Post provided by Daniel Trotter
To celebrate UK Pride Month, the British Ecological Society journal blogs are posting a ‘Rainbow Research’ series, which aims to promote visibility of STEM researchers from the LGBTQ+ community. Each post will be connected to a theme represented by one of the colours shown in the Progress Pride flag. In this post, Daniel Trotter discusses his research on physics and computational neuroscience under the Progress Pride flag theme of ‘Transgender Pride’.
Hi, my name is Dan. I’m a fairly early career PhD student at the University of Ottawa, Canada. My studies are probably too much time out of my life sometimes haha, but when I remember to be an actual human being, I go hiking a lot in just about anywhere I can find. I’m fond of most things that keep me physically active but I’m particularly fond of hiking because it gives me an excuse to get out of the city for a bit. Anywhere far enough outside the city that it gets quiet is my favourite, which is maybe a side effect of growing up in a rural area. At odds with the quiet of the outdoors, my other main love is music; I play the guitar and flute, and literally any time I can be listening to music, I will be. I lost track of how many times I listened to Matchbox 20’s album “Mad Season” while writing my masters thesis, although Spotify assures me it was a lot! I don’t have a favourite musician, or even genre of music, but I am constantly on the look out for new ones! Most recently I stumbled across Portuguese singer Aurea, who does some great ballads, and Andy Black, frontman of Black Veil Brides, had a few solo albums including “The Shadow Side” which I’d recommend to anyone who likes rock music.
My research area is physics and computational neuroscience. That is, I work on models of the brain and use them to investigate its dynamics. As I said, I’m early in my PhD studies, but my main interests lately have been looking at brain responses to non-invasive stimulation (small currents delivered to the brain from outside of the skull). This has a wide variety of applications, including improving our understanding of brain waves and their interactions between different brain areas. However, one of its other applications, and the one that interests me most, is its potential as a treatment option for disorders such as epilepsy and major depressive disorder, which are sometimes resistant to drug treatments.
Prior to this, in my masters, I did research focused on the smaller-scale dynamics in the healthy brain. Specifically, my wheelhouse was looking at into a phenomenon known as short-term plasticity (the increase or decrease of response strength following activity) in the synapses of cells in the hippocampus, which is a brain region involved in the formation of long-term memory and learning. We were particularly interested in improving the modelling of these small scale dynamics to account for some aspects neglected in earlier models for simplicity.
Career vs. Identity: you are not alone
Choosing STEM as a trans man wasn’t a decision I made lightly. Actually, I remember despairing quite a bit in the later part of my undergrad while trying to decide if I could have both my identity and a career in the sciences. There are so many under-discussed barriers that made taking the step of transitioning while planning a career STEM daunting. Things like name changes on publications, knowing some collaborators and colleagues may reject you if they learn about your gender, and weighing the risks of attending or forgoing conferences in locations where it isn’t safe for people like me, to name a few. And most of that wasn’t even on my mind at the end of undergrad. What weighed on me at the time was that I had never heard of any transgender scientists – I’d barely heard of any LGBTQ+ scientists period, and even fewer in physics. I spent many hours blindly searching online to find any ‘out’ (known) trans scientists. I did have nominal success in my search, and that made all the difference for me. Which, I suppose, would also be my advice to other trans folk thinking about going into STEM – you aren’t alone, but it can sometimes feel that way so finding any of the groups can make things less lonely. If you’re unsure where to start, Twitter is a good place to find them! (Including @LGBTSTEM, @StemTrans, @PrideinSTEM, @500QueerSci).
Find out more about Daniel’s research by visiting his Twitter profile.
Interested in contributing a post for the Rainbow Research Pride series? Find out more information here.