Taylor Schmitz


Assistant Professor

BSc University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
MA University of Toronto, Toronto, ON Canada
PhD University of Toronto, Toronto, ON Canada

Office: Western Interdisciplinary Research Building, Rm 4112
p. 519.661.2111 x80129
e. tschmitz@uwo.ca

Website: Schmitz Lab

Academic Journey
Hailing from Buffalo New York, my interests in science started with courses in psychology and biology at City Honors High School. These early interests grew deeper at the University of Wisconsin—Madison (BSc hons), where my coursework and lab rotations exposed me to the emerging field of cognitive neuroscience. After graduating, I joined a newly formed lab in the Department of Medicine as a research specialist. There I learned how to acquire and process neuroimaging data. I also gained invaluable experience working with patient populations affected by traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease. Deciding between patient-facing versus lab-facing trajectories for my next move, I found myself drawn to the basic research, particularly the interface between cognition and neurobiology. I therefore pursued a PhD at the University of Toronto due to its strong presence in the field of cognitive neuroscience, particularly using functional and structural neuroimaging methods. My thesis work examined the relationship between brain ageing and cognition using functional MRI and psychophysical tasks. Upon completion of my PhD work, I continued to expand on my brain imaging knowledgebase, adding molecular imaging methods to my skillset over the course of postdoctoral trainings at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (University of Cambridge) and the Montreal Neurological Institute (McGill University). After meeting Marco and Vania Prado at an Alzheimer’s conference in Vienna in 2017, I was sold on the brain imaging infrastructure and expertise at Western University. I applied and accepted a position here in 2019. Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to work with an amazing team of trainees and collaborators while building the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience of Cognition and Aging.

Why Science?

As a kid, I was drawn to science, particularly biology. I remember dissecting an owl pellet in grade school and reconstructing the skeleton of a digested chipmunk from the pile of debris. Gross! But also fascinating. Things got a little more serious when I was an undergrad. Karl Popper’s book The Logic of Scientific Discovery was on the assigned reading list for one of my courses. I think more than anything, the concept of falsifiability really affected me. A fourth year course on perception got me reading into the field of neuroscience. This was a period when neuroscience was in a very interesting state of transition—spurred by rapid advances in methods for imaging the human brain in action. I recall starting to look at primary research articles on brain imaging around that time. These documents were like strange little gems at the cutting edge of human knowledge. That was exciting to me. 

Research Goals

In the lab, we are interested in understanding how the ascending neuromodulatory systems interact with the cortex. I study this interaction from two sides—basic organization and function of these systems on one side, vulnerability to dysfunction and degeneration on the other. At present, we are focused on the cholinergic system. However, these systems do not operate in isolation. My goal is to ultimately understand their complementary roles in supporting brain function and dysfunction. I am also learning new methods to support cross-species translational neuroimaging and cognitive profiling. I hope to leverage these methods to answer core questions about the basic mechanisms of brain resilience to aging, as well as why some individuals become vulnerable to the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.


Most Rewarding Moments

1) Following the publication of a well-received paper during my time at McGill, I had the honor of being invited to deliver a talk on my work at a prestigious conference in Vienna, Austria. This pivotal experience served as a career-defining moment. I met many of my future colleagues and collaborators there. Also around this time, multiple ideas I had been working up to in the preceding years coalesced into a program of research (it took awhile).   

2) Another profoundly rewarding chapter in my career is experiencing the growth of the lab. Learning how to mentor and collaborate with trainees is a real exercise in trust. Moving from postdoc to PI, I have shifted from wanting to oversee every aspect of projects (micromanaging) to guiding trainees toward project leadership. Empowering others has been both fulfilling and transformative.

Advice to Students

For aspiring students, my advice is to pursue what truly excites you. However, it is equally vital to exercise patience in this exploration, recognizing that the clarity of passion may not manifest immediately upon graduation. The expectation to have a definitive career path right away is unrealistic, and it is entirely acceptable to be patient with the process. Embrace the journey of trying different avenues, putting yourself out there, and experimenting with various experiences. Remember, it is perfectly fine not to conform to others' expectations; prioritize doing what aligns with your own aspirations and interests.

Interests Outside of Academia

Outside of my academic pursuits, I do dad stuff with my son. I try to maintain work-life balance with my partner (who is also a scientist). This involves making time to go on camping and portage trips in the Northeastern wilderness areas of Canada and the USA, hitting the beaches of Lake Huron, and sometimes exploring the gritty back-alleys of Detroit, Toronto, Buffalo and Montreal. I try to engage in regular physical activities such as running and intermittent workouts to manage anxiety and prevent burnout. Occasionally I attempt an art project.

Awards and Recognitions
2023 Ontario Early Researcher Award
2019 NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplement
2019 NSERC Discovery Launch Supplement
2019 International Society of Neurochemisty-Young Scientist Lecturships Award
2016 Guarantors of Brain-Travel Award
2014-2016 Medical Research Council Special Awards Scheme
2013-2016 Medical Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship
2013  Govenor General's Academic Gold Medal
2009-2012 Vanier NSERC Scholarship
2009 Ontario Graduate Scholarship (Declined)
2008 University of Toronto Neuroscience Program Travel Award2007
2007 Ontario Graduate Scholarship

Highlighted Publications

Schmitz, T. W., & Duncan, J. (2018). Normalization and the Cholinergic Microcircuit: A Unified Basis for Attention. Trends in cognitive sciences, 22(5), 422–437. Link to Article

Shanks, H. R. C., Onuska, K. M., Barupal, D. K., Schmitz, T. W., Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, & Alzheimer's Disease Metabolomics Consortium (2022). Serum unsaturated phosphatidylcholines predict longitudinal basal forebrain degeneration in Alzheimer's disease. Brain communications, 4(6), fcac318. Link to Article

Chakraborty, S., Lee, S. K., Arnold, S. M., Haast, R. A. M., Khan, A. R., & Schmitz, T. W. (2023). Focal acetylcholinergic modulation of the human midcingulo-insular network during attention: Meta-analytic neuroimaging and behavioral evidence. Journal of neurochemistry, 10.1111/jnc.15990. Advance online publication. Link to Article

Schmitz, T. W., Nathan Spreng, R., & Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (2016). Basal forebrain degeneration precedes and predicts the cortical spread of Alzheimer's pathology. Nature communications, 7, 13249. Link to Article

Schmitz, T. W., Mur, M., Aghourian, M., Bedard, M. A., Spreng, R. N., & Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (2018). Longitudinal Alzheimer's Degeneration Reflects the Spatial Topography of Cholinergic Basal Forebrain Projections. Cell reports, 24(1), 38–46. Link to Article