Extra funding aids brain research

Allison Sekuler A healthy arrival of funds over the past couple of years has produced "endorphins" in McMaster’s "brain" that has psychology researchers very excited.

Since 2001, nearly $18 million has advanced psychology’s research and teaching initiatives, $7 million of which has provided complete renovations of the research and teaching facilities.

"The Psychology Department at McMaster houses one of the most productive groups of behavioural and brain science researchers in Canada," says Ron Racine, professor and chair of the department. "The ability of this group to generate world-class research in a variety of areas and to provide a first class education to both undergraduate and graduate students has been greatly enhanced by the recent renovation of our research and teaching facilities."

Funding from the Ontario SuperBuild Corporation, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Innovation Trust and McMaster has supported a 40,000-square-foot renovation to the Psychology Building, located at the southwest end of campus. Renovations have included an expanded computer laboratory, two additional classrooms, four new meeting/library spaces, additional offices, new research space for two Canada Research Chairs, eye-tracking systems, a virtual reality laboratory, and several high-resolution electroencephalography (EEG) systems.

Psychology lab

"Some of these facilities are second to none in Canada," Racine says. "The renovation of our facility has made it easier to construct compelling research proposals and, together with the increased equipment funding, has enabled our researchers to optimize their research strategies."

McMaster’s psychologists have always been successful in grant applications, says Allison Sekuler, professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair in cognitive neuroscience. "Our department tends to be at the forefront of these funding opportunities because we’re proactive in applying for the funds and we are strong in what we do."

One reason for the success, she feels, is the collaborative environment in which researchers work. "There is a culture of collaboration and our researchers seek advice from each other when preparing a research grant application. There’s a strong sense of mentorship."

Collaboration within and outside of the department plays a key role in the department’s success, she says. "Psychology is at the intersection of a lot of different departments and several of our faculty actually were trained in disciplines other than psychology."

Racine says funding will help these collaborations grow. "All of our researchers can more easily develop inter-departmental and inter-institute collaborations due to our improved facilities. A departmental CFI grant, for example, funds expensive equipment for our developmental research group and has already encouraged productive collaborations between developmental researchers in the psychology department, the Offord Centre for Child Studies and CanChild. One of the goals of this research is to determine the optimal conditions for normal behaviour and brain development."

This strategy has already begun to pay off in important scientific results, several of which were highlighted in the Globe & Mail's recent series on human development.

Since opening in 1958, McMaster’s Psychology Department has been home to research into brain, behaviour, and cognitive science. Currently, the department is composed of 28 faculty, 50 graduate students and 12 post-doctoral fellows, all servicing more than 10,000 undergraduates each year. This Thursday, McMaster’s Board of Governors will take part in a tour of the building. A public tour is being considered for a future date.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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