Linguistics, neuroscience and cognitive psychology come together in Brock lab

As Brock prepares to welcome prospective students curious about where their studies might take them, the Dwivedi Brain and Language Lab is proof that transdisciplinary research lets you follow your passion — even if you aren’t quite sure what that passion is.

The lab, run by Psychology Associate Professor Veena Dwivedi is part of the Centre for Lifespan Development Research, one of Brock’s transdisciplinary hubs.

Dwivedi and her research team combine linguistic theory with cutting edge neuroscience methods to examine how people process language and sentences in the brain. By approaching the subject from multiple disciplines, Dwivedi’s research may ultimately help improve the diagnosis of diseases and disorders, from Alzheimer’s to Attention Deficit Disorder.

Veena Dwivedi, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology.

“If you want to do the hard work of understanding how the brain works, you have to bring together fundamental knowledge from more than one discipline,” she says.

Dwivedi holds an undergraduate degree in Immunology and Physiology and a PhD in Linguistics, and has recently begun collaborating with Professor Ted Gibson, who specializes in computational theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Where the brain is concerned, we are just scratching the surface. We do not know where the answers will come from,” Dwivedi says. “However, you can bet good money that any disorder that affects language will require a scientist to bring together linguistics, neuroscience and cognitive psychology. So, that’s what we are doing in our lab.”

Dwivedi’s devotion to transdisciplinary research often inspires students working in her lab, which presently includes three fourth-year students from different Brock Faculties.

Alanna Kozak, a Speech and Language Sciences student in the Department of Applied Linguistics, plans to attend medical school after graduation. Medical Science student Harmonie Chan plans to pursue a master’s degree in speech pathology.

“In our lab, I had the opportunity to hear and see a lot of viewpoints that I may have missed if I had only talked to people in linguistics,” says Kozak. “These different opinions definitely helped guide my decision to apply to medical school rather than speech-language pathology, as I originally planned.”

A third student, Neuroscience major Janahan Selvanayagam, speaks highly of the freedom he enjoyed in exploring novel analytical approaches in the lab. He found that his experience confirmed his passion for neuroscience research, which he will continue to pursue in graduate school next year.

Previous lab students have gone on to diverse experiences around the world — from universities and health care systems to other research ventures as far away as Germany and Poland.

One of these alumni, Raechelle Gibson, recently completed a PhD in Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience and is now working on her MD. She credits Brock with affording her opportunities to explore her many interests.

“The mentorship and teaching I received from Brock fostered my learning and spurred my intellectual curiosity,” says Gibson. “I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunities for learning and research that I did so early on in my training. Brock is a special place and offers a fantastic learning environment.”

Sean Chisholm, a third-year Psychology major, hopes to continue working in the lab and complete his honours thesis under Dwivedi’s supervision next year.

“The lab has shaped my goals by giving me the confidence to face subjects that are not in my comfort zone,” he says. “I have never worked in language before, nor had a class about language.”

For Dwivedi, this is what her work is all about.

“I want students to realize that they will be supported at Brock. Even if they are different, they can find a place here. Even if they change their minds as they learn and grow, they will be supported. They can achieve their dreams.”

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