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photo by Wendy Spence
WONDERFUL WEEKEND: The 2017-2018 Dorchester Fair ambassador, Kaitlyn Farquharson, visits the petting zoo. See this week's edition of the Signpost for more photos.

Former resident on forefront of


by Wendy Spence

     Kate Brown is enjoying life in British Columbia, but said she has fond memories of Dorchester where she grew up. “I miss going to the grocery store and inevitably running into someone you know, I miss the friendliness of people saying hi if you pass them in the streets and of course I miss my family and my friends back home.” Brown’s mother still lives in the village.
     Brown is in the department of rehabilitation science at the University of British Columbia. She recently defended her PhD. Her dissertation looked at the relationship between the sensory information in the environment and how we use this to inform our movement.
     Brown said she was drawn into the field of neuroscience because there is so much about the brain that we still don’t understand. “Years ago they thought that the ability of the brain to change in response to experience primarily occurred in childhood, but now we know that the adult brain has plenty of capacity to change. Even more recently, when I first started my masters for example, it was thought that only certain types of cells in the brain could change, but now we know that that isn’t true either. Findings like that really make you feel like you’re on the forefront of discovery.”
     The first step after her PhD, Brown said, will likely be to get some experience as a postdoctoral fellow, which will provide her with additional research experience in a different setting than she was in when she was a student so that she can broaden her skill set. Ideally, she would love to find a balance between scientific research and practicality. “For example, while I’m out here I have looked at how exercise can modulate brain activity, but all of this work has been in a lab setting. Seeing the impact of exercise on learning in a more real-world setting would be great. Now that I have lived away, I would love to translate knowledge back to smaller communities similar to where I grew up, so even something like implementing more physical activity into rural schools in order to optimize learning in an educational setting is something that I would love to do. That’s big picture, of course.”
     Brown said that what she is finding the most interesting right now is how exercise changes the brain. “I’ve always been an athlete, so maybe it’s especially relevant to my lifestyle, but I just find it so cool. We always knew that there were health benefits to exercise, but usually the discussion surrounding those focuses on the cardio and respiratory systems. The fact that both a single session of exercise, and long-term fitness lead to improved brain health and might even prime your brain to learn new things is the latest thing that I’m fascinated by.”
     The thing that the Dorchester native finds the most fulfilling about neuroscience is the ability of the field to impact people. “Because the brain isn’t fully understood, unlocking knowledge in this field has the potential to improve the lives of a wide range of individuals, whether it be elite athletes looking to maximize performance, individuals with various neuropathologies such as stroke or MS that could have improved recovery; or even just older healthy individuals looking to maintain their cognitive health and prevent cognitive decline as they age. There are so many possibilities for the usefulness of the information.”
     Brown is most proud of getting her PhD, completing an Ironman competition and running the Boston Marathon. “Maybe in general, just moving out to Vancouver not knowing anyone here or what to expect is a big accomplishment for me and I think it helped me grow a lot as an individual. The opportunities that I have been granted while being out here have been incredible, but it all hinged on taking that initial jump outside of my comfort zone.”
     Brown competed in the Ironman triathlon in 2014 in Zurich, Switzerland with her brother. He said that if he was going to do one, he wanted to do it in a really cool location. The training for an event like that can be pretty time-consuming, so Brown said she was lucky to have flexibility in her schedule to put in the hours. “I think that the most rewarding feeling is when you complete something that you weren’t sure you could, and the Ironman definitely provided me with that. To watch my brother cross the finish line and then go on vacation and relax afterwards was amazing.”
     After the Ironman, Brown didn’t want to spend much time on her bike, so she started running and swimming more. She ran the Seattle Marathon a couple of years ago and unexpectedly qualified for the Boston Marathon. She decided she couldn’t pass up such a famous competition. “The race atmosphere there is just so incredible with crowd support the entire time. You see everything from the elites to survivors of the bombing and every bit of it is inspiring. It’s hard to imagine a better race!”
     When she’s not in the lab, Brown said she tries to enjoy the outdoors and all that B.C. has to offer. In the summer that involves a lot of hiking and trail running, and in the winter she tries to get into the mountains to snowshoe or ski when she can. She’s tried to explore a lot of the different regions as well.
     Brown moved out west in September 2011. She had just finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo, and was starting her master’s degree. “I got involved in neuroscience research during my undergrad, and my supervisor at Waterloo suggested the lab out in Vancouver as a great place to spend a couple of years and get good research experience. It allowed me to take the more basic science background that I had been developing in Waterloo and apply it to a clinical population, as the lab out here primarily specializes in.” Brown looked forward to experiencing life close to the mountains and the ocean and embracing the west coast lifestyle. “After two years I finished my master’s and I wasn’t ready to move back to Ontario yet, so I stayed on for my PhD.”
     Brown moved to Dorchester with her family before she started Grade 3, so she started school at River Heights, and then attended Northdale Central and Lord Dorchester. “I absolutely loved growing up in Dorchester and going to these schools. I really found that the education provided me with a great base of knowledge to expand on once I got to university and with each further degree.”

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