Liza says that she is passionate about both research and teaching at JCU. “I am interested in the link between our brain and our behaviour, and the subjects I teach here at JCU are related to that. The second-year subject I teach, for instance, focuses on behavioural neuroscience, and the third year one is about cognitive neuroscience,” Liza says.
“Neuroscientists investigate the underlying mechanisms of our behaviour, for instance when people make decisions. We are asking what is driving our decisions, and if our neurotransmitters could play a role in this,” Liza says.
“To give an example, if you watch commercials, some of them are super-catchy. These commercials focus on that reward system that we have in our brain, and therefore they are definitely involved in our decision making.”
Liza says that some students may see neuroscience as a challenging area of study due to the biology and anatomy that is discussed in these subjects. “But then students see they are learning more about their own brain and their own behaviour,” she says.
“They are getting an understanding of why they are doing things the way they do, such why they keep postponing working on that essay”, Liza says and laughs.
“The students and I also discuss how certain medications can impact a patient's behaviour, such as antidepressants. That is going to help future graduates if they are planning to work in the clinical space. So, these neuroscience subjects are really about opening up students’ minds to these concepts,” Liza says.
Helping infants at risk
Aside from teaching, Liza says she finds it rewarding that her research intersects with both psychology and human biology. “We value that information from biology, and we value that information from the clinical psychology space.
“Linking it together, we can explain what's happening in the brain. We can relate brain patterns to clinical symptoms we're seeing in particular patients or vice versa.” Liza says that having this information helps psychologists better assess how they can best help their patients.
Liza is currently working on a research project that takes MR images of infants who may be at risk for adverse outcomes later in life, such as children born preterm or with a brain bleed.
The research will examine to what extent the MRI brain scans can help predict which challenges these infants may face in the future. This will assist in offering the appropriate early intervention to such infants in the future.
“We are very close to getting that project off the ground. All the approvals are in, and there's a new MRI scanner in Townsville. It's all perfect timing,” she says. “We hope to get the pilot study up and running soon in both Townsville and Cairns. So that's definitely my main focus within the next few months.”