Constance Destais, Cognitive Neuroscience MSc
Why did you choose to study your programme and what made you choose UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience?
Having done my undergraduate studies at UCL, I already knew that the neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology lectures where of very high quality. The professors not only presented the very latest theories and methods, but made real efforts to make this knowledge accessible and interesting to students. During my year, the course organizers' dedication was particularly crucial in mitigating the impact of the online course format.
The exceptionally large number of research laboratories hosted by the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN), all directed by internationally recognized researchers, was also a powerful incentive. It ensures that students will find a project in line with their interests, from mental health to speech to brain plasticity. Having this many laboratories around also fosters a stimulating environment, for example, every week there is a large choice of research seminars that students can choose to attend.
What do you enjoy most about your programme?
A masters degree can be challenging at the best of times but conducting it during many months of lockdown was particularly demanding. So finally meeting fellow students from the MSc/MRes in Cognitive Neuroscience in April came as a breath of fresh air. I found in them incredible friends and (future) researchers. Our lively scientific discussions about the course material broadened my interest and understanding, and our friendships brought unforgettable moments of support and laughter through the intense dissertation-writing months.
Academically speaking, my research project was the most stimulating part of the year. Not only did I learn many skills throughout my project, I also learned a lot from participating in my lab's (online) life. I was very lucky to be part of a supportive and enthusiastic team. Through their lively discussions, I engaged more critically with psychiatric concepts, cognitive science tasks, and statistical methods. I enjoyed their openness and honesty about the pleasures and difficulties of research.
What advice would give prospective students thinking of studying at UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience?
I recommend talking with a few of the lab members before joining a lab for your master's project, and checking whether they have an organized "lab life", such as regular lab meetings or seminars. Meeting researchers and immersing yourself in academic research culture can be a great part of this degree!
I would also recommend doing your best to interact with the other students from the degree, whether that's organizing online or in-person events. On top of social activities, organizing informal academic presentations of dissertation topics or assignments (e.g. Science Communication vlogs) can be a great way to engage in scientific discussions with other students.
What are your plans for the future once you have completed your degree?
After the degree, I started a research assistant position at the ENS's Social Cognition lab in Paris (where I am from). I am very happy with this choice because starting a PhD immediately after an intense year felt overwhelming and I wanted to learn more skills and discover a different research environment before choosing where to apply to PhDs. And indeed, I have discovered yet another welcoming, stimulating research team and have been able to fully immerse myself in my research. Meanwhile, I have also applied to PhD programs in mental health and/or computational approaches to cognitive sciences, and am currently waiting to hear back
Taking the time before your PhD to determine what you want to study and where is valuable, and RA experiences are a great way to try out a new research environment, learn different skills, and meet new researchers.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your time at UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience?
For anyone starting a master's here, although you may have heard this before, imposter's syndrome is something every single one of my friends (and I) experienced many times throughout the year, whether it was related to course work, participation in the lab, a comparison with other students, etc. In fact, this feeling seems to be shared by many researchers regardless of their status.
You are here to learn so it's normal to feel out of your depths sometimes. For example, in seminars, researchers are presenting their work for fellow specialists in their field so it's normal if you don't understand all of it.
Finding other students to share these thoughts and experiences with helps, because you will quickly notice that they have regularly experience similar feelings.