To be completely frank, I was never trained for the job I have, or the research I now conduct. It simply didn’t exist 10 years ago. I was always interested in how anatomy and neurological stuff worked. How in the heck our functions could be controlled so nicely inside this messy, biological, and ever changing thing we call a “body”. At the time, I wanted to help solve how the autonomic nervous system exerts blood flow control in mammals using the vestibular system as an input. How can we stand up in our earth’s gravity without all the blood rushing to our feet? My research interests have expanded significantly.

Our world is increasingly digital and the field of anatomical and educational research is no exception. The digital evolution carries immense opportunities. We have wonderful 3D scanning technologies in medicine, yet the ability to teach the next generation of users is sometimes quite old school. Addressing part of this dichotomy highlights the objective of my lab, the CRIPT. Here we use visual data derived from CT (computed tomographic imaging), MR (magnetic resonance imaging), and even photographic data from human cadavers to develop 3D digital learning objects. These incredibly rich visual tools may complement any modern student education, or clinical scenario. Not only do we further our ability to see into the body; we can also examine how well students learn with complex learning tools, and even explore the physiological and cognitive consequences of their use.

As education and training progress further to digital realms, some students, stakeholders, and companies will take great advantage while others will fail. The scientist in me requires that evidence precede the incorporation new tools in order to make impactful and enduring experiences in the future. For example, imagine classes where students come together with facilitators, it might be face-to-face or from a distance. Here, students and teachers with wearable technologies that ‘augment reality’ interact in ways that spawn the best student learning, where language and physical space cease to be an issue. Where wearable educational technology monitors the presentation and the leaner’s behaviour, simultaneously changing graphics, language, and interface to match the learner’s cognitive abilities, maximizing students’ mastery of the materials in real time. My role is to maximize what is good about current educational practices and exploit what can be accomplished by going digital: to move forward with sound pedagogic purpose rather that trying to simply keep up with technology.

As a student, one needs to gain good grounding in your respective discipline: to know the rules, theories and history of your discipline and then expand your horizons. Use the idea of ‘planned happenstance’ in order to plan for career scenarios A or B, but not to close the proverbial door on scenarios Y and Z if they present themselves.

Students of today, despite the ability to be anonymous or overly casual, need to have great professional behaviour and manners. Manners do matter as they scope how you will be evaluated outside your grades, projects, papers, and art. Without the ability to appropriately empathize in a professional setting, much is lost. The power of being professional should not be underestimated.

The skills of writing and listening, managing information, people, and their personalities are all skills that will never be taught to students didactically. Instead, professors put you in uncomfortable situations where one has to work with others you don’t know or perhaps even like. These are the arenas where you hone professional skills and get the project done well. There are very few careers where one works completely in isolation, so learning how to contribute, cooperate, and harness the power of the “group” is very important.

My first Dean quipped, in his team-like manner, “Timmy, find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, this institution has been paying me for the last nine years, and I’ve probably worked for about 50 days. I know that sounds terrible, but I do love this job. My Dean’s philosophy holds true.

About the author

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson is a Associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is the director of his own lab, the Corps for Research of Instructional and Perceptual Technologies (CRIPT), where he combines the anatomical sciences and educational scholarship through digital visualization and student cognition. He holds a PhD in Kinesiology from Western University.