Favourite Thing: Programming new computer tasks
This is a bit complicated – ask me about it if you’re curious! 1995-1998 Lycée Militaire d’Aix-en-Provence, France (high school) 1998-2000 Lycée du Parc, Lyon, France (equivalent to first two years of uni) 2000-2004 Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, Paris, France 2000-2001 Université Paris XI, France (third year of uni) 2001-2002 Imperial College, London, UK (fourth year of uni) 2002-2003 Université Paris VI, France (masters) 2003-2006 Université Paris VI, France, and University College London, UK (PhD)
Licence in Biology and Biotechnologies Maitrise in Biology and Biotechnologies MSc (“DEA”) in Cognitive Sciences PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education
2006-2007 Medical Research Council – Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK 2007-2010 Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, UK 2010-2011 Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden 2012-now Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience
Birkbeck, University of London
I am a French Londoner interested in how the brain works.
I live with my Australian boyfriend in London. We have a cat and we are expecting a baby for just before Christmas. I am lucky enough to walk to work, I like living in central London but try to make sure I walk through some small parks to see a bit of nature every day (it’s supposed to be good for your mood!). I read a lot, novels, short-stories, sci-fi, detective stories, pretty much everything except history books or biographies. Same with watching films, I like watching movies a lot, except horror films – I get too jumpy.
I study the brain and behaviour of adults and adolescents
My official title is Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience – one day I’ll apply for promotion to become a Professor. I am employed by Birkbeck, University of London, and my job is quite varied, which I enjoy a lot.
I have administrative tasks, which maybe are the least fun tasks. For example I am in charge of a postgraduate masters course in Educational Neuroscience, and I have to decide whether I make an offer on the course to students who apply. I then have to meet them at the start of the year, and help them if they have problems during the year. I have to attend quite a lot of meetings about recruitment, timetables, etc.
I also teach, mostly on postgraduate courses, but also sometimes to undergraduate students in our department. Mostly I teach about brain development, about methods we use to study the brain, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and about adolescence. As part of my role I also supervise students doing undergraduate or postgraduate research projects.
The third part of my work is research. I used to mainly do my own research, now more and more I am supervising students and collaborating with other people on research projects. For example I am involved in the SCAMP (www.scampstudy.org) and UnLoCKe (www.unlocke.org) projects. I am the main supervisor for three PhD students, who have three years to learn how to do research and become a “Dr”, and I also have five other PhD students I co-supervise. Sadly, as you can see here (https://sites.google.com/site/idcnlab/lab-members) they are all girls!
My research involves going into schools to test children and adolescents on computer tasks and questionnaires, we also test adults in our labs at Birkbeck. When I want to look into children, adolescents and adults’ brains they have to come to our neuroimaging centre (http://bucni.psychol.ucl.ac.uk/) so we can scan them using our MRI machine. We work a lot with computers, to program our computer tasks, then test participants on them, analyse the data, write papers – it’s pretty much all done on computers, but this means we can work from everywhere (except when we are scanning!).
My Typical Day
On a typical day I meet with one or two students, do some data analysis, read research papers, attend a research seminar or give a lecture.
I don’t start very early 9.30am on a good day, but often finish late 7pm, 8pm, this will probably change once I have a baby! On most days I have meetings, with my PhD students, or with colleagues on projects, I also attend research seminars, at Birkbeck, UCL, or other universities nearby, which is a good way to keep track of what other researchers are working on and what they are finding.
At Birkbeck we often teach in the evening, once a week on average during term time I give a lecture to postgraduate or undergraduate students.
Every two weeks we have a lab meeting with my students where one of them will present something they are working on, and usually we eat cake and chat about how things are going on.
What I'd do with the money
I would spend it on preparing a version of the Meta play that we could provide to schools for free.
I have been working on a project led by Cardboard Citizens (https://cardboardcitizens.org.uk/), which is called Meta. This was an arts and science collaboration, and the aim was to write a play (with playwright Sarah Woods) about teenagers, their brain, and the fact that they sometimes find it difficult to regulate their emotions and it puts them into trouble. You can ask me more questions about the play during the I’m a scientist event, but basically the aim was to help teenagers reflect on their thoughts (a process called metacognition) and the thoughts of others, to learn about their brain and to try to think of strategies they could use to sometimes help them with their emotions. We toured the play in schools in London, and also performed it in front of adult audiences. We ran a small research project on it to try to see whether watching the play had any impact on the teenagers, and this showed some promising positive results.
Now this project is pretty much all completed, but I would like Meta to have a longer life, and my dream would be to make the play, the type of theatre used (it’s called “forum theatre” where there is discussion of the play at the end), information about the brain etc. accessible to schools, so that their drama and science teachers can work together to put up the play themselves, in their schools, and engage teenagers in thinking about their brains, their thoughts and their emotions.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
curious active calm
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
kayaking in the Stockholm archipelago
What did you want to be after you left school?
translator of film subtitles – or biologist!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
once – I was in a boarding school and we went out at night and got caught
What was your favourite subject at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
inspiring others to become scientists
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
my dad – who was a sort of inventor in his free time, and the New Scientist magazine
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
a programmer maybe – or a translator
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
(1) procrastinate less, (2) have more time for research, (3) live by the sea!
Tell us a joke.
My office first – I have a nice sofa where I sometimes seat to read papers or mark dissertations.
And a professional photo of me by my bookshelves (by Ed Marshall, who is putting together a book about scientists).
Then there is the MRI scanner, one of my student, Lucia, and I installing a participant…
and the computers that control the scanner, with an example of a brain image (photo by Ed Marshall again).