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Collaborative spirit benefits graduate student

Andrew Peterson's research explores decision-making among those with severe brain injuries

April 29, 2013

Collaborative spirit benefits graduate student
Andrew Peterson, a PhD student and award reciept, appreciates how the mentorship he has received at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy is benefiting his research into post-traumatic stress disorder.

Andrew Peterson is grateful for all of the support he has received throughout his academic career, but receiving the Richard A. Harshman Memorial Scholarship, endowed at Foundation Western, was particularly momentous.

The scholarship, established by friends and family of the late Western psychology professor, is awarded annually to a PhD student undertaking research in statistical methods or philosophy of science.

“All of the awards I’ve received thus far have been from the Department of Philosophy in particular,” says Peterson, a second-year PhD candidate in philosophy. “Receiving this award was very meaningful because I’m being recognized by a discipline outside of philosophy for contributions to the academy.”

As a self-described philosopher interested in the brain, Peterson focuses on two areas in his research. “First, I am interested in the theoretical problems inherent to traditional philosophy of science,” he says. “Second, I am interested in the practical application of philosophical knowledge to ethical problems in medicine.”

Working at The Brain and Mind Institute, Peterson is trying to determine if and how decision-making capacity can be verified in patients who have sustained severe brain injuries that result in vegetative state and other so-called ‘disorders of consciousness’. He does so using a combination of neuroimaging (MRI and EEG) and neuropsychological studies.

At the same time, he is also exploring the growing problem of combat induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans – an issue of personal importance to him having grown up in an American military family. Over the past year he has worked with Dr. Ruth Lanius from Western’s PTSD Research Unit, as well as researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, to develop reintegration strategies for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“Western, and the Rotman Institute of Philosophy in particular, are re-envisioning graduate training in the context of interdisciplinary research,” says Peterson. “There is a palpable emphasis on interdisciplinary work and, more importantly, there is a wonderful amount of good faith between the disciplines—the sciences and humanities. I think this is truly unique to Western. Indeed, this is what drew me to Western over other PhD programs.”

As a student of Dr. Charles Weijer and Dr. Adrian Owen, Peterson says he is encouraged to be progressive with his work by distancing himself from the way philosophy is traditionally done, something he appreciates about their mentorship and the general spirit of the Rotman Institute.

Jointly funded by Western, the Rotman Family Foundation, and a handful of other organizations, the Rotman Institute is committed to fostering and supporting dialogue and collaboration between philosophers and scientists, and building bridges between the humanities and the sciences.

“It’s a simple fact that the work emerging from the Rotman Institute would not be possible without the generous donations of alumni like Joseph Rotman. Knowing that both the Rotman family and the Harshman family are interested in the work we are doing, and are willing to support our efforts to focus entirely on these hard conceptual problems, is absolutely extraordinary,” Peterson says.

“I truly believe that Western’s family can only grow when the spirit of giving, intellectual or otherwise, is passed on from one generation to the next. Alumni donations promote this spirit in important and measurable ways,” he adds. “I am sincerely grateful to have benefited from this, and I hope to carry on this tradition in the future.”

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