Julia Schmidt

Assistant Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Trauma / Injuries
Neurological diseases
Cognitive impairment
Traumatic Brain Injury

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology

quantitative and qualitative methods


Master's students
Doctoral students

Dr. Schmidt's research investigates the alteration in a person’s life and brain after traumatic brain injury. Specifically, she is interested in self-awareness and self-identity changes after injury and neurological underpinnings of injury and recovery. Additionally, she aims to determine effective rehabilitation strategies and mechanisms of recovery for people with brain impairment.

I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Exploring brain activation patterns during a buttoning task in healthy young adults and individuals with traumatic brain injury: a functional near infrared spectroscopy investigation (2024)

Background: Activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, and toileting, are an important part of everyday life. The ability to complete ADLs can promote feelings of well-being and is important for having a sense of independence. Dressing is an ADL that is completed on a daily basis. However, there is currently limited knowledge on brain activity during dressing tasks. Previous studies explored brain activity during dressing using fMRI. However, there are limitations with fMRI in that participants have to retain a supine position during neuroimaging which is not a natural position when a person is dressing. A promising technology, functional near-infra red spectroscopy (fNIRS), can investigate brain activity during a dressing task of buttoning in a more natural state.Purpose: The studies involved in this thesis aim to use fNIRS to: (1) investigate brain activity during buttoning in healthy adults; and (2) explore brain activation patterns in individuals who have sustained a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) while completing a buttoning task. Methods: Participants in both studies completed a task of buttoning in three 20 second repetitions with 15 seconds rest in between each activity time block. Brain activation patterns were recorded using fNIRS over the prefrontal cortex, premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, sensorimotor cortex, and posterior parietal cortex.Results: There were twenty healthy participants recruited from the community for study 1. Study 2 involved two participants with severe TBI. Significantly higher activation in the prefrontal cortex, premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, and sensorimotor cortex was observed for healthy control participants during the activity block when compared to the resting state. In study 2, brain activity in both TBI participants showed decreased activity within the premotor cortex and supplementary motor area and increased brain activity within the posterior parietal cortex during task performance compared to rest condition. Conclusions: Understanding brain activity during performance of activities of daily living in healthy adults is a critical first-step for investigating brain activation in different clinical populations such as TBI. 

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Activity engagement after concussion in youth (2022)

Background. Concussions are highly prevalent injuries, particularly among youth populations. Symptoms of concussion are broad and varied among individuals, across physical, cognitive, emotional, and sleep-related domains. Most people experience full recovery from concussions; however, approximately 30% of individuals continue to experience symptoms beyond the normal recovery period. Guidelines to manage concussion recovery indicate a gradual return to activity. However, there is limited evidence on how engagement in activity influences recovery and how to effectively promote activity re-engagement in youth with concussion. This thesis will build evidence to support the integration of activity following a concussive event in youth.Aims. 1) To examine the influence of physical and social activity on recovery in children and youth with concussions.2) To develop an intervention that will enable an early return to activity after a concussion in an effort to improve the recovery trajectory in youth.Methods. Two study designs were utilized to address our aims:1) A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted to assess the influence of social and/or physical activity on concussion recovery in adolescents. All types of intervention studies investigating social and physical activity to improve concussion recovery in youth were identified. 2) An intervention mapping framework was used to design an intervention to improve activity engagement after concussion in youth, encompassing current return to activity guidelines and using a personalized rehabilitation approach. Results. Overall, engagement in activity positively influenced recovery concussion outcomes in youth, with results used to guide the development of a novel intervention. In the systematic review, 19 studies were included, of which 8 were RCTs. There was a significant effect of activity interventions on decreased symptom reporting (SMD = 0.39 [95% CI = 0.14 to 0.64], I2 = 0%, p = 0.002), but no significant effect on quality of life. The Concussion Coach intervention was developed to improve recovery outcomes after concussion in youth through a guideline-based, individualised, goal-oriented telerehabilitation approach. Conclusion. Findings from this thesis extend knowledge of concussion recovery in youth. This thesis indicated that activity-based interventions, individualized rehabilitation, and health delivery innovations may be important components for youth concussion interventions.

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Life with traumatic brain injury: experiences of social participation, self-awareness, and self-identity (2022)

Background: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) affects a substantial number of Canadians every year, with individuals experiencing changes to their everyday life. Objectives: This thesis aimed to 1) explore perceived changes in social participation and self-identity post-injury, and 2) characterise individuals displaying higher and lower levels of posttraumatic growth, in terms of their social participation, self-awareness, and self-identity. Methods: Study 1 used a constructivist grounded theory methodology. In study 2, a sequential explanatory/exploratory mixed-methods design was followed. For study 1, qualitative data were obtained from a semi-structured interview, conducted to explore the participants’ experiences of living with their TBI; for study 2, quantitative data were collected using questionnaires about social participation, self-awareness, and self-identity. Results: Participants were 16 adults with a moderate to severe TBI living in the community (average age= 49.8, male= 11). In study 1, an overarching theme ‘living in a reshaped reality’ was identified which comprised of three themes: 1) ‘there’s nothing that’s the same’ identified the daily challenges of living with a TBI, 2) ‘rebuilding and restarting’ described how participants navigated their post-injury life, and 3) ‘embrace it and run with it’ explored the participants’ responses to life with TBI. An explanatory model of these themes was developed, which illustrated how changes in social participation and self-identity may impact an individual’s post-injury life. In study 2, qualitative data were used to categorise individuals into two groups of higher (n=8) and lower (n=7) posttraumatic growth. The quantitative data were then used to characterise the two groups, indicating that participants portraying higher posttraumatic growth had greater social participation, more self-awareness, and fewer discrepancies in pre-and post-injury identities. Significance: This thesis builds understanding of the experience of life after TBI. Clinical rehabilitation could be framed to facilitate both social participation and positive self-identity changes given the explanatory model. Using the findings of posttraumatic growth characterisation, future research could explore the experiences of the development of posttraumatic growth after TBI.

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