Kieran Fox

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Neural Basis of Meditation and Spontaneous Thought Processes
Faculty of Arts
Kalina Christoff, PhD
Vanier Scholarship

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I had many questions about the brain and mind and it didn't seem like anyone else was planning on answering them anytime soon! So I decided to pursue them during my doctorate. A side benefit is working alongside a lot of very intelligent critical-thinkers who will regularly push you to go further.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I have an amazing supervisor, and Vancouver is an incredibly beautiful place to live. Those were reasons enough.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

About graduate life: it was the freedom to pursue your own research questions (once all the pesky required coursework is completed, anyway!). About Vancouver and UBC: the stunning natural beauty all around us. There is the opportunity here to work with excellent researchers and fellow students, but it's also possible to balance the craziness of the academic life with endless outdoor activities, all year long. It's truly an amazing combination.

What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

I hope to at least provide some partial answers to questions that have intrigued me for years: how the brain and mind interact with and produce one another; how mental training techniques, like meditation, can alter brain structure and function, and also our quality of life; what the neural origins of original, creative ideas are, and how we can facilitate their generation.

What has winning a major award meant to you?

It has meant the freedom to spend all my time pursuing my research, relatively free from other concerns and responsibilities. I am able to really dedicate myself to trying to answer the scientific questions I'm passionate about. I can't express how great a feeling that is!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

My advice would be to follow what you are passionate about - and a corollary to that is to find a supervisor who will allow you this freedom. If your research is also your passion, the line between work and pleasure blurs: you will work more (and more effectively), your work will be better, and you will actually enjoy it.


Learn more about Kieran's research

My central research project focuses on the neural basis of spontaneous thought processes - that is, how and why your brain produces the thoughts you have all the time, what the function of these thoughts may be, and why some people have original, creative thoughts, whereas others are stuck in cycles of depressive, counter-productive rumination. A related stream of research is examining the neural basis (structural and functional) of meditation practices: how they shape the brain and subjective experience, what the benefits (cognitive, emotional, and clinical) of these practices might be, and the brain mechanisms underlying these changes. A final thread involves 'metacognition', the ability we have to monitor, evaluate, and direct the course of our own thoughts and experiences. I'm interested in looking at whether meditation can improve metacognitive ability, and whether top-down, metacognitive attention can direct spontaneous thought processes towards more creative and beneficial outcomes.