Meet: Derek Beaton, ONDRI Scholar

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Meet Derek Beaton, ONDRI Scholar

Derek Beaton.jpgWhat’s your role with ONDRI?

I’m one of three new ONDRI Scholars. I’ll be working in Dr. Stephen Strother’s lab and focusing on cross platform “big data” analysis, as well as integration across assessments and disease groups.

Why is working with ONDRI important to you?

ONDRI is unique because it is a study of so many different neurodegenerative diseases. It’s exciting that we’ll be looking at existing similar projects and taking them a few steps forward. In the past, similar studies usually only focused on looking at diseases in isolation but that doesn’t show what’s unique about them.

Why did you choose your profession?

I was in computer science and decided I didn’t like it. I realized that the skills I had gained would be very useful in other scientific fields, so I pursued interests across behavioral and brain sciences. By talking to many mentors, I became more interested in the big challenges of the big data we now routinely collect.

What is your hope for the future in your area of focus?

I’d love to be able to say a cure. But realistically, in 10 to 15 years, I believe we can have better treatment and better management of disorders, while on the way to better prevention.

What is your educational background?

I recently became a postdoctoral fellow at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Hospital with Dr. Stephen Strother. Before moving to Toronto, I completed my PhD and MSc in cognition and neuroscience at The University of Texas at Dallas. I also completed my MSc and BSc in computer and information sciences at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Where have you lived?

I grew up just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. I then moved to Dallas, Texas for school, and lived there for seven years. I also spent two months in Taiwan for a fellowship, which was incredible. Now that I’m about to spend my first winter in Toronto, I’m really starting to miss Dallas.

What were your interests growing up?

Not academics – it took me time to appreciate and become more interested in learning and research. When I was younger, I was in a variety of sports leagues. My favorite was lacrosse.

What makes for a great workday?

If I can go home and feel as though I’ve accomplished something that day.

How would your colleagues describe you?

Probably that I’m a useful resource when it comes to statistics, the R programming language, and beer.

What makes you laugh the hardest?

Anything in the spectrum between the absurd and satire.

What do you look forward to?

I hope to tackle some of the serious challenges of big and complex data in behavioral and brain sciences. For example, how do we deal with so much diverse data, and then make sense of it? It’s one of the most technical, and critical, challenges we face.

What’s the last thing you Googled?

Late last night (technically early this morning), I Googled a gene: PRKCE. This gene kept coming up in all of my dissertation analysis. I didn’t know anything about this gene and needed to know what it does.

What’s the first place you would recommend to someone who is planning a trip that has never traveled before?

Taiwan is a breathtaking place. But southern California is my go-to destination. It has it all: mountains, canyons, beaches, and culture.

What are your hobbies?

Running. I’ve run half marathons and many 5 or 10 km races. I also thoroughly enjoy great beer. There’s a group in Toronto that actually focuses on both (RunTOBeer). It’s made the transition from Dallas a bit easier. You can read more on my website.