CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

April 11, 2002 Split personality about to end for Psychology Department



by Robert Scalia

When some of Psychology’s pilgrims set up base on the Loyola Campus in 1992 to join a section of the department already there, they were assured that their fellow researchers still downtown would join them in two years — tops — in a newly renovated Drummond Science building.

Following a decade-long bout with split personality, the department will finally be reunited on the Loyola Campus, much of it in the new Science Complex.

“It’s been a very bad split for us,” said department chair June Chaikelson during a roundtable discussion with Professors Barbara Woodside and Michael von Grünau. “It’s going to be nice to be able to see everyone without putting on coats and boots.”

Instead, custom-designed animal housing facilities, neurobiology, cognitive science and other psychology research labs will be stacked in the “Psychology Tower” that will connect to the Psychology Building (PY) next door.

Labs have already been designed to meet individual research needs, Chaikelson explained. A professor studying obsessive-compulsive behaviour, for example, needed a kitchen built in order to monitor a compulsive checker’s behaviour.

Of course, equipment and space requirements vary, von Grünau added. Cognitive scientists like himself rely heavily on computers, screens and specialized equipment like eye-tracking devices to carry out their various visual, memory and language tests.

Researchers in the Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology (CSBN) will have a brand new Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology lab at their disposal. Woodside said that some of the new equipment will allow CSBN researchers, who have already begun to use molecular biological techniques, to do electrophoresis and immunoblotting, and then visualize the results.

It’s a far cry from the days of old, when new faculty member Jane Stewart had to convince engineers designing the Hall Building that Psychology might need a sink.

Today, research in the department ranges from evaluation of therapy to cell analysis. The end goal is “to understand behaviour on all levels,” Chaikelson said, “so that faculty studying fear and arousal in children are working with faculty in CSBN to study how cortisol levels are affected in those children.”

“You have to think of us as an octopus with more than eight arms,” Chaikelson said. She’s alluding to the internal and external collaborations that continue to make her department the university’s richest in grant money, with about $2.5 million in external funding a year.

Woodside points to the budding field of behavioural genomics — trying to discover the genes that underlie behaviour — as evidence of the new collaborative initiatives within Psychology. With the Genomics Centre also in the new complex, she is hoping to get her hands on their Gene Micro-Array equipment, which can display 12,000 genes at the same time.

Both Woodside and Chaikelson agree that more students are leaning toward behavioural neuroscience, but Chaikelson points out that there is increasing interest in collaborations with other social scientists as well. She hopes that students interested in history, sociology and education won’t have to travel downtown for their electives.

Chaikelson also hopes to be able to offer psychology, biology and human physiology courses as part of a pre-graduate health degree. “Many psychologists want to go on in medicine, and we feel you can’t study behaviour without knowing something about how the body works.”

With 1,200 undergraduates and more than 100 graduate students under her umbrella, Chaikelson has to think better, not bigger, she said. “We’re not looking at [the department] as growing, but as stabilizing and improving. We want to consolidate what we do well.”