By Maya Honda-Granirer
Photo Courtesy of Maya Honda-Granirer
The brain fascinates me since it is so abstract, yet everything always seems to be in order. I have always felt a certain attraction to the natural complexity of the brain and neuroscience has been my passion ever since I was 10 years old (now I’m 12). Although my peers do not exactly share my bold curiosity of the brain, almost everybody who I ask does agree that the brain, or its Latin version the cerebrum, could be (or is) one of the most captivating organs of the body. For the past while, I have been reading and researching as much as I could on my interest, and I was lucky enough to interview a neurologist right here in Vancouver, Dr. Dean Johnston, and ask him a few questions about his profession.
What first sparked my interest of the brain was a project in Grade Four. Everybody in the class was doing a simple research project on one vital organ, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys and so on. I chose the brain because it seemed the most interesting to me (we chose which organ we would study). Once I got into the research, all these questions started popping up in my head: “Where do great ideas come from and why do they get created?”, “Why are we conscious?”, “Why is the brain so complex?” After that project, I decided that I was going to become a neurologist or that I would have a career that involved research of the brain. For some reason that I cannot fully grasp, my passion for the brain has stayed alive and is in fact growing bigger and bigger! To this day, I am always thinking about the brain. I try whenever I can to learn more about the brain and I constantly think to myself, “How did nature create such a unique and intricate organ that’s constantly changing, adapting and reacting to every experience?”
Dr. Dean Johnston is, as you may already know, a neurologist who treats a wide variety of patients ranging from Parkinson’s disease to multiple sclerosis. During the interview, I got to ask Dr. Johnston about the impact of social media on our brains. He told me that, although no studies have shown whether there have been evolutionary physical changes to the brain from the use of technology and social media, he does notice there is much less social interaction and engagement between people. I strongly feel that our overall decrease in interaction could have a devastating impact on our collective progress. Just think about it, by working together, exchanging ideas and having conversations we have advanced as an “unstoppable force” (with many flaws, of course). Now that more and more people are discontinuing that sort of interaction, what we have could be at stake and we could be creating an environment of isolation and extreme polarization.
Dr. Johnston and I have also discussed what “makes” an intelligent person. This was a question that I always wondered about. Dr. Johnston’s response to me was that there are multiple factors to someone’s academic capacity, such as genes, environment, childhood and so on. Surprisingly, when I asked him about what “makes” a kind person, he gave me a very different answer. He told me that kindness is mainly in our control. Although it is true that some people have been through more affecting experiences than others, it is the personality and mind that decide what to make out of a situation and whether or not to treat others unfairly because of it. Kindness is a choice that we are all in control of making independently, despite external influences.
The part of this interview that I found the most helpful was when Dr. Johnston showed me exactly what one does as a neurologist. First, you discuss the history of the patient – diagnosis, symptoms, pain, prior treatments or medication. Then, you test their reflexes to make sure that all the nerves are functioning properly. After those steps, you could then gage what medicine or treatment the patient would need and then prescribe it to them. Of course, a neurologist’s job is much more complex and energy intensive than I just described. In fact, I learned that becoming a neurologist takes about 12 years of post-high school education, including a bachelor’s degree, medical school, an internship and sometimes a PhD (specialization). Even though I am aware that it takes many years of education, hard work and studying to become a neurologist or neuroscientist, I am excited for those years to come and I look forward to being part of the large community of people dedicated to finding cures, answers and discoveries.
In reflection, I learned a lot from this interview. Now I have a much better understanding of what a neurologist does and I have a clearer image of what I want to be and want I want to do. To elaborate, I may want to study psychology as well as neurology, because I want to treat different types of neurological disorders that a neurologist would not normally treat (ex: depression, mental illness, addictive disorders). I also want to conduct research, write articles, work with bioengineers and do my own experiments along with treating patients. Again, the brain is one very tricky mystery that we are not close to solving, but the more we know about it the more we can understand about ourselves and potentially solve many issues facing us today.
In conclusion, my passion is primarily the brain, but there is always a process that could lead to new inquiries and discoveries. I am intrigued by the role that the brain plays in our lives and how each brain has such a distinct personality and perspective. Like everyone else in this world, I just want to contribute and be part of the community that is working for the greater good of humanity. I still stand firmly by my earlier remarque, “Face-to-face interaction needs to happen if there’s going to be any progress at all” (I’m paraphrasing). Collaboration and teamwork are what we have built good civilisations on, where democracy can rule and the people have a voice (I’m not saying that democracy does not have its flaws, it has plenty, and we need to keep working towards creating a better, more fair form of government). Everybody can find a way to contribute to the world through doing what they enjoy. Whether it’s neuroscience, art, music, psychology or poetry, we can all play an important part in humanity and help the world move forward.