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Interview with Chris Moore

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

📷 Research Gate

Journalists: Romina Mahinpei

Romina: Welcome to SciSection. I'm Romina, your journalist for this week's episode. We are here today with Dr. Chris Moore, who's the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Dalhousie University, as well as a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Moore.

Dr. Moore: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Romina: To start, we do have two rapid fire questions for you. Firstly, who is one of your role models in the scientific community?

Dr. Moore: So, I would say my role model, and it may not be a name that's familiar to you, but my role model is a scientist named Michael Thomas, who's both a developmental and evolutionary psychologist and one of the most recognized people in the world in that area.

Romina: Awesome. And secondly, what do you think has been one of the most important scientific discoveries?

Dr. Moore: Well, of course there have been many, but I can't fail to go back to Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The way that it organized all of biology since that point in time. And also for me as a psychologist, I believe that evolutionary psychology is a key way to understand human behaviour. And so for me, that would be it.

Romina: That's a great example. And as you said, there are so many different discoveries out there and they're all equally important, but Darwin's is definitely a great example. And now moving on to your profession, could you give us a summary of your educational path and how it led you to where you are today?

Dr. Moore: Yeah, sure. So, I was trained in England. I grew up in England, in the UK and I went to the University of Cambridge. I started there as an undergraduate doing my BA in natural sciences. It came that you do a BA, not a BSc, and started out in natural sciences and ended up shifting a little bit in terms of what I wanted to do and went into psychology and experimental psychology. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I knew at that point in time that I really wanted to have a career in science. So, I applied to the graduate programs and ended up staying at Cambridge to do my PhD, which I completed in 1985. Then, at that point, I started looking around for jobs, academic jobs, because I knew I wanted to continue doing research, and (there) weren't any jobs in the UK and I ended up in Canada and I've been here ever since.

Romina: Amazing. And I know you've been quite involved with research and you have a few initiatives relating to developmental psychology, like the Early Social Development Lab. So, could you tell us a little bit more about this group and your research focus in general?

Dr. Moore: Yeah, sure. So, I've always been interested in the way in which the mind develops the structure that it has. And the best way to get at that is to understand how it develops from childhood. So, we started looking a long time ago at early development in young children. I've studied children as young as six months of age all the way through to adolescents. And the main focus of our research is how the children develop their understanding of other people, their social understanding, their understanding of other people and also of themselves and how people interact with each other, their relationships. So we've started a number of aspects of that, including what we call joint attention or the ability to focus on something with another person, understanding self development, or how the child understands themselves as a person, understanding other people's mental states or theory of mind. And now more recently, we've moved into their understanding of moral development.

Romina: Very interesting. And obviously you've been very involved with research, but why do you think it's important for the public to engage with research and science in general? Why should the public care?

Dr. Moore: Well, you know, I come back to the idea that from my point of view-

Dr. Moore: Science remains the best approach that we have for understanding both the natural and the social world.

Dr. Moore: And I say the social world because I am a psychologist, but we take a scientific approach to psychology. Science is absolutely critical for solving the key issues facing individuals, societies, and humanity in general and scientific literacy of the population at large is really essential to making progress. So, I always take the view that we need to push back repeatedly and strongly against the view that that knowledge is relative and depends significantly on perspective. But, you know, I would also turn around and say that scientists have a duty and a responsibility to do a better job at engaging with the public. We can't just leave it up to the public. We have to get out there and try to tell people in terms that they can understand, not in kind of complex scientific terms about the discoveries that we're making. We need to make contributions to scientific literacy that go beyond our narrow fields. And many people are doing this well, but I think there should be a responsibility for all scientists to do that. And at Dalhousie, at the Faculty of Science, we actually have intentionally created opportunities for all of our BSc students to learn the practice of how to communicate science better to a general audience.

Romina: For sure. And I feel like for the general public, there's also this fear sometimes, this stigma around science, that it's only for a select group of people while there are so many different possibilities and applications within science that it truly becomes something that everyone can enjoy. So what steps do you think we can take to make science more inclusive? I know you mentioned that at your university, you guys have like courses for students so that they can learn about better communication, but what other steps do you think we can take to make science more inclusive and accessible?

Dr. Moore: I mean, I think our goal should be that anyone who wants to engage in science and become scientifically literate or practice as a scientist should be able to do so no matter who they are (or) where they come from. So, that should be the goal that we have as scientists, and that's what we're trying to achieve. Science proceeds by critical questioning of received understanding. And this critical question can come from anywhere. Anybody can contribute to that.

Dr. Moore: And so we need to encourage broad and widespread and inclusive access to the practice of science. We need to send the message that science welcomes everyone.

Dr. Moore: You know, many universities, including Dalhousie, have tried to create pathway programs that students, perhaps from currently underrepresented groups who may believe that science isn't for them, and we're creating these pathway programs to show them that deep science is for them. Science is for everyone and they can become involved. And we've developed a number of these programs now at Dalhousie, which have been very successful.

Romina: For sure. That's awesome to hear. And speaking of students, I know that for a lot of undergraduates and students in general, the upcoming academic year is going to be quite unique in that it is remote learning. So what are your top tips for students adjusting to remote learning?

Dr. Moore: So, you know, this is a great question and I think it's going to be a challenge for all of us. None of us at our regular universities have been through this before. But what I would say to students is get organized right from the get go. Set yourself a schedule that to some extent mimics what you would have been doing if you'd been in face to face classes. For example, set aside fixed times to engage with the content of the course that you're doing and time to study. You know, put yourself on a schedule just as if you had classes to go to at regular times of the day. And take advantage of everything that's being offered in course websites. You know, I think what people are going to find is that teaching in a remote way is going to break some of the mold of traditional ways of teaching. You know, the sort of professor on the stage approach. Best practices now are going to show that learning calls for smaller chunks of content and more varied forms of engagement with students, and I would certainly recommend that students take advantage of everything that's offered in their course websites and in remote learning. Not just the lectures but all of those opportunities to engage with the professor, with a TA, (or) with other students. You know, remember that learning happens best by discussing ideas with other people, not just taking it in passively because discussion forces us to think about the topics through the eyes of people, and that's absolutely the best way to learn.

Romina: For sure. And I feel like with remote learning, there are certainly benefits to it. And sometimes as students, we just tend to focus on the negative aspects of the whole process, but it's for sure, as you've mentioned, it does have a lot of benefits and I think it is our responsibility as students just take advantage and make the best out of it. So hopefully after hearing that more students will do that for the upcoming term. And just as a final question, what general advice relating to life education or anything would you give to undergraduate students listening to the show right now?

Dr. Moore: Well, I'm not going to pretend to be a sage that can get advice on life, but what I would say to undergraduate students this year of all years is remember, this will pass. This is not the reality that will be with you forever. If you're starting out as an undergraduate, you're going to have a bit of an odd experience this year. Do your best, but it will pass. And if you're a returning student, you know (about) university, everything university has to offer. Again, this year will be a little bit odd, but it will pass. And, you know, we will at some point get back to a reasonably normal life. So just stick with it. Don't let it get you down and stick with it and you'll be fine.

Romina: And that does bring us to the end of the interview. Dr. Moore, thank you once again for joining us today and highlighting the importance of science and motivating undergraduate students for the upcoming term. And for everyone listening, make sure to check out SciSection's podcasts available on global platforms for our latest interviews.


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