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What Do Psychology, Conferences, and Music Have In Common?

(This is the third in a series of articles about the values of Atlantic Canadian science faculty) 

We are all musicians in some way. We sing, we hum, we whistle. Some of us have musical training, whether it be vocal lessons or playing an instrument. Some of us love to sing despite never having had any lessons. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re good or not at singing or playing an instrument. At least not to Dr. Jonathan Wilbiks because he wondered whether being musically trained affects your memory for words and music. 

He and his team got to work researching this question and in 2018 they published their findings. Apparently, musical training improves memory for instrumental music, but not vocal music or words (you can learn how they reached this conclusion by reading their research paper). This research is part of an ongoing topic into the contributions of formal music training to musical and non-musical abilities from childhood and adolescence into adulthood. And this is only one of the projects being worked on at the Music and Multisensory Processes (MMP) Lab at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John (UNBSJ). 

Jonathan is an Assistant Professor at UNBSJ and the director of the MMP Lab. We met Jonathan last summer, when we talked to science faculty across Atlantic Canada about satisfaction, challenges, and more as part of our research project, “Broadening Horizons”. Jonathan shared great insights about those topics, but he also talked about conferences and how, despite being nervous, attending led to him getting involved in his field and ended up with him becoming the Chair of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Section of the Canadian Psychology Association (CPA). Here are a few of his comments: 


What aspects of your job bring you the most satisfaction?

“I love teaching and especially teaching Introduction to Psychology. I like to include a lot of demonstrations and activities in class rather than lecturing. The last couple of years I’ve taught on a Monday night, a three-hour chunk of time, so rather than just lecturing the students for three hours, I like to make it interactive and do activities to make the experience dynamic. And getting students excited about psychology is really cool. It reminds me of when I was in intro to psychology and a professor got me excited and that got me into psychology in general.” 

Is there anything in particular that frustrates you about what you do? 

“I think sometimes I try to do too much. I guess through grad school, through a postdoc and the first two years of getting things going in this faculty position, pretty much all the research I’ve been doing has been mine. …And now for the first time this fall [2020] I’m going to have graduate students to supervise and more honours students as well. So I need to understand that the research is their research, and I’m there to supervise it and give them guidance–and that I’m not the one who has to worry about things such as getting the data ready for analysis.”

How do you feel about conferences?

“Going to conferences, in general, is nice. I would say I am generally a socially awkward kind of person, which sometimes makes the social aspect challenging. I’ve been to conferences often enough that if there’s food there, I might go grab some food and then run back to my hotel room or to my friends or colleagues who I already knoware at the conference. But one of the things that causes me to participate in situations where I meet people are poster sessions when we’re actually talking about research, which can then move into further discussions.” 

How did you get involved in professional associations?

“When I was a grad student, I was a member of the Association for psychological Science. They got students to do reviewing of their student awards. I thought it was useful because students don’t get many chances to review actual manuscripts. 

For a while during grad school, I was also a member of the CPA. The conference was in Halifax a couple of years ago, and since I was at Mount Allison at the time, I decided to go. When I got there, I went to the Brain and Cognitive Sciences annual meeting section, and it wasn’t huge. There were only about a dozen people there, which kind of forced me to get involved because I could actually talk with people. We weren’t in a social situation, but in an annual general meeting, and that led to me taking on some leadership roles, which eventually led to me becoming chair of the section. “


Despite his shyness, Jonathan is involved in many ways with the academic community. Besides being Chair of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Section of the CPA, Jonathan sits on multiple committees, acts as a liaison between students and faculty, and supervises honours and graduate students when he is not teaching or doing research in the MMP Lab. 

What’s next: 

This series of articles shares some of the stories of faculty interviewed through our community research project. Broadening Horizons is evolving from interviews, data collection, and ideas to groups that will drive actions, our mission, and the goals of the community. 

If you want to know more about Broadening Horizons, what our plans are, or how to get involved, please see the Broadening Horizons Info Hub.