuroscience research encompasses almost every discipline.  Engineers, physiologists, computer scientists, geneticists – and almost any kind of “ist” can contribute.  Given the incredible complexity of the brain, it is no surprise that everyone needs to get involved.

While our individual contributions through our specialities are critical, it is also important for us to become well versed across disciplines.  For great research to happen, collaboration is key – across laboratories and across faculties.  There’s much for the computational scientist to learn from the molecular biologist, the physiologist form the psychologist.  Keep your mind and eyes open to fields outside your comfort zone, and make sure to ask a lot of questions.  The field of neuroscience offers the unique opportunity for researchers from a myriad of backgrounds to come together to solve the mysteries of the brain.

With hundreds of researchers working together to understand this one fascinating organ, maybe one day we will be able to “understand man himself”.

 

 

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