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Entering the BWH Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory (PNL) is like entering any other office environment in the U.S. But tucked away in the ordinary beige cubicles and housed between the blank white walls is a diverse group of individuals from around the world, all working to unravel the mysteries and complexities of the human mind.
Led by Director Martha Shenton, PhD, of the departments of Psychiatry and Radiology, the PNL is perhaps one of the most evident examples of a diverse workforce within the BWH research community. Founded in 2005, its main goal is to gain a better understanding of brain abnormalities and their role in psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. The lab recruits researchers from all over the world, with members hailing from such places as Argentina, Germany, Korea and Israel.
“When you come into the lab, you don’t feel like a foreigner or a tourist because everyone is from another place,” said computer scientist Ofer Pasternak, PhD, of BWH Psychiatry, who is from Israel.
When studying brain abnormalities, clinical researchers in the PNL value the fresh ideas and approaches that a diverse workforce brings.
“Working with people from different backgrounds gives you an opportunity to learn how to approach problems in different ways,” said Jennifer Fitzsimmons, MD, of BWH Psychiatry, a clinical researcher with Spanish, American and Irish citizenship.
“Everyone has a different perspective based on differences in education, cultural background, working style and experience,” added Inga Katharina Koerte, MD, also of BWH Psychiatry, a senior research fellow from Munich, Germany. “When these different perspectives are put together like a puzzle, we are able to perform creative and innovative research.”
The theme of collaboration is also echoed by Kang Ik Cho, a visiting PhD student from South Korea. Cho has worked in the lab since October 2012 and helps neuroscientists better analyze brain images.
“In my lab in South Korea, if I get stuck on a technical problem, I have to search documents and Google to find an answer,” said Cho. “But here in the PNL lab, I just have to go downstairs to meet with our computer scientists and engineers, and explain to them the problem, and they can help solve it immediately. That is the best combination you can have in a neuroimaging lab—the engineers who develop the tools and run the analysis and the clinicians who can interpret the results. It is really rare to see this combination working in perfect harmony.”
A diverse workforce also brings about collaborations from labs worldwide, exposing its team members to projects that they may otherwise be unaware of.
“We can tap into other labs’ strengths, and they can tap into ours and build a global type of workforce that can solve grand scale problems that one country or lab alone cannot do,” said computer scientist Yogesh Rathi, PhD.
It should come as no surprise that many of the foreign nationals in the PNL are well-travelled. Computer scientist Demian Wassermann, PhD, of Radiology, is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has visited several countries throughout his native South America, as well as Central America, Europe and the U.S. Travelling has provided Wassermann with an open-minded, positive point-of-view that he applies to his career.
“Travelling gives you a perspective that there is work everywhere and you can always find your way in life,” he said.
Members of the Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory share what makes their home countries special.
"Zaragoza was one of the first Roman settlements in Spain, and was named after one of the first Roman emperors. It is a young, vibrant city located an hour from Madrid, the Pyrenees, and two hours from the coast of Spain. There are four days in October where people celebrate the feast in honor of "La Virgen del Pilar." People go out and attend events and concerts and dress in regional costumes. On Sunday, it is a tradition to offer flowers to the Virgin and create a large scale mantle for them." Jennifer Fitzsimmons, MD
"I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is an extremely thriving city. A lot of the art scene-especially underground-is very accessible to people." Demian Wassermann, PhD
"I was born in a little city outside of Seoul, Korea called Sokcho. It is a popular city to visit, even among Koreans. It has beautiful lakes, mountains and beaches." Kang Ik Cho
"As a kid, I really loved the kite festival in India. It falls on the 14th of January and is a celebration marking the end of winter. I used to make kites with my own hands by learning from the kids around me. When making a kite, you take rope and apply certain solutions to it to make it really sharp. The goal during the kite festival is to fly your kite as high as you can get it to go, have it cross other kites, and try to cut them. There are many techniques to doing this that you learn growing up while participating in these festivals. It's one of the festivals I always looked forward to as a kid." Yogesh Rathi, PhD