Email interview: Natasha Campbell, Neuroscientist
What made you interested in going into your field?
I was always fascinated with how the brain worked because I had personal experience with mental illness growing up. Some of the best advice I received was to study what I was passionate about (not necessarily what I thought I “should” or “had to” do), so I decided to complete an undergraduate degree in neuroscience without really knowing where it would take me. Years later, I’m now working in a field that I’m very passionate about and am able to help people with neurological conditions by running clinical research that tests out new therapies and interventions to treat these disorders. It was good advice that I still use to this day!
What are some obstacles you have faced, maybe specifically due to being a woman in a male-dominated field?
I was and am lucky to be surrounded by very inspiring women throughout my career that I look up to as mentors. Luckily, I’ve also been supported by the organizations that I’ve worked for and never felt like there were any obstacles I couldn’t overcome. It’s important to keep searching for role models and supportive environments.
How do you think we should encourage more young girls into the field?
Science is so cool, and there are so many exciting options for what people can do with a STEM degree. Half the battle is learning about the different career options that exist beyond the more well-known careers, like becoming a doctor. For example, a lot of private companies are developing incredible health technologies that need teams of people from across STEM fields. Right now, I work for a company that employs software engineers, statisticians, PhD researchers, neuroscientists, clinical trialists, and clinicians!
What/who inspires you and why?
The people I work with inspire me every day because they’re smart, kind, flexible, hard-working, authentic, and persistent.
University and High School
What should a prospective STEM student start doing in high school to demonstrate their interest? What did you do?
I tried to study and get good grades in science class; I really enjoyed learning about chemistry and biology.
Which schools/programs did you consider?
I considered a few universities in Ontario (where I’m from) and McGill University in Quebec, which had a reputation for a strong science program. I considered both Science and Arts & Science programs.
What advice do you have for students interested in STEM?
You have a lot of time to explore different options. No decision is final; a lot of people change their minds and that’s OK! Continue to learn new things and let what sparks your excitement and interest be your guide.
What was your first internship/job experience like?
As a student, I had a few different part-time positions working for researchers in experimental biology, psychology and immunology. One of my first jobs was feeding and taking care of “electric fish” that generated an electric signal so that researchers could study the neuromodulation of electrosensory processing, to help us understand similar mechanisms used by the brain to process sensory information. The fish had to be kept in very dark, hot, and humid environments…and they ate live worms that got reaaaaally smelly. Not all science is glamorous!
What did you learn in your internships/jobs that you couldn’t have learned in school?
I learned something with every opportunity, whether it was how to write scientific papers, search the research literature, or keep animals alive! Part-time jobs gave me some very valuable one-on-one experience with professors who each had something new to teach.
What personality type/sort of person suits what you are involved in?
Curiosity and love of learning!
What are some cool projects you’ve worked on in the past?
Scientists have discovered that the brain can heal itself through neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize neurons and form new neural connections. I’ve had the privilege of working on some very cool projects using tongue stimulation to enhance neuroplasticity and help treat a variety of neurological symptoms including speech disorders, balance problems, and cognitive issues. I can’t wait to see what we find out next!