Faculty Profile

What’s on your MiND, Dr. Szechtman?

AUTHOR: Elyse Rosa






Taking time out of his busy schedule, Dr. Henry Szechtman, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, sat down with us for an interview.


How and/or why did you become a MiNDS faculty member and what is your lab currently working on?

I became a MiNDS faculty because there was no neuroscience program in Health Sciences that could compare. In my lab, we are working on understanding the mechanisms of psychiatric disorders, in particular obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), using both animal and human subjects.

What would you like to accomplish in the next ten years (in relation to your research)?

Firstly, I’d like to establish that what ultimately produces OCD, is the organizing principle, which is the proper function in the security motivation system (a motivational system that is postulated to deal with a potential threat). Secondly, I’d like to expand the work of my lab to encompass the genetic mechanisms underlying OCD.

 

As a supervisor, what qualities do you look for in a student?

I look for students who are hard workers and who are interested and excited to be a researcher—passion and excitement for discovery are very important!

 

What makes you a worthwhile supervisor?

My many years of experience and my high interest in the subject. I also remember being a graduate student and my experiences in grad school; so I can empathize with being a graduate student!

 

Which researcher are you most impressed by, and why?

People who make a mark on you are usually people that you’ve encountered when you’re young or just starting out. So, when I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh I had some very interesting people around me. Alan Fisher, one of the pioneers of psychobiology and a very knowledgeable and fantastic writer, described to me that there are two kinds of scientists: there are those who are really good at working out the details, and then there are the others who like to make discoveries of new things without going deeper (Theoreticians vs. Experimentalists—Focusing on the big picture vs. details). Alan Fisher was more like the former, he was not able to pursue the nitty gritty details and like myself, he enjoyed looking at the theory and the bigger picture.

 

What has been the most humbling lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?

Research funding…it’s all capricious. For instance, you never know about your grants, you’re flying high one time and the next time you can be in the dumps. You can never be certain about your continued support. The true lesson here is not to take it personally! Events outside your control have a big impact on you but you can never take it personally, when you’re successful and when you’re not!

 

Do you have one piece of advice for new MiNDS students:

One of my mentors wrote some advice that I highly recommend all new students read:

Philip Teitelbaum. Some useful insights for graduate students beginning their research in physiological psychology: Anecdotes and attitudes. Behavioural Brain Research. Volume 231, Issue 2, 1 June 2012, Pages 234–249