June 12, 2017
PhD candidate Alicia Hilderley receives 2017 Jonathan Dostrovsky Award in Neuroscience
This year’s Jonathan Dostrovsky Award in Neuroscience was awarded to one of Holland Bloorview’s research trainees, Alicia Hilderley (PhD candidate, Rehabilitation Sciences Institute). The Jonathan Dostrovsky Award recognizes outstanding achievements amongst graduate students enrolled in the Collaborative Program in Neuroscience (CPIN) at the University of Toronto. The award is presented annually and the selection is based on intellect, originality and judgement, research skills, independent research potential, motivation, and progress in research towards her/his graduate degree. Below, Alicia reflects on her research interests, future aspirations, and what it means to her to be the recipient of such a prestigious award. Congratulations Alicia!
Tell us a little bit about your work.
I am interested in understanding and promoting the potential for movement skill learning for children with a physical disability. This combines my clinical interests as a Kinesiologist in physical activity skill instruction, and my research interests in how the brain controls and learns new movements.
My doctoral research investigates brain changes and associated improvements in movement and physical activity participation following interventions for children and youth with Cerebral Palsy. I focus on gross motor interventions, which involve large body movements such as running and jumping.
What draws you into neuroscience research?
I think the brain is fascinating. Each brain is unique, and full of potential that we don’t yet fully understand. The puzzle of unveiling the possible changes and significance of these changes is what draws me in. The brain holds promise of plasticity that may open new doors to inform our practice in paediatric rehabilitation.
For example, my doctoral research aims to better understand the potential for change in gross motor skills for children and youth with Cerebral Palsy. If neural change is linked with clinically relevant functional and participation gains, we can enhance the design and delivery of rehabilitation programs to target changes in the brain.
What do you enjoy about working with kids of all abilities?
I love sharing my enjoyment of physical activity with kids, and hopefully encouraging them to develop their own love for sport and play. Oftentimes, children and youth with a disability don’t have many opportunities to explore and engage in different physical activity pursuits, and I really enjoy introducing them to the joys of physical activity. Each child likes different things – maybe it’s the social element of sport, or the ability to do new things, or the fun of games. For me, I immediately smile (and am overjoyed!) when a client finds newfound confidence in their movement skills.
What are you doing next after your PhD at the Bloorview Research Institute?
I will be completing a post-doctoral fellowship to continue my training. My ultimate goal is to be a clinician scientist in paediatric rehabilitation, aiming to effectively enhance and translate knowledge of neuroplasticity into new evidence-informed motor and physical activity-based interventions for children with physical disabilities.
What does it mean to you to be the recipient of this award?
Receiving this award has been motivational. The path to achieving my goal of becoming a clinician scientist sometimes feels daunting. This award has given me increased confidence and determination to strive for my goals.
The award has also highlighted the potential impact of my research. I believe that my doctoral work and future research program has the potential to make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities. This award supports my research path. I am also grateful to have the opportunity to share my work with a broader audience, and draw attention to the work done in paediatric neurorehabilitation at the BRI.
Furthermore, on a daily basis, I am in awe of trainees and the research they conduct at Holland Bloorview and the University of Toronto. To have my work be considered on the same stage as these incredible trainees who I respect and admire is inspirational. I am still very awestruck to be the recipient.
What advice would you give to other trainees?
I’m usually the advice seeker! Well, there’s the first thing I would say: seek advice. Whenever you can. Email the scientist who inspires you, and meet with them. Stop a trainee in the hall and ask for guidance. Get involved in a group that interests you, and ask questions. Keep yourself open to opportunities to learn from others. Build yourself a network of mentors, advisors, collaborators and supporters.
Secondly, go for the long shots, because sometimes they aren’t long shots. When training clients at Bloorview, my #1 rule is that “can’t” isn’t allowed. I’m working hard to bring this rule into my work as well. As we all know, research is full of attempts that don’t always pan out. But it’s hard to know what will happen, or to give it your best try, if you start out with a “can’t”. So give it a shot! And build a network of people who will support and advise you (see above).