Queen’s micro-credentialing programme fosters neurotech industry

Professor believes there’s ‘endless potential’ for students

The initiative aims to make neurotech more accessible.
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Neurotechnology innovations have already begun to wedge themselves from a dystopian medical treatment into everyday life, and now Queen’s is entering the playing field. 

Dr. Susan Boehnke, assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine, has received a $1 million community impact award, in addition to a previously achieved Micro-Credential Challenge Fund from the Government of Ontario to expand the neurotechnology micro-credential program across Ontario.

“Micro-credentials are a short course of education that help learners transition to a new field,” Boehnke said in an interview with The Journal.

With industrial partners, this program combines skill sets from multiple disciplines, including neuroscience, biomedical engineering, entrepreneurship, and ethics.

Boehnke said companies hire engineers for their hard skills, yet they lack the soft skills to integrate new technologies for widespread use, creating gaps in the industry.

A series of online modules—like those utilized by the Bachelor of Health Sciences program—will be made available to students in the coming months. These modules will have industry-specific applications incorporating a competency-based approach to prepare learners for the workforce.

Boehnke said the Capstone project neurotechnology students would complete towards the end of their course is the most exciting part of the degree, with students having access to the technological marvels offered by the Centre for Neuroscience Studies.

“[It’s] a great way for students to not only learn the hard skills of getting the project done, but the soft skills of project management, working in a team, pitching ideas—those presentation skills—we are going to work on all of those,” Boehnke said.

Having been in the field of neuroscience for more than 20 years, neurotechnology has emerged as a teaching interest for Boehnke. She envisions neurotech evolving into treatments for neurological disorders and opportunities for it to be used in marketing and law. She also foresees it posing ethical concerns, such as what biometrics would mean for spirituality.  

Meta and Elon Musk’s, Comm ’94, Neuralink have been piloting technologies, allowing brain-computer interface. Users could soon scroll down their Instagram feeds using eye movement.

Boehnke wonders what the impact of this technology will be, and what the feasibility behind implementation will look like.

“Socioeconomic status is a concern on who will be able to access the technology,” Boehnke said. “In terms of the access to the education, there are not that many neurotech programs out there yet.”

Where possible, OSAP funding would apply to the micro-credential courses, allowing anyone to learn—especially those looking for a second career.

“Toronto is the third largest growing technology hub in North America,” Boehnke said.

She added that Kingston’s geographic location makes it an advantageous setting point for this micro-credential program.

“Ontario offers a huge strength in neuroscience research—with a powerhouse of neuroscience research strength combined with the tech strength,” Boehnke said.

Boehnke envisions Queen’s becoming a neurotech hub, with the micro-credential program contributing to the local workforce and supporting neurotech facilities in Montreal, along with the industry in Toronto.

Boehnke praised Gen Z for their willingness to take risks and their “digitally native” nature. She believes there is endless potential.

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