Relishing the First Glance Into a New Valley

In his life as a researcher, he investigates vision and eye movements. But outside the lab, he's getting into competitive, full-contact yardwork.


Jeffrey Schall is the Scientific Director of the York Visual Neurophysiology Centre at York University and a Professor in the Department of Biology. His research focuses on the neural and computational decision mechanisms that influence how the brain makes decisions and controls actions. We asked him everything from learning about Canadian history as an American to the fleeting reward of discovery in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

The moment of insight when you see something before anyone else, like the first glance over a peak into a new valley. And then, to find that others are interested in what you have seen and that they can use it for new applications and further explorations.

What advice would you give young researchers?

Get comfortable with uncertainty and be grateful for the historically and culturally unique opportunity you have. Also, enjoy the process because the products are not rewarding for very long.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I have always wondered about things, and I thought that I could escape the drudgery of dealing with money and people. It turns out that you cannot have a laboratory without money and people. Today, I’m also inspired by training new researchers and seeing them flourish.

What do you like to do for fun? 

After walking the dogs with my wife, I enjoy sitting down with the latest biography or history book. Because we are moving from the United States, I am enjoying learning about the history of Canada. I also enjoy competitive, full-contact yardwork. Getting in trouble with the grandchildren is a special and too rare treat.

What’s your favourite cuisine?

What’s for dinner tonight?

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?

Instead of being a researcher who investigates vision and eye movements, I think it would be fun to be a researcher who investigates learning and memory.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

Scientifically, I would love to meet Hermann von Helmholtz and learn how he was so inventive and productive. He made fundamental, pioneering, and still relevant observations about the eye and vision, the ear and hearing, and the time needed to react to stimuli. He also conceived of the law of the conservation of energy and contributed to electrodynamics and thermodynamics. He wrote on the philosophy of science and its important role in civilization. Culturally, I would love to meet Leonardo da Vinci. To see what his astute observation and clever mind would do with current technology would be a treat.

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Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.