What do you do?
My work as a neuroscientist is different every day: on some days, I meet patients, who are older with clinical depression or an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. My goal is to observe their brain activity or look at the structure of their brains before and after they undergo treatment. That way I can see how effective a particular kind of treatment is. We can also determine which patients respond better to the treatment and which ones have more problems recovering from their condition. Our treatments involve antidepressant medication and mind-body interventions, such as Tai Chi and Yoga.
Why did you choose this field?
I had maybe one moment in my childhood when I thought I would like to be a scientist. That was probably because I was always curious about how things worked. However, I had absolutely no idea how to become a scientist or what the many, many options are in this field. My mother is a psychologist, so growing up, I was always interested in how the mind worked.
Out of my own interest, I read popular scientific books and magazines. I had a wide variety of interests and after I finished high school (Abitur in Germany), I first went into the movie-making business and did multiple internships in property departments. When thinking through that kind of path, however, I realized I wanted to challenge my mind and decided to study biological psychology. Even though I had no clear idea about what I could do with it, I always just followed my passion and ended up with a PhD in Experimental Psychology from Oxford University. My most important drive was my gut feeling and I never regretted any decisions I made for my career.
If something was difficult, I always had the motivation to figure out a solution and for me, working in collaborative teams has been the most helpful experience in this regard.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
None. I am so happy with every step of my career path and how everything turned out, I would not want anything to go differently.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love that my work is not just to complete 8 hours of the same thing every day. There is always a ton of work on my desk, a lot of pressure and it never stops. But it is also the most fulfilling experience to answer the questions that pop up in your head and that help explain how the human mind and brain works. Every day, I look forward to whatever is scheduled for the day; interacting with patients, meetings with my lab or collaborators to work on things together; teaching students and research assistants how to perform our work and to see them grow in the process; sitting at my desk reading and writing articles and analyzing data for many hours at a time; and interacting with the public, who often remind me how interesting the brain is and how much more our world can learn.
Best advice for next generation?
I absolutely love seeing young girls be inspired by science and I am impressed by the knowledge and the drive they have at such a young age. I feel like I was not like that when I was young and no one taught me anything about science. If I may be bold, I would say: google the scientific work at your local university, find out if there are programs you could engage in and if something seems fascinating to you, email a professor and ask if you could visit their lab or if someone could meet you to answer questions you may have about the field or the career path. Many universities have public outreach events, allow summer research experience students or have STEM ambassadors that can give you a lot of information about the science itself and how you can shape your career. The worst that can happen is that a professor will not have the time to respond or will not have time to meet you, but they can often refer you to someone else. If you are excited about this work, we are excited to have another generation follow in our footsteps!
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
My favorite teachers are dogs and horses. They are social animals living in a certain hierarchy, where there is no room for frustration, holding on to anger and excluding individuals. Every member is an equal part of the group and individuals work together to achieve a common goal. Science is just like a pack: you can only catch the prey if the work is spread everyone works together and in the end, everyone should get their fair share.