Maryse Thomas (@maryseethomas) is hosting Real Scientists from Montréal this week! Maryse is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at McGill University studying the how environmental noise affects the brain, and is one of the directors of scicomm powerhouse, Useful Science (@usefulsci/usefulscience.org). We chatted with Maryse about her research so far:
How did you get into neuroscience?
My family is French-Canadian but I grew up in the U.S. speaking mostly English. When I moved back to Canada as a teenager it was difficult for me to learn French even though I had been exposed to my parents speaking it for my entire life. Committing to learning French at a late age, however, is what eventually led me to study neuroscience. In particular, my struggles led me to wonder, “what is happening in the brain that makes it so much harder to master languages as an adult?” As an undergraduate at McGill University in the bilingual city of Montréal, I had ample opportunities to study language and I pursued two undergraduate research projects in this area before moving on to start my PhD. Now, I study the auditory system which is a crucial component of understanding language and neuroplasticity, which could one day provide us with the answer to life-long learning.
Prior to starting to learn French, did you plan on a career in science?
I had a lot of interests as a student and I didn’t know that I would be staying in science until very late in my studies. Throughout my high school and undergraduate degrees, I put off making a decision by taking an equal number of arts and science courses until I was finally forced to choose a major during my Bachelor’s degree. Even then, I chose Cognitive Science which combines elements of both the arts and the sciences (linguistics, philosophy, comp sci, neuroscience, & psychology). I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Science from McGill University and my very positive undergraduate research experiences are what led to me to pursue a PhD in science, however I still try to maintain my more artistic side by volunteering as a science writer and doing various graphic design projects.
What can you tell us about your current research?
I am a neuroscientist studying auditory neuroplasticity, which is the science of how the sounds we hear affect our brains throughout our lives. These range from basic sounds to music to language. My research is specifically concerned with how environmental noise can negatively affect the brain, even when it is at a volume that is non-threatening to hearing. I study the basic mechanisms of this in rodent models.
For people who live in densely populated areas, noise pollution is a part of life. However, few are aware that even moderate levels of noise can negatively affect health and behavior if present for long periods of time. My research aims to improve our understanding of the detrimental effects of long-term noise exposure on the brain and how these effects can be reversed.
What do you get up to when you’re not at the lab?
I am one of the Directors of the science website and podcast, Useful Science (usefulscience.org), @usefulsci. This website is dedicated to making science more accessible to the public by writing one-sentence summaries of peer-reviewed research papers. I am a competitive ultimate frisbee player and have coached two beginner teams. I am also a long-distance runner and have started to participate in triathlons.
Finally, what would be your ideal day off?
On my ideal day off I would go for a long bike ride with friends and celebrate our hard work with a beer at the end!