GSANeuro Blog

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April 18th, 2015

Dance & the brain 

FalishaMy name is Falisha Karpati, and I’m a third year PhD student in the Auditory Brain and Cognitive Development Laboratory, as well as the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS). My thesis is focusing on the effects of dance training on the brain. Before coming to McGill, I completed my Honours Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto.

In addition to my passion for neuroscience, I am very interested in the arts. I have received training in music performance, music theory and dance, which provides me with a unique approach to my area of research. My goal is to continue to pursue research integrating the fields of neuroscience and the arts.

Check out Falisha’s latest paper:  

This paper is a review on the neuroscience of dance. It discusses work done to date using functional neuroimaging while performing and observing dance, as well as structural neuroimaging studies of dancers: 

Dance and the brain: a review 

Karpati FJ, Giacosa C, Foster NE, Penhune VB, Hyde KL.

Dance is a universal form of human expression that offers a rich source for scientific study. Dance provides a unique opportunity to investigate brain plasticity and its interaction with behavior. Several studies have investigated the behavioral correlates of dance, but less is known about the brain basis of dance. Studies on dance observation suggest that long- and short-term dance training affect brain activity in the action observation and simulation networks. Despite methodological challenges, the feasibility of conducting neuroimaging while dancing has been demonstrated, and several brain regions have been implicated in dance execution. Preliminary work from our laboratory suggests that long-term dance training changes both gray and white matter structure. This article provides a critical summary of work investigating the neural correlates of dance. It covers functional neuroimaging studies of dance observation and performance as well as structural neuroimaging studies of expert dancers. To stimulate ongoing dialogue between dance and science, future directions in dance and brain research as well as implications are discussed. Research on the neuroscience of dance will lead to a better understanding of brain-behavior relationships and brain plasticity in experts and nonexperts and can be applied to the development of dance-based therapy programs.

Find the full article at PubMed: 



March 24th, 2014

Le temps des sucres (The time of sugars)

The end of winter brings one of my favourite Canadian traditions: the sugar shack. So, a week ago, when my friends showed me a good deal on groupon, I jumped on the occasion without thinking. I was so proud to show  my culture to three of my international friends! Two Chinese friends and one Mexican friend joined my adventure to the distant land of Granby.

We crossed the Champlain Bridge and after half an hour of driving eastwards from the highway, we saw this huge, bright red, rooftop. It could only be the sugar shack. Then I started to understand why it was so cheap. This sugar shack had a really strong commercial feel to it. My friends seemed oblivious to that and nothing could kill their enthusiasm at that point – and I quickly forgot my worries.

It was, of course, an all-you-can-eat buffet. Pea soup appetizer followed by omelettes, beans, Christ’s ears (that would be deep-fried smoked pork jowls), roasted potatoes… On the table, bottles of maple syrup were laying around for us to douse the food with. The finishing touch: pancakes and tarts for desert. A trip to the sugar shack would not be complete without the good ol’ maple toffee on snow, which concluded our gluttonous meal.

While enjoying this sweet on a stick, I narrated to my friends how we obtain maple sugar and the derivatives we’ve been enjoying so far. The temperature must be just right: It must be freezing (under 0°C) during the night and over 0°C in daytime. Then, the maple tree will produce sweet water, that we collect in a bucket from a faucet planted in the tree. Following this, the maple water is boiled to remove water and to make it more concentrated and more sweet. This gives the syrup, which can be boiled again to concentrate it to the level of toffee, which is liquid when warm, then poured on the snow to let it harden – and that’s the moment where we pick it up with the sticks.

Maybe this description seems obvious to any of my Canadian compatriots, but my international friends were quite impressed by the process. After enjoying all this good food, we digested by walking around the maple trees outside and visited the small animal farm the shack had in its backyard (the ladies were quite entertained by the lama and the goats).

As it gets warmer and warmer, I would highly suggest any international student to give a shot at the sugar shack. It’s a nice part of Canadian culture and even if you end up in a commercial-type of place, your enjoyment won’t be impaired! I know PGSS is organizing a trip soon, keep your eyes peeled.


@ Jonathan C.



March 6th, 2014

Montreal !!!!!!!

As I have mentioned in my blurb I am an international student from India, a country which is so diverse that a person from one region would not be able to understand the language of another region…I guess coming from such a place kind of programs your mind to accept the diversity of any other culture.

Before I arrived to Montreal I did my research about McGill University, the IPN program, accommodation, temperature and other generic things… but little did I imagine of how in seconds, my face can freeze when I step out of the airport.

I am a fan of change, by change I mean I love to get out of my comfort zone and explore…this was one of the reasons I chose to do my graduate program away from my own country in a completely new place…Another reason why I opted to take on this journey is because I love traveling and I am of the opinion that any place should be experienced in its summer, winter, autumn and spring.  That is exactly what I have done; I have combined my passion for neuroscience and traveling and am loving it.

It’s been couple of months for me here in Montreal and I have already met such amazing and welcoming people both professionally and personally…heard some interesting lectures and seminars, came across few techniques which I only had read about (for example optogenetics) …listened to some live bands playing jazz and country…have tried skiing, skating, tubing and even jumping on a pile of ice. More importantly, after coming here I have come across people with whom I can discuss and relate my motivation for neuroscience related research (even in the club)… what more can I ask for. I must say that the IPN and GSAN have indeed played a pivotal role in making my experience as a graduate student a pleasant one.

I know some people might think its only the start of my Ph.D. program and it might seem all good now until I start getting failures in my experiments…but you know what – bring it on!!!!! I know it may not be a smooth ride, I know there may be many failures …but for me everything will be a part of the journey that I opted for and I will do my best to enjoy this ride.

Looking forward for your suggestions on how to enjoy Montreal a little more.

@ Antoneta Joseph

February 24th, 2014

My experience at the McGill Opera

Even though I have been listening to opera for about 10 years now, in no way whatsoever, do I consider myself a connoisseur of any sort. I just enjoy music a lot, so please consider this blog entry as such.

I was truly delighted when I discovered that music students of McGill present an opera every few months. Hence, last month, I bought two tickets and went to a performance of Britten’s take on a Midsummer’s Night Dream. Being used to Opéra de Montréal, I was very pleased with McGill’s opera student price: 25$ for a ticket. Following this, fear overtook me. “Oh well, at that price, it CAN’T be any good”, I thought to myself. To worsen that opinion, I was merely a week in advance and was able to snatch some of the best places; I concluded it was not popular either. The tickets were bought; I would at least give it a shot.

The night of the opera was a snowy one. The big flakes falling on Queen Victoria’s statue in front of the Strathcona Music building almost mitigated my worries. I tried to lower my partner’s expectations, but she was just overjoyed at the mere idea of watching an opera. As we were taking seat, I was taken aback by what was on the stage. A set; and a really nice one, nonetheless!

And then, it started. The lighting, the staging and direction, the music: it all impressed me. But what got me really enraptured was the main cast. For those familiar with this Shakespeare classic, Oberon and Titania were wonderful, but the most impressive performance, was, to my opinion, Bottom the weaver played by Brent Calis (who, according to Google, is as good of a photographer as he is a singer!). The opera flashed before my eyes and it was already the first intermission.

I took this time to reflect about the originality of the production itself. Even though the story has been written to be set in Athens, the students and producers set in in colonial India, giving a Jinn and Ifrit appearance to the fairy characters. The human lovers and nobles were, of course, colonists, and the poor theatre company was depicted as the local population. This gave an uniqueness to this play that I truly loved.

During the play, we laughed our hearts out and were emotionally moved with what happened in the play: You can never go wrong with a Shakespeare and the performance perfectly carried these emotions. The play ended with a standing ovation: The crowd were friends and family of the performers. I had totally forgotten my initial apprehension and that it was only student-level!

In short, I was truly pleased with McGill Opera’s version of Britten’s Midsummer Night Dream from curtain rise to curtain fall. You can be sure that I will go to their next performance in March: I Capuletti e i Montecchi, an Italian version of Romeo and Juliette. If anyone is interested to join me, send me an email!

@ Jonathan C.

 February 16th, 2014

How to Go Back to School after a Gap Year (or Seven)

I’m sure I’m not the only person in the history of the IPN to begin his/her Master’s or PhD after taking some time off from school.

I’m sure I’m not the only person to experience the weirdly difficult transition back into academic life.

I graduated from McGill in the spring of 2012 with no clear idea of what I wanted to do next with my life apart from NOT be a student at McGill. I got a job in lab at the Douglas. A year passed. I decided travel. I flew to Iceland, where I worked on an organic barley farm for two months. I explored most of the country by hitchhiking. I flew to the UK, where I wandered around for a few weeks. I flew back to Iceland (because it’s that amazing). I reluctantly flew home and began my Master’s in the IPN.

It’s pretty strange to wake up in a country of 300,000 and go to sleep in city ten times that big.

It’s pretty strange to have no internet access or contact with the outside world one day, and the next day spend long, listless hours on PubMed searching for articles on choroid plexus and affective disorders.

It’s pretty strange to go from harvesting potatoes seven hours per day to cutting human brains all day long.

For those of you whose curiosity was immediately piqued by the title of my first-ever post on the GSAN blog…

For those of you who have read all the way to this point in the hopes of finding answers…

I hate to disappoint, but I haven’t the foggiest clue as to how one gets back into the swing of things (read: school). If you, dear reader, have any insights, please, for the love of God, do share with the group.

In light of this, though, I can say: if you’re having a hard time transitioning into academic life from non-academic life, bring the best parts of your “former” life into “real” life. As it turns out, those things that made life outside of school particularly scrumtrulescent don’t need to disappear once you hit the books, as it were.

As it turns out, you can still meet awesome people from all over the world by hosting couch surfers and by attending CS events. You can still knit like your life depended on it, even though there exist other ways to spend your Friday evening now that you’ve been re-introduced into civilization. You can still dumpster dive, even when it’s -25ºC and there’s 15cm of snow on the ground. You can still technically eat an unlimited quantity of locally-grown organic vegetables (but it’s rough on the wallet). You can still capture part of the communal living vibe by helping out at a community kitchen. Unfortunately, you can’t make your roommate replicate him/herself so that you can live in a co-op setting again. And you probably can’t hitchhike to get where you want to go, unless you want to be deported.

Getting back into the swing of things is likely a process, one that won’t take place overnight. In the meantime, and to ease the transition, carry on as you did previously!

@  Jay Dee

January 30th, 2014

Some Winter Activities in Montreal

As mentioned previously, Montreal is very well known for having lots of activities in the winter and in the summer. I wanted to share with you some of them.

La “Fête des Neiges” is the biggest outdoor festival and is for winter lovers. It is free day and night, and is good to go with you family, couple, and/or friends. They have plenty of attractions such as skating path, cross-country skiing trails, tube sliding, a Ferris wheel, dog sledding, horse-drawn sleighs, teletraction ski, snowboarding, and much more… This festival takes place at Parc Jean Drapeau it started on the weekend of January 18 and ends on February 9. The reviews for this place are excellent so I really recommend you try it.

One of my favorite happenings in Montreal is the Igloofest. It is an awesome event that takes place in the old port. Very famous Dj´s come to play in an outdoor scenario, and people gather to dance. I absolutely love it and strongly recommend it for electronic music lovers. I go every year, and last year, the temperature was around minus 30ºC. I was very reluctant to go since spending a long time outside under those temperatures is not always very agreeable. But actually, there are so many people gathered together at igloofest, that you can barely feel the cold. Obviously, it is important to dress according to the weather. Unfortunately, the last weekend of the igloofest is on February 8th, so, if you missed it, I recommend you keep this as a must do, if you like electronic music.

The “Nuit Blanche” is a festival happening on March 1st this year, and many neighborhoods are linked with free transportation offered by the city. Many cultural centers and museums open their doors for art exhibitions, live dance and music performances, plays, movies, visual art shows, among many other activities. Definitely a ‘must-do’ in the winter, this year there are many Tango shows and illumination activities.

Other fun outdoor activities are cross country skiing, skating or sledding at Beaver Lake, Mount Royal or Park Lafontaine. GSAN is hosting a skating event so don´t miss it. I hope some of these activities sound appealing to you.


January 10th, 2014

Happy New Year and welcome to all new students.

Happy new year 2014!

First of all welcome to all new graduate students in the IPN!

If this is the first time you have ever been in Montreal, good choice, it is a great city! In Montreal there are always things going on and the city is very alive. One of the best things about living here is that there are always plenty of activities in the city (not only in the summer…but during the snowy winter as well!).

There are a great deal of winter activities in Montreal. There are many outdoor activities to do including ice skating, sledding or skiing. GSAN organizes plenty of social activities throughout the winter (both outside and indoors!). This is a great way to enjoy the winter, which is often otherwise very tough, especially for those coming to Montreal from warmer parts of the world. I find that doing winter activities makes the winter go by faster. Follow GSAN on facebook and our website, to stay up to date with upcoming events!



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