Two decades of visionary leadership

May 10, 2019

Mel Goodale, Professor and former director of the Brain and Mind Institute

After nearly 20 years, Professor Mel Goodale has stepped down as Director of the Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) at Western.

Founded in 2000, the BMI is now one of the top centres for cognitive neuroscience in the world. Goodale led it from its inception as the Centre for Brain and Mind in 2000 until earlier this year. He is now able to devote himself full time to his students, and to the cognitive neuroscience research he loves.

Goodale has a long history with Western University. He received his PhD from here in 1969, and then after a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford, and a lectureship at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, he returned to a faculty position at Western in 1977.

Goodale has devoted his career to Western, to the BMI, and to the cognitive neuroscience of vision, a field in which he has made fundamental contributions. In addition to his appointments in the Departments of Psychology and Physiology & Pharmacology, Goodale co-founded Western’s Graduate Program in Neuroscience in 1991, which expanded to include more than 90 researchers and an undergraduate program.

Goodale, together with his colleague and friend David Milner, used neuropsychological methods with a brain-damaged individual known as DF to demonstrate that “seeing” isn’t one single process. Rather, one brain system enables us to identify objects in the world while another system enables us to act on – to reach for, to grasp, and to manipulate – objects. Goodale and Milner’s discovery in 1992 of this human perception-for-action visual system, which built on years of their careful research in a nonhuman model, has transformed what it means “to see”.

Starting in 1994, Ravi Menon, now a member of the BMI and director of the Centre for Metabolic Mapping at Robarts, and Goodale collaborated to make Western the site for the strongest fMRI scanners for studying the human brain in Canada and establish Western as a leading national and international site for cognitive neuroscience.

“The idea of a formal centre for promoting research in cognitive neuroscience grew slowly. It emerged from the natural collaborations that developed amongst a number of us across campus who were interested in how the brain gives rise to cognitive processing and behavior,” said Goodale. “These natural grass-routes collaborations led to an application in 1999 to a successful MRC/CIHR for a Group Grant on the neural foundations of action and perception.”

By 2000 the Centre for Brain and Mind was the focus of cognitive neuroscience at Western. The stellar research of Centre members, as well as Goodale’s tireless advocacy, ensured University support that enabled Western to attract a Canada Excellence Research Chair position and several ancillary positions to the Centre in 2011, when the name was changed to the BMI.

“BMI grew organically from a small core of researchers interested in how the brain supported action and perception,” said Menon. “It really was Mel’s leadership and vision and the cross-fertilization between like-minded faculty members that blossomed into what is the BMI today.”

In 2013, cognitive neuroscience at Western was named a Cluster of Research Excellence by the University, which was accompanied by $12.5M to the BMI and 6 faculty hires. Work on the new Western Interdisciplinary Research Building, which now houses some core BMI members and their labs, was begun shortly thereafter. In 2015/2016 BMI members applied for, and successfully obtained, $66M in funding from the federal Canada First Research Excellence Fund for the BrainsCAN initiative, which supports cognitive neuroscience research at Western, and which enabled further faculty hires.

“Mel has a remarkable ability to bring people together, both building within the university and building reputation and connections outside the university,” said Bob Andersen, Dean of the Faculty of Social Science. “He is an exceptional researcher, and an institutional builder on a level most people could only dream about.”

Since 2013, 29 faculty members of the BMI have been hired in 14 different departments. Under Goodale’s leadership, the BMI has grown from a small nucleus of researchers to a community of 84 core and associate principal investigators drawn from seven faculties at the University, as well as from the Robarts and Lawson Research Institutes.

“The greatest achievement, I believe, has been the creation of a community of collaborative scientists, both PIs and trainees, who produce cutting-edge research in cognitive neuroscience,” said Goodale. “It would not be an exaggeration to say the BMI is recognized world-wide as a leading centre for research in this field – and as a place where people work well together.”

Building on this success, BMI members have, in the last five years, attracted equipment and operating funding from a large variety of provincial, federal and international sources. They supervise large numbers of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and engage in hundreds of national and international collaborations across all five continents. Under Dr. Goodale’s leadership, growth of BMI team has emphasized not just research excellence but recruitment of energetic, optimistic, and community-minded individuals who work together collegially.

“Mel’s a treasure to the faculty and to the university.” said Andersen, “His energy and vision were clear to me the first time I met him. For Mel, it wasn’t about him or his achievements. He wanted to promote the work of others, and make it clear how neuroscience is important.”

“It’s an important lesson to realize that the grass-roots initiatives that ultimately led to the BMI take years to build. And also that the time and effort involved to bring that shared vision to fruition builds friendships and collaborations that are lasting,” said Menon. “The BMI today is a result of the evolution of a quarter century of modern cognitive neuroscience at Western and it's been an absolute delight to work with Mel along that whole journey”.

Aside from his tireless work on the BMI, Goodale has published over 375 papers so far, which have been cited over 20000 times. His many contributions have been recognized locally, nationally and internationally. He is a Distinguished University Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier I) at Western, he is a Fellow of the American Psychological Society, has won multiple awards for distinguished contributions and leadership from the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science (CSBBCS), and is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Society of Biology (UK) and the Royal Society (UK).

A search led by Western’s Vice President (Research) resulted in Ingrid Johnsrude being selected to succeed Goodale as BMI director. Johnsrude was recruited from Queen’s 5 years ago, and is a Western Research Chair, jointly appointed in the departments of Psychology and Communication Sciences and Disorders. Her aim is to work with colleagues to continue to improve the excellence and impact of neuroscience research at Western, and in London.

“What a marvelous thing (Goodale) has built by bringing people together who share a common phenotype, a highly collaborative, low-ego group of excellent scientists, really great people to work with,” said Johnsrude. “I don’t know whether Mel did this on purpose, or whether it just happened, but there is a very particular phenotype here and it has served the institute very well.”

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