University of Auckland, New Zealand
What does your research focus on?
My research combines behavioral, neuroimaging, and neuropsychological methods to investigate how we remember the past, imagine the future, and construct a present sense of self. I have a particular interest in the role of the hippocampus in memory, and I have also examined how memory and future thinking changes with hippocampal dysfunction in temporal lobe epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and healthy aging.
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
I have always been fascinated by memory and personal history (I majored in psychology and history as an undergraduate), and how our experiences and memories make us who we are. I also enjoy the challenge and creativity involved in neuroimaging research — it has really stretched me as a scientist.
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
I don’t know if I would be where I am today without the support and friendship of some amazing mentors. Lynette Tippett supervised my first foray into research at The University of Auckland. She saw the potential in me and gave me the courage to broaden my horizons beyond New Zealand. Toronto was an amazing place to learn about memory and neuroimaging, and my PhD supervisors, Mary Pat McAndrews and Morris Moscovitch, generously shared their knowledge, expertise, and time with me. I couldn’t have asked for a better graduate school experience. I then moved to Boston — another “hub” of memory and neuroimaging. My post-doctoral mentor, Dan Schacter, has been a considerable influence on me. Together we developed a new line of research examining the contribution of memory to future thinking, which has not only been a fruitful avenue but also a lot of fun! It has been excellent to have a collaboration that works so easily, and to have a mentor who is the kind of scientist I strive to be — honest and fair, rigorous and creative, and an incredible thinker.
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
I am lucky to have a network of excellent collaborators around North America and Australia. I get so much out of these relationships, including inspiration, intellectual stimulation, ideas, and fun. I owe a lot to my mother for her support and for showing me that hard work, tenacity, and gratitude can take you a long way in life. I also think my personality is apt to research. Aside from being very organized and detail-oriented, I am also very curious and open-minded. I think hard work and rigor mixed with creativity can result in excellent science — and great brain art!
What’s your future research agenda?
I am still very intrigued by autobiographical memory and future thinking; this area of research is still relatively new so there is a lot to figure out and learn. I am also curious about how memory, future thinking and identity are affected by psychiatric disorders, such as PTSD and depression.
Any advice for even younger psychological scientist? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
Be aware of the opportunities that are available to you, especially the ones that will challenge and extend you in some way. Always take the time to help others and to share your knowledge — you might even learn something new yourself. And although hard work is important, ensure you have balance in your life. Having time away from work brings perspective and, oftentimes, the mental ‘space’ in which new ideas can grow.
What publication you are most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?
Addis, D.R., Wong, A.T., Schacter, D.L. (2007). Remembering the past and imagining the future: Common and distinct neural substrates during event construction and elaboration. Neuropsychologia, 45, 1363-1377.
This was an exciting new direction for all of us involved in this study, and I was very enthusiastic about sharing what I thought was a cool new direction in autobiographical memory research. And it seems many people have been captured by the idea that remembering our pasts and imagining our futures are related — this paper was included as one of Science’s Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2007 and is now the most cited paper in Neuropsychologia in the past five years.
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