Training: Do you want to join NCIL?
The NeuroCognitive Imaging lab is a group of enthusiastic researchers interested in cognitive neuroscience. Our team comprises individuals with diverse backgrounds, interests, and skill sets. This includes undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and professional research assistants. If you are interested in joining the lab as a volunteer, student, or other trainee, please contact us!
NCIL is committed to providing a safe, diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment for learning and working. We welcome trainees from all backgrounds, both locally and internationally. In particular, we welcome and encourage participation by people from African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities. We recognize the barriers to participation in academia that these and other groups have experienced, and we actively work to support future scholars from historically marginalized communities.
NCIL always has many undergraduate students in the lab, getting experience with cognitive neuroscience research. Lab experience in general is a great way to learn about the process of scientific research, and to develop critical thinking and writing skills. This can be valuable for a variety of educational and career paths, including graduate study in cognitive neuroscience, or many other fields (e.g., clinical professions, law, entrepreneurship).
Every year, we receive many requests from students who are interested in volunteering in the lab. As of fall 2023, we no longer take volunteers in the lab. This decision was made because our experience over many years has proven that this not a good experience for either students or the lab. The technical and sophisticated nature of the research we do (primarily EEG and MRI) can’t be mastered by volunteering a few hours a week — it requires systematic training over the course of many months. As well, training each new volunteer takes a significant investment of time on the part of lab personnel, and most volunteers do not persist long enough to make this investment of our time worthwhile.
The appropriate way to learn about conducting research in our lab (primarily using EEG or MRI) is to commit to the extent of training required, by enrolling in an coursework for academic credit. Our department offers a number of courses that provide this training, including two that were developed by Dr. Newman himself: PSYO/NESC 3137, Research Methods in Cognitive Neuroscience, and PSYO/NESC 3505, Neural Data Science. These courses are open to students in any program, although they do have prerequisites (please see the Academic Calendar for details).
As an alternative to volunteering in the lab, we have developed BCI Club (BCI stands for brain-computer interface). The BCI club is led by members of our lab (graduate and undergraduate students) who have expertise in EEG. The club meets weekly and provides students with the opportunity to work with basic EEG equipment, try out small experiments, and even try developing your own applications. Compared to our lab, which runs professional research studies that require systematic training and high levels of quality control, BCI Club allows students to “play” and explore EEG on their own terms. This is a great way to get experience in EEG, and to decide if you want to pursue more formal training in our lab. Alternatively, if you are looking for volunteer hours to support some future goal (such as medical school application), you may wish to find other opportunities that are better aligned with your aspirations.
Students who try out BCI Club, attend regularly for at least 1 term, and are interested in pursuing research in our lab more formally can then discuss opportunities for doing an independent study course in the lab. More information on this is below.
Independent Research Project (NESC/PSYO 3100/3101/3001)
Students who are interested in systematic research training are encouraged to consider a PSYO/NESC 3100/3001 independent research project. I will normally only agree to supervise honours students who have completed 3100/3101 under my supervision, due to the extent of background knowledge and lab technique development required to complete an honours project in cognitive neuroscience (although completion of 3100/3101 does not guarantee an agreement to supervise honours).
We also strongly suggest that you enroll in two courses that Dr. Newman developed, which are perfectly-aligned with the research techniques we use in NCIL — including EEG and data science in Python. The two courses I recommend you take are NESC/PSYO 3137, Research Methods in Cognitive Neuroscience, and NESC/PSYO 3505, Neural Data Science. These courses teach you the things you need to do a research project in NCIL (like honours), and are fundamental to work in the areas such as neurotechnology, med-tech more generally, and data science even more generally. We work with complex, multidimensional data and advanced statistical and machine learning models — the only way you can do productive work in these fields is to commit to developing this technical know-how.
If you are interested in doing an honours thesis in NCIL, please note that Dr. Newman will only take on honours students who have completed PSYO/NESC 3100/3101 (Independent Research) under his supervision, with a grade of A- or better. An honours thesis in cognitive neuroscience is a significant undertaking, and the independent research project ensures that students go into honours with proper training and expectations.
We do not require undergraduate students to have any specific skills when starting work in the lab, although we generally require that you have completed first year university, including 6 credit hours in Introductory Psychology & Neuroscience. With that said, there are numerous skills that you should aim to develop if you wish to work and be successful in the lab. These include scientific computing skills, including working with the command line and basic programming (we primarily use the Python and R languages), as well as a grounding in the principles of cognitive neuroscience research techniques. These can be developed in a variety of ways, but a good choice is to enroll in the courses Dr. Newman has developed, including PSYO/NESC 3137, Research Methods in Cognitive Neuroscience, and PSYO/NESC 3505, Neural Data Science.
Certificate in Neurotechnology Innovation (for undergraduates)
We also recommend the Certificate in Neurotechnology Innovation that Dr. Newman created and directs. The certificate is designed to provide foundational knowledge of this multi-disciplinary area, including relevant topics in neuroscience, computer science, and management. The certificate will also provide an understanding of how neurotechnologies can be translated into applications that are available to patients and consumers — through training in innovation, design, and commercialization. You can declare the certificate via Dal Online.
Graduate studies in the NeuroCognitive Imaging Lab may be pursued through Dalhousie’s graduate program in Psychology and Neuroscience. We offer MSc and PhD degrees in basic research, as well as a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Most NCIL graduate students are in the basic research program, because the demands of learning and mastering neuroimaging techniques along with those of the clinical PhD program do not generally create a favourable work-life balance.
The research-focused graduate program in Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie is best described as an “apprenticeship” program; there are relatively few courses, and students are expected to focus primarily on learning and conducting research under the guidance of their supervisor.
While many people pursue graduate studies with an aim of becoming a university professor, the reality is that these are few and far between — on average, less than 30% of people with PhDs in life science fields end up with such jobs. However, graduate training prepares you for numerous other careers and professions, and it is important to pursue additional professional skills training during your graduate degree. Indeed, one of Dr. Newman’s passions is developing and delivering programs to prepare graduate students to make an impact on the world through careers outside of academia. Some of the opportunities at Dalhousie include the Dal GradPD (professional development) certificate, the certificate in University Teaching and Learning, workshops offered through the SURGE science innovation sandbox, and entrepreneurial training programs offered by Dal Innovates or the national invention2Innovation program.
Ideally, students wishing to pursue graduate studies in the NeuroCognitive Imaging lab should have a demonstrated experience conducting scientific research (i.e., honours thesis or equivalent), and background in two or more of the following fields:
- Cognitive Psychology
- Functional MRI, ERP, or other functional neuroimaging techniques (e.g. MEG, PET, fNIRS)
- Signal Processing
If you are interested in applying for graduate studies under Dr. Newman’s supervision, please email him to discuss. Please also review the information on applying to our graduate program (including program deadlines).
Graduate training should provide you with a solid foundation as a scientist, including critical thinking skills, a comprehensive knowledge base in your chosen field, and necessary research skills. The goal of postdoctoral training is to provide the advanced training necessary to enable you to become an independent researcher. You will continue to do research, but there are numerous other skills to be learned as well, such as lab management, grant writing, and teaching and supervising students.
Ideally, a postdoctoral fellowship will also allow you to broaden your horizons, by learning new research techniques, and/or doing research in a slightly different focus from your graduate work. Many people who studied cognitive science or linguistics in graduate school use their postdoctoral years to learn neuroimaging techniques. Others, who have studied topics such as physics, engineering, computer science, or physiology, may be interested in mastering the skills of cognitive science.
If you are interested in postdoctoral training, please contact Dr. Newman. Postdoctoral scholars must have a strong enough track record to obtain their own funding, as our lab does not have funding available to support postdocs. Funding is available through a number of agencies, including NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR, Mitacs, and Dalhousie’s prestigious Killam prizes.