What do you do?
I study how the human brain represents tasks and goals and how these representations guide decisions and behavior. I design experiments where people have to perform tasks or make decisions. I record their brain activity to unravel where and how the brain represents tasks and decision variables. My goal is to figure out how these representations affect people's decisions and behavior. For example, I study how choice outcomes are represented in the brain and how their representation affects subsequent choices.
Why did you choose this field?
I wanted to be a physicist but ended up studying psychology, because my high school teachers couldn't advise me well. Nonetheless, I approached the subject with a scientific attitude, trying to build my own theories and test them. When I had the chance to train as a neuroscientist, I went for it. It can be difficult at first, but learning difficult stuff is very satisfying and motivating, and I loved the field immediately. The brain is like a small universe, very complex, with a lot more to explore and guided by principles yet to be characterized precisely. I am honored to be part of this endeavor.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I am a scientist. Well, somehow I’ve always been, but now I really feel I am. When I was a student, people taught me to be practical and to pursue convenient paths. But when you start considering where you are and ask yourself where you want to go from there, you have to take into account your needs and wishes. You may end up at the same point in the end, but taking the straight route would spare you time and some frustration.
Why do you love working in STEM?
Working in STEM makes you think a lot. If you are a curious person, you will ponder on unsettled issues in whatever field you work. However, in STEM you have the opportunity to come up with testable ideas. And the results of these tests are always informative, whether they confirm your idea or help you adjust your hypothesis to get closer to the “truth”. I look forward to understanding aspects of decision making that may help people make better decisions. Humans are often biased and decide poorly. Being aware of our own biases is an initial step but, unfortunately, it is usually not enough to improve the process. I would like to discover ways to help people choose better thus improving the quality of their lives.
Best advice for next generation?
Think big and dare to tackle important issues. Science has no gender and girls and boys have equal potential to excel in it. You have the power to do anything you want, just put enough effort into it and don’t let people or temporary failures discourage you. Bumping into an obstacle on your way is common but you can overcome it.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
Rita Levi-Montalcini is a role model for me as both a neuroscientists and a human being. She used to say her achievements were due to her efforts not to her intelligence. I find her message beautiful because it encourages people to pursue their ambitions and gives them hope they can achieve their goal if they try hard. When I feel frustrated or lose motivation I read her words.