The idiom, killing two birds with one stone, perfectly summarizes the journey of Dr. Brewer as a physician-scientist. Dr. Brewer is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Cognitive Sciences at UCI, and is a local from Turtlerock, Irvine. However, Dr. Brewer moved away from home to the Bay area to pursue her undergraduate degree at Stanford University. During her undergraduate years, Dr. Brewer joined multiple research labs, some of which had topics more suited to her interests while others seemed simply unfitting in what she wished to research. Despite those adversities, Dr. Brewer continued to do research by examining various topics in different labs.
Like many undergraduate students, Dr. Brewer was still unsure of her future during her undergraduate years. So, she took a gap-year between her undergraduate and postgraduate studies to reflect on her future endeavors and potential career choices. The transition from undergrad to graduate school, according to Dr. Brewer, changes because you only focus on your interests within your field of research. The same idea applies to the transition from undergrad to medical school because of the competitive nature of the various programs and demands that come from the classroom. Therefore, Dr. Brewer highly recommends to take some time off after undergraduate because it is a suitable time to contemplate about your future.
Not only did she advise us to take a gap-year, but she also told us to look at other opportunities, which are often ignored by those who rush into the next level of education. She listed many examples such as becoming a full-time lab manager in a research lab, doing clinical hours to build up a resume, or even better to just take a break before diving back into the life of academia or medical school. All these opportunities potentially may increase your chances of getting into graduate/medical school and broaden your experiences in life as a whole.
Dr. Brewer’s lab focuses on auditory, visual and multi-sensory neuroscience to investigate the fundamental organization of visual and auditory cortices as well as the role of plasticity in these areas. The Brewer lab primarily uses multiple neuroimaging techniques such as MRI, fMRI, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to map the organization of visual and auditory cortices and examine cortical plasticity. To better understand the essence of plasticity in the visual cortex of subjects with scotomas, which are acute blind spots, we read one of Dr. Brewer’s journal articles and discussed the power of neuroimaging tools to investigate the effects on the visual cortex of subjects with scotomas. The purpose of this article is to determine the magnitude and impact of the difference between rod and cone photoreceptors, which are cells that respond to light, on cortical processing. Here, they used fMRI to elucidate cortical rod pathways and identify the differences between rod and cone signals in the visual cortex. We learned that the signals of these photoreceptors are processed similarly across the visual cortex. Furthermore, we also read another article of Dr. Brewer on the various maps of the auditory cortex to better grasp and appreciate its basic organization. The purpose of this article is to eventually comprehend the neural foundation of auditory behavior and inputs of speech processing by studying the organization of the auditory cortex. In particular, they focused on the role of auditory field maps (AFMs) on representing a spectrum of sounds, and measured these field maps using neuroimaging techniques. Holistically, we learned that AFMs can be used to further investigate specific stages of auditory processing, speech perception and sensory integration behaviors.
Dr. Brewer’s lab can be found on the fourth floor of the social science labs (SSL) building. There she showed us her lab set up, which mostly comprised of the various computers that RAs will use for data input, coding, and most importantly, hand coding fMRI scans for the various projects that are ongoing within the lab. Of course, the fMRI machines are located elsewhere on campus. The tour itself was relatively short; however, we got to sit down with Dr.Brewer and Dr.Barton (another lead research within the Mind S.P.A.C.E lab) to further discuss the topics being explored within the lab. Chronic pain, neuroplasticity/cortical mapping for various sensory processes, and clinical topics were all presented as future projects or projects in production within the lab.
However, the most amusing part of the lab tour was the visual reversal goggles! The headset was constructed with prism and mirrors in order to reverse our field of view (right becomes left, and left becomes right). This headset was used during Dr.Brewer’s and Dr.Barton’s papers on visual cortex changes based on genetic differences within individuals to see who adjusted to this visual reversal faster. All of us were allowed the attempt to peak into these goggles to briefly experience what it would have been like to be a participant in their study. Of course, we didn’t have to wear them 24/7 for two weeks straight like the participants within that study did, but it was still a nice snippet!
Another highlight to the tour was the vast insight Dr. Brewer and Dr.Barton provided in terms of potential career paths, and their journey’s to get where they are today. Dr. Brewer, being the first woman in science whom we have spotlighted, and also being a mother in such a rigorous field, spoke about the hardships it is to start a family. She began by recounting how she felt she was, by happenstance, given the title of pioneer for falling pregnant during grad school as she was the first female her advisors had known of at the time to go through such an experience. Luckily she was given the time she needed to balance both pregnancy and her studies, but stressed the unfortunate reality that most women are not awarded that ‘privilege’. While unveiling that truth, she remained confident that she would not have changed her experience and encourages us women and even men, to not shy away from starting a family while pursuing a career in science.