We fly when we’re unafraid to fall

May 6, 2019 | Science

Hockey player. Brain researcher. Comeback kid.

Brandon Craig wasn’t sure what he was going to do with a science degree when he started at MacEwan University. What he did know was that his hockey days were over. Four concussions had ended his career — the fourth and final one was the result of a slapshot to the face — but had also sparked a new interest in the human brain.

As his high school friends kept playing hockey and he started his post-secondary studies alone, Brandon struggled. His grades were terrible, he headed straight home after class, and his social life and mental health began to suffer. By holiday break of his second year, Brandon was ready to quit.

“I told a guy from one of my classes that I was thinking of dropping out,” he says. “And he said something I’ll never forget: What would you do without the fear of failing?”


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That question, combined with his dad’s advice (“... find something you’re passionate about and do that”), resonated with Brandon.

Something clicked and his path became clear. He started hanging out with his new friend and other classmates, joined intramurals and began volunteering. His grades improved as he took courses that interested him, and he began doing research on non-invasive brain stimulation with a faculty supervisor.

His first project involved going to the University of Waterloo to work with patients who have survived strokes, funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Undergraduate Research grant.

“Interacting with and helping patients and trying to develop a new technology for my undergrad thesis really solidified my passion for research and working with vulnerable populations.”

Brandon finished his degree at MacEwan after studying neuroimaging using an MRI at the University of Western Ontario. One of the highlights of his time at MacEwan came when he was named recipient of the President’s Medal of Academic Excellence and Student Leadership. Receiving the medal capped off an incredible comeback.

“My parents witnessed my struggle in my first year,” he says. “They knew how much hockey meant to me, and I think it was difficult for them to see me give that up and then not do well when I started school. But they’ve been the people who supported me the most throughout my education. The medal may be in my name, but there are countless people that have helped me get here.”

These days, Brandon studies stroke rehabilitation at the Alberta Children’s Hospital as a neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Calgary, supported through a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Vanier Doctoral Scholarship. “My main research focus is on children who have had perinatal strokes, which occur right before or right after birth,” he explains. “It’s the highest cause of hemiparetic cerebral palsy, basically a lifelong debilitating weakness to one side of the body.”

During clinical trials, Brandon and his team use a combination of occupational therapy and non-invasive brain stimulation to improve mobility in the affected kids. And it’s through this work that Brandon, while open to the possibilities of future research, knows he wants to keep helping children.

“When a child is able to do something they never thought they could, that is one of the most rewarding parts of my work.”

[June 2019 update: Congratulations to Brandon Craig on being accepted into medical school at the University of Calgary to complete his MD and PhD in the Leaders in Medicine Program.]

Brandon Craig is a psychology honours alum of the Bachelor of Science program. Learn more at

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