Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning

Brain Fact Friday on “How to Be a Neuroscience Researcher in 4 Simple Steps”

April 16, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #124. If you’ve been listening to this podcast, called Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning, I’m sure you’ve made the connection with the importance of improving our social and emotional skills, in our schools and otherwise called emotional intelligence skills in the workplace with an understanding of how our brain works.

This week we interviewed Professor Chuck Hillman, from Northeastern University, and he mentioned that an important concept he would like to see in the future, would be more people like Paul Zientarski, who built his career with the application of Professor Hillman’s brain research.

Today’s Brain Fact Friday will teach you how to do this. If you’re interested in how you could be this person in your school or workplace, who could spearhead the implementation of these new evidence-based ideas, I’ll show you how simple it can be so that you can be confident that what you are sharing with your schools or teams is accurate, and not pseudoscience. 

In 2014, when an educator urged me to add the most current neuroscience research to my programs, I had to quickly learn about the brain and be sure what I was learning was accurate. I didn’t go to school for a degree in Neuroscience which is one route I highly suggest especially through Butler University’s Applied Educational Neuroscience Graduate Program Certificate with Dr. Lori Desautels[i]. I went another route, and found the leading neuroscience researcher, Mark Waldman[ii]  to teach me all he knew and later joined his Neuroscience Certification Program[iii] so I could share the most accurate research with others and stay up to date, since this information is always advancing and changing.

This is exactly what Paul Zientarski had to do when he began to learn how the brain works from Professor Hillman’s research. Once you have an understanding of how the brain works, and know where to look to attach the most current research studies for your hypothesis, or something you are interested in sharing with others, it’s really not that difficult. We can all be neuroscience researchers, but the key is to find accurate studies that come from a website called[iv] not just Google, YouTube or random articles you might find on the internet.

This is how I added brain-research to my second book, Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement[v] and began speaking on the topic of “Stress, Learning and the Brain” in 2016. My first brain-based presentation for YRDSB Quest Conference[vi] in 2016 filled up and had standing room only. Principles, Superintendents, teachers and students filled the room, with the hopes of learning something new. It was the research that was throughout this presentation that helped me to have the confidence to share this knowledge, and not feel intimidated with the fact that I am not a Cognitive Neuroscientist, but someone who is passionate about the subject, that I would gladly trade my weekends to study and learn more, so I can share it with others. There was one slide that gave credibility to the topic, with the advice of Mark Waldman, who had been presenting on the topic many years before me.  It’s funny because he mentioned that studies show if you put an image of the brain in your presentation, it adds instant credibility to what you are saying.

I’ll put the slide in the show notes, so you can see how easy it can be to attach a Pubmed Study and picture of a brain, to your next presentation if you want to add neuroscience to your next presentation. You can see my slide where I am talking about what stress does to our brain, as well as our students’ brains.

If you are listening to this podcast on iTunes, you can access the images in the show notes here. 


How Can You Become a Neuroscience Researcher?

Here’s 4 simple steps that I know you could implement.

STEP 1: First you want to think of your hypothesis, or something you are interested in, that you will back up with the most current research. Let’s use my presentation slide as an example and say that want to do a presentation on “How Stress Impacts the Brain and Learning.”

STEP 2: Go to[vii] and it’s important what you type into the search bar.

Typing in chronic stress and the brain brings up over 16,000 results and is too many for you to read through.


If you put (fMRI) in brackets, next to what you are searching, it will bring up studies that use brain scans, and this narrowed our search down a bit more to 628 studies.


STEP 3: Read through the studies whose titles interest you.  If you’ve ever looked at an abstract or research study from Pubmed, you might think like I did when I first went there “how can I take this and implement it properly? I’m not even sure what the study is saying.”

Don’t worry, the parts of the study that are important are the title, that tells you the topic and hypothesis, or what the researchers want to prove. Then there’s a middle part that give you some details about the study that you can scan, and don’t worry about all of the language. I’m sure many researchers aren’t sure what it all means either. If you’ve ever conducted a study, you’re usually an expert on your subject area, and not an expert at finding the statistical mean for your study, but someone who is an expert will inform this part of the study, that helps them to find an accurate conclusion, that you will want to read. 

STEP 4: Pick a study that makes sense for what you are trying to prove.  The study that I used in my slide was “Chronic stress disrupts neural coherence between cortico-limbic structures” and you will see that I sited all of the authors of the study, exactly as they appeared along with the date of publication of the study.


It really is that simple. You can become a Neuroscience Researcher and add the most current research to your own presentations using these 4 steps.

You can also find interesting brain facts that would go along with this study, to make what you are sharing more interesting, because another brain discovery is that “people don’t pay attention to boring things, or people” and you don’t want to be boring. You’ll want to take the science, and add it to your presentation, without the scientific jargon that loses people’s attention. You can add engaging brain facts throughout your presentation on your topic to bring the attention back, and give a sort of brain break.



We know that stress impacts the brain and learning, but did you know that:

“Your brain is 73% water. It takes only 2% dehydration to affect your attention, memory and other cognitive skills.”[viii] The authors of this brain fact were so brilliant that they tied it to a study on on “Cognitive Performance and Hydration.”[ix] You could easily add this brain fact to a slide, encourage your audience to take a drink of water, and remind them that our brain needs water to hold our attention, memory and other important cognitive skills.

How easy is that? I hope you find this Brain Fact Friday episode useful. If you do use these tips to implement some new ideas into your work, I would love to know. Please do reach out to me[x] and share how you’ve been inspired to add the most current neuroscience research to your school or workplace.

See you next week.


Tools and Ideas for Physical Educators with the Brain in Mind by Doug Smith @Smitty30sports on Twitter






[v] Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement by Andrea Samadi (September 2015)



[viii] 72 Amazing Brain Facts by Deanne Alban

[ix] Cognitive Performance and Hydration


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