Seven Minutes in Stroke - Liam Johnson

Seven minutes in stroke 

1. What inspired you towards neuroscience?

During my undergraduate studies in Exercise and Sports Science, I completed a motor control and development unit where I studied the link between movement and the central nervous system (CNS), and what happens when the CNS, and in particular the brain, is injured or diseased. This ignited a passion in me to try to understand as much as I could about this link between the brain and movement, and in particular, how exercise can be used to help people recover from, or deal with, neurological or neuromuscular conditions.

2. Why stroke? 

One in 6 Australians will experience a stroke in their lifetime, and many of them will be left with long-lasting disability and at an increased risk of suffering a recurrent stroke. So few patients get the rehabilitation they need, and what they do get does little to improve their fitness, muscle strength and endurance, or reduce vascular risk factors. There is an urgent need for evidence-based rehabilitation interventions that promote recovery and reduce the risk of recurrent stroke. Exercise and physical activity is recommended after stroke, but unfortunately, it remains unclear what should be prescribed and when. Given my expertise in exercise physiology, I have a significant opportunity to make important contributions to the knowledge about exercise prescription and establishing a pathway from acute care to long-term health and well-being after stroke. This is a critical need for stroke survivors and will potentially transform the current rehabilitation landscape.

3. What have been the highs so far?

Stroke survivors want answers to questions such as what exercise they should be doing, how much and how hard they should exercise, and when should they begin exercise training. The fact that I am leading research that will hopefully answer these questions gives me enormous satisfaction. I also very much enjoy engaging with the participants in my studies – their support of my research is very humbling.

I also feel incredibly privileged to be working in a Research Institute that is the foremost stroke research centre in Australia. I am surrounded by amazing researchers and scientists that are passionate about finding ways of helping people with neurological and mental health conditions – every day is inspiring.

4. What have been the lows?

Navigating the challenges of being in research is a persistent battle. It has never been tougher to win grants to support your research, particularly for early career researchers. Knowing that your livelihood is dependent on that next grant is something I find very stressful.

I also struggle to deal with rejections from scientific publishers and near-misses from grant funders. The feeling of failure and not being good enough is pervasive in this line of work and can at times be overwhelming.

5. How do you balance work life with the needs of home life?

With difficulty actually! Firstly, I should say that I have tremendous support from my wife to do what I do, but I think, like many, I find this to be one of the most challenging aspects of research. I think just being mindful of trying to maintain a balance is important – and then putting in place some strategies to keep work and home life separate works reasonably well for me. I try to maintain pretty rigid routines with what I dedicate my time to and when, and I exercise every day which I find is super important for my physical and mental health. Weekends are primarily time for me and my family, and I make sure I take at least one-week away from work a couple of times a year, not only for me to refresh and recharge, but also to dedicate time to my marriage and fur-babies.

6. Who are your most important mentors and how did you find them?

I have been very fortunate to be mentored by a number of people, though mainly in informal arrangements, whereby I have come to them, as leaders in research I am interested in, for guidance. It is really only in hindsight that I consider people like Professors Frank Mastaglia, Gary Thickbroom and Dylan Edwards to have been fantastic mentors. Since moving to The Florey Institute, I have been incredibly fortunate to be supervised by Professor Julie Bernhardt, who I consider to be a mentor as much as my supervisor. Julie has been tremendously influential of me – her care, guidance and support drives me every single day to give the very best of myself to my work. Via the Florey Institute’s formal mentoring program, I have also been lucky to be mentored by Dr Lachlan Thompson more recently, which I am finding to be very helpful also.

7. What are your most important collaborations and how have you built them?

Building on the hard work and leadership of people like Professor Bernhardt, I have been privileged to access an extensive network of collaborators, in particular within the Centre of Research Excellence in Stroke Rehabilitation and Brain Recovery. I also collaborate with a number of other groups, including a group based in New York, USA, focussing on telemedicine and virtual rehabilitation, and a group researching exercise training for people with Parkinson’s disease at Deakin University. I believe that having a strong reputation for excellence and integrity in your research, being willing to work with others and open to opportunities, and being generous in the collaboration are some of the more important ingredients for initiating and establishing healthy collaborations.
Seven Minutes in Stroke - Liam Johnson Reviewed by Carmen Lahiff-Jenkins on Monday, January 25, 2016 Rating: 5
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