Derek Albert

Derek Albert

April 2019 Trainee spotlight

Supervisor: Thomas G. Brown, Ph.D.

Co-Supervisor: Marie Claude Ouimet, Ph.D.

Degree: Graduate Student – PhD

Year of Study: Year 3

Program of Study: Psychiatry

Why did you choose to come to the Douglas?

My supervisors, who work a the Douglas, gave me the opportunity to study exactly what I wanted (i.e. mind wandering) in a context that I found to be pragmatic and useful (i.e. transportation safety).

What did you do before coming to the Douglas? (e.g. studies, employment, travel, which university, etc.)

I transferred to McGill from the University of Lethbridge part way through my undergraduate degree in Psychology. For a year after completing my undergraduate, I worked as a research assistant at the McGill Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, studying visual attention and eye-tracking methodology. When I started my master’s, I decided that I wanted to study something a little more practical. Fortunately, when I joined Dr. Brown’s lab at the Douglas, I was able to apply the knowledge and skills that I had gained with eye-tracking to my transportation safety research using driving simulation.

Sell your research in 3 sentences (or less):

Road traffic crashes kill more young people, aged 16-25, than any other factor globally. I study how state and trait mind wandering (i.e., task-unrelated and/or stimulus independent thoughts and feelings) can interfere with daily performance of critical tasks, such as driving, in this population. Additionally, I study how complementary factors, such as mood, and potential interventions, such as mindfulness training, can modulate the impact of mind wandering on performance.

What excites you most about your research?

I study one of the most intimate aspects of human experience, which is inherently private, given that mind wandering is characterized by a subjective departure from the intersubjectively shared context of the present moment. Studying this phenomenon involves synthesizing multiple data streams (e.g., subjective experience, physiology, behaviour) in order to get a complete picture. Also, given how ubiquitous mind wandering is (e.g., up to %50 of waking hours on average), understanding where the mind goes, how it gets there, and why it leaves, can have huge implications for daily functioning. It is an honour to make even a small contribution to this field.

If you could go back in time and give your “younger self” advice, what would you do differently?

I’m extremely thankful for all the people I’ve met and the opportunities that have presented themselves, including my supervisors and being offered a spot in their labs. If I had to give my former self any advice, it would be to trust more that things will work out and to not waste so much time and energy worrying about the small stuff. People come and go and opportunities arise and pass and if you miss out this time, there’s always a next time. But simultaneously, I would tell myself to make the most of what life has to offer and seize the moment! Life is full of lessons, and if you’re not learning, then you’re not paying enough attention or taking enough chances!

Please share any additional experiences or advice that you’d like to share with prospective Douglas trainees.

Keep an open mind and a collaborative spirit. Work with many different people and sample as many perspectives as possible — scientifically, professionally, and personally. Use your training experience as an opportunity to learn about yourself and who you’d like to become. Push yourself, but know your limits. Challenge your superiors, but respect and consider their feedback. Take care of yourself, everyone needs a break from time to time!