A synapse through time

carmen wong

By Ciara Parsons, BA'15

When Carmen Wong accepted her undergraduate offer of admission to the physiology program at Western University in 2008, she never could have guessed it would spark the beginning of her long, yet fulfilling academic journey.

Now a PhD student in the neuroscience program, Wong is a lifelong Mustang.

“I’ve been at Western for so long, so I guess you could say I like the school quite a bit,” she said.

Open minded and curious by nature, Wong says taking a variety of science courses throughout her undergraduate studies and working in a lab during the summer helped to steer her research interests and fuel her passion for neuroscience.
While some students are eager to complete their graduate studies at different universities for a change of scenery, Wong says the decision to stay on campus was simple.

“Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is a really great centre for neuroscience research and we have a ton of different resources and brilliant minds here. Everyone is also very willing to help each other when they can,” said Wong.

In 2015, the focused trainee was awarded the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship to pursue her research. She is currently studying how the brain controls movement and is working to gain a greater understanding of how we are able to modify our movements based on our environments.

“It’s always very exciting when you find something novel, or something that you have been searching for, for a long time,” Wong said, explaining her ongoing fascination with her work. “Sometimes the unexpected can be the most exciting part of research and the most rewarding.”

Unlike other research projects, Wong’s work is more centred on understanding how the brain works rather than uncovering or solving questions related to a disease.

If given the opportunity to lead a study on any area of her choosing, Wong says she would be interested in researching how the brain works while executing complex skills in figure skating.

“I come from a figure skating background and actually skated on Western’s varsity skating team,” she said. “To combine both of my passions would be really interesting.”

Though she says she doesn’t like to think about the future, Wong is considering becoming a professor or continuing with academia once she is finished her studies.

“Being around my principal investigator, Stephen Lomber, has been really beneficial because through him, I have been able to see how he teaches students, which I think is very important,” said Wong.

One of the greatest lessons Wong has learned throughout her studies, however, is one that may not be expected.

“If I could go back to the beginning of my graduate studies and tell myself something, it would be that you will fail at certain things and it will be okay. You will be fine, you will learn and hopefully you will be better for it,” said Wong.

Nearing the end of her PhD, Wong’s advice for other students looking to pursue graduate studies is simple:“Keep an open mind and be willing to try new techniques and new approaches to answer whatever question you’re interested in and never be afraid to ask for help.”