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Celebrating People of IoN

Recognising and celebrating the colleagues, students, and alumni that lead by example of kindness and work ethic and help make IoN such an inspiring and welcoming place to work.  

diversity
We wanted to create a space to celebrate the inspirational people we have amongst our staff and students. We value talents of people across a broad range of fields and expertise, services and departments. All of their efforts contribute to a dynamic and diverse mix of skills, achievements and qualities showcased in IoN every day. Their achievements could be related to their career, their work supporting staff and/or students, or advancing equality, diversity and inclusion; every way they make the IoN a great place to work.

Click below to learn more about some of our inspirational role models, their roles in IoN, their career paths, what they learned in their journeys and who has inspired them.

Steffy Czieso

Stephanie Cziesco

What colleagues said about Stephanie: Doing an amazing job at managing all our safety during a global pandemic. 

 

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

I am the Lab Operations Manager at IoN. I am trying to sort out anything related to Health and Safety, building maintenance and lab operation. More recently I was also involved with lab sustainability and of cause COVID safety. 

What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

I was always interested in science but was never keen on a PhD so I have worked as a Research Assistant in various labs for about 10 years. Amongst others, this included The Crick and the UCL LMCB. About 3-4 years ago I realised that I was much better at organising and managing things than actual lab work and started a job as a Health, Safety and Lab Manager at Imperial College. The job was chaotic but I have received a lot of training and learnt so much that I felt confident enough to take over more responsibility and to accept a new challenge. Thankfully the position at IoN became available at the right time in 2019.

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?   

Yes I do. I remember that during my Research Assistant time not everyone agreed with this but it was always one of my principles because I think it is important to charge batteries not only in order to be efficient, productive and reliable but also for good mental health and to stay motivated for work. 

Who has inspired your career?   

I think a lot of co-workers and other Lab or Safety Managers. Surely the ones that had a similar career path, people I looked up to. But also the ones that got stuck in a position they didn’t like and kept moaning about but who never had the motivation to change something about their circumstances. I never wanted to be in this situation. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?  

I always tried to go through life with open eyes and an open mind so this is what I would definitely keep but I wish I had worried a lot less about difficult situations and what other people think of me. I am still in the process of learning and I wish I had that wisdom when I was younger.  

What is the best thing about working at IoN? 

A lot of things. Definitely all the staff and students I dealt with so far who have been incredibly friendly and approachable which is very helpful for a job that is mostly focused on problem-solving. I also find the freedom and the trust from colleagues and line managers that comes with it very reassuring. 

 

Helene Crutzen

Helene Crutzen

What colleagues said about Helene: Authentic leadership, encouraging an open and honest culture. 

 

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

As Institute Manager I work closely, in partnership, with the Institute Director and input into and ensure the delivery of our mission and strategic plan. We are a very large Institute, £85M annual turnover, over 700 staff and450 students, all organised over a complex and wide spread estate. I have delegated responsibility for all the operational aspects of the Institute, from budget and financial management, business continuity planning, HR, teaching delivery, administration support through to laboratory operations, H&S, and our Queen Square Library. I head the Professional Services teams of the Institute, both those embedded in our eight research departments and those within our central support teams. I am also closely involved with ad hoc special projects or the delivery of major capital programmes, such as the new Translational Research Centre IoN/DRI wet lab building on Gray’s Inn Road. 

As part of my role I also work closely with the Faculty, in particular our Director of Operations and our Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences. 

 What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

Having grown up in Italy and the Netherlands, I moved to London for my university education at 17, not knowing anyone in the UK or the city, as a non-native English speaker, and I always consider that to be the first significant stepping stone in my career path. I started off with scientific training BSc through to PhD. I did my PhD part-time, being the lab manager for the functional genomics lab at UCL, in the Cruciform Building. My PhD was very much bench based, involving lots of cell culture and also work with animal models, as I focused on the transcriptional regulation of a master regulator of fate for skeletal muscle development, during embryonic development. As a PhD student, I realised that after 5 years working in a lab, I enjoyed scientific research but not so much the bench work- input didn’t always equal output and that generated some frustration! 

Therefore, I decided to apply my scientific education and transferable skills to science administration.  

Straight after my PhD I got a job working for the Wellcome Trust as a Grants Advisor in the Molecules, Genes and Cells funding area, which I enjoyed a lot, and subsequently moved around the charity sector working for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) as Research Advisor to the Medical Directors. I wanted to further my career, building on my programme management skills, and acquire additional operational and business management skills. I successfully applied for a Divisional Manager role at King’s. When my current role at IoN was advertised, five years ago, I applied for it - this represented a promotion and a significant scaling up, and meant I had the opportunity to work within an organisation of international standing and competitiveness, encompassing research excellence and translational delivery.. I have retained a connection to the charity sector, by being a member of the finance board, on a voluntary basis, for a medium-sized biomedical charity. In all my roles to date, I have stayed within the biomedical research sector, and, it appears, never straying too far both geographically and thematically, from my starting point!  

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?   

This is a difficult question, ask me again on a good day! On the whole I think I am managing things in order to have a fairly good work/life balance. I have a really supportive husband who happens to also be an excellent cook, and great friends. My family lives overseas so this makes things more tricky to manage and means lots of travelling, which I enjoy. I am quite protective of my time and I think I am very focused, organised and efficient at work, which means I can turnaround fairly large volumes of work in a short space of time. I do not believe in “face time”- less is more - being focused and efficient is much more productive than procrastinating and consistently working long hours, on a regular basis. I am less organised at home though... I try to adhere to reasonable working hours, and try to avoid checking emails or working at weekends - of course there are exceptions, especially during busy times, it is inevitable; It comes in peaks and troughs, that’s what I always tell the team, I am flexible with my team, they manage their own time, all I ask is that they are flexible with me and my expectations in return. 

I have to attend many meetings during the working week, which really adds to my workload and the working hours. Prior to the pandemic I would do my best to keep one a day week meetings free, as much as possible, and work from home that day: it provided a lot of invaluable time to get things done on my never-ending to do list, and also time for self-reflection and processing of information and ideas. This process also helped me mentally separate work and home life. Unfortunately, this has dissipated with the pandemic, but I try to step away from the laptop come dinner time and not return until the next morning. I am also very lucky to have the space in my house to be able to shut the spare bedroom door, where I work, and try to forget work until the next day. Another positive side-effect of working remotely is that the time saved not commuting on the tube means I can exercise more than usual during the week and I highly recommend this - staying active helps with motivation and to cope with stress and anxiety, especially during these difficult times when we cannot be surrounded by our friends and family. I also really enjoy having my cat, Phoebe, sleep next to me “ at the office” during the day. 

Who has inspired your career?   

No one person or experience stands out in my mind. Rather I believe my schooling and work experience allowed me to explore the areas and types of work that I enjoyed and was good at. For me this has been professional administration and management within a scientific setting. Throughout I have felt it is important to try to push yourself and avail of opportunities as they arise - be it training courses or applying for new jobs - in order to continue to grow, take on and tackle new challenges, meet new people, and on a personal level feel that you are continuing to contribute to a shared important goal or mission.  

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Work less, play more! Be more confident, don’t be afraid to say no and take risks. 

What is the best thing about working at IoN? 

The people. This is an incredibly “people rich” institution – it is international and cosmopolitan,  bringing together so many different people from so many different backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, expertise, all working together in partnership towards a common goal, to better the health of patients, cure disease, and translate research advances into patient benefit.  I have made some great friends and colleagues at ION. In fact, I regret that I still have not had the opportunity to meet everyone at least once, face to face - we are too big! 

 

Tammaryn Lashley

Tammaryn

What colleagues said about Tammaryn: Genuinely a great person, open about her path to her current position which has not been easy.

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

I have recently been promoted to Professor of Neuroscience in the department of Neurodegenerative disease and have taken up the position as Director of Research at Queen Square Brain Bank for Neurological Disorders. I am also just finishing my Alzheimer’s Research UK senior fellowship investigating the role of astrocytes in Frontotemporal dementia. My main responsibilities are to support my amazing post-doctoral research team, all of whom have their own research projects that they are driving. We work as a team to drive projects forward, to discover things about the human brain that we previously didn’t know. As a team we also support many PhD and MSc students. I am also one of three departmental graduate tutors, who support each other to support the PhD students in the department.

What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

I have worked at the Institute of Neurology for over twenty years and did not even dream that I would be promoted to Professor, when I started as a research technician back in 1999. I started working as a research technician on a one-year contract under the supervision of Prof Tamas Revesz. I had previously gained laboratory experience at the National Institute of Medical Research, but never had the opportunity to undertake a PhD because my undergraduate grades weren’t the best. However, I was given the opportunity after 4 months at ION, to investigate the BRI2 gene related dementias. I undertook my PhD part-time whilst running the routine histology for Queen Square Brain Bank (QSBB) and having two children. Things were hectic, I had to be organised because I could only work 9-5pm as I had to get home for the children. We also juggled weekends with setting up my husband’s architectural business, my PhD and the children. Sleep is definitely overrated!

I passed my PhD, which was followed by two post-doctoral positions both still based at QSBB, plus another daughter! This is when I hit the crossed roads, apply for a fellowship to stay in science or potentially leave science. I had to give it ago to obtain my own funding, it was a struggle because I had to get out there and make collaborations, give talks and present myself and my ideas. This was not my comfort zone, it still isn’t but you have to learn to do things that don’t come naturally. It paid off and I was awarded both junior and senior fellowships from Alzheimer’s Research UK. During this time I was also successful in obtaining PhD studentships, project grants and equipment grants, to grow my team and investigate my ideas. Then in July I was promoted to Professor of Neuroscience. I never set out with a defined career path, I am happy in the lab and still set aside a few days a week to run experiments that I have trained to do.

Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Why?

Don’t let my children answer this question! I have a work/family balance. I wouldn’t say I have a work/life balance. I work or I am there for my husband, children and family. I just don’t have time for myself and I probably wouldn’t know what to do if I did have spare time. The children do many sporting activities, so I am often sat poolside with my laptop or manuscripts. I wouldn’t have it any other way, it works for me and my family.

Who has inspired your career?

I wouldn’t say that anybody has necessarily inspired my career, but I would say that Prof Tamas Revesz has given me the confidence to believe in myself. He has been my PhD supervisor and my mentor, and it is his continuing guidance that I am truly honoured to have. I have also been supported by so many other people at ION that the list would be too long to include here. Every interaction with collaborators, post-docs, students and technicians has shaped who I am today.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Believe in yourself… you are good enough and you can do it. Find those people that give you support and energy. You are never going to be able to work with everybody in life, so pick those that make your day enjoyable and your productivity will increase. Be kind to yourself, things don’t always work first time and there is always more than one way from the start to the finish.

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

Tricky one to answer because I would answer it differently 20 years ago to how I would answer it now. In 1999 I would say the chips in the café! In 2020 I would say my team, I have the best team that support each other. We all have different strengths and weaknesses but I couldn’t think of another group of people I would rather work with. 

 

David Blundred

David Blundred 2

What colleagues said about David: Works endlessly to ensure students get the best experience.  

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

I am employed as the Education Manager at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. The role of the Education Team is to support and lead on all educational activities within the Institute. This includes supporting all PGR (approx. 300 students), PGT (approx. 200 students) and final year Elective students (approx. 70 a year) along with some short course and CPD activities. It is a very busy department, and there is a team of 7 administrators and 7 teaching fellows, and we work closely with academics and clinicians across Queen Square. 

What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

I am an example of someone who made some early mistakes and did not have a career plan, but have still managed to embark on what I think is a pretty good career. I studied Social and Cultural studies with Religious Studies at Hull University, Scarborough Campus (an amazing experience) and after university lived in Toronto, Canada for a year, working as a photographer at some tourist sites. I did some travelling (mainly in Thailand) after that, went back to Toronto for 7 months. I moved to London in 2006 in search of more employment opportunities as there were not many in Scarborough and I have been at Queen Square since June 2008, so 12 years! I have always worked at QSIoN although I started as an administrative assistant (Grade 5) and have been promoted twice, becoming the Education Manager in September 2014. The Education Team is the first point of call for students at the Institute and that is one of the best parts of the job. 

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?   

Sometimes! There are peaks and troughs, and during the pandemic it has been very difficult for all of us to get the balance right. Ultimately I am very fortunate to have a supportive family and two young boys who are a lot of fun. I am also incredibly lucky to be part of a great team, and all members of the Education Team help each other when needed. By way of examples, in 2016 my wife had a very serious illness and the support I received was incredible, and helped to relieve the pressures of work during a very stressful period. In particular Matteo Fumagalli (now in the department of Anthropology) stepped up into my role (along with doing his own job) and did so much, and offered me a lot of personal support as well. In 2019, the Education Team lost two experienced and valued members and Alex Addo (Deputy Education Manager) agreed to end his secondment post early to support myself and the whole team.   

Who has inspired your career?   

There have been a lot of people! I have been very fortunate to have very supportive and loving parents, and that has helped to create a sense of security that if things don’t go to plan that I will still be ok. Prior to UCL I have worked at Morrisons supermarket on and off from 1998 until 2007 and was very fortunate to be managed by John Gilpin and Simon Edwards, both of whom in their different ways showed what needs to be done if you want to be an exceptional manager. John was someone who could motivate everyone and feel part of a group, and Simon led by example and supported the team from outside pressures. At Queen Square, I have been very lucky to have 3 brilliant managers who have given great support and guidance, Daniela Warr-Schori, Caroline Selai and Helene Crutzen. I try to follow the example set by all of these people and in my own way to support those I line manage and all my colleagues. 

I have also been fortunate to work with so many great colleagues and students at Queen Square. In the early years I made many long lasting friendships with students, but if I think who inspired me to seek to improve I would have to single out Dr Philip Glass Andrade who was truly exceptional. Through his constant organising of events and enthusiasm for both personal and academic matters he enriched the lives of all those who were fortunate to be around him during his year in London. From surprise birthday parties, to arranging a weekend away in Canterbury for Clinical Neurology students, to producing a year book and designing Queen Square football shirts, his contribution to everyone’s social life is without equal. He was also an exceptional student, and found time to contribute to the course, along with Dr Martin Grecco, Dr Tom Pollak and Dr Laura Moriyama by producing an instructional video, available to view on Youtube. We were also very fortunate to have Dr Zeid Yasiry and Dr Suraj Rajan (who among many other things produced the poster on the MSc Clinical Neurology Course in 2011/12 and a handbook for future clinical neurology students. Finally I have benefitted from the support, guidance and encouragement of many senior academics. There are too many to mention, and I am very grateful to all, but in particular Prof Simon Shorvon (along with Dr Caroline Selai) who was instrumental in supporting my transition to the role of Education Manager. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?   

Being stubborn, I doubt I would have listened! I have made many mistakes, but ultimately this has led me to where I am now, along with all the experiences I have had and the people I have met. I would tell myself to enjoy the moment and to have more confidence in my own abilities.  

What is the best thing about working at IoN? 

It is the people you meet and the sense of excitement that comes with working in a higher education setting, that you don’t feel in other office environments. Queen Square is truly international and if you take the time, there are so many things to experience and things to learn.   

Laura Convertino

Laura Convertino

What colleagues said about Laura: Inspiring dynamism and grassroot initiative.

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

I am a PhD student of EcoBrain DTP (funded by Leverhulme Trust), and I work with Neil Burgess (Space and Memory group) at ICN and Karl Friston (Theoretical Neurobiology Group) at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging. My research investigates false memory and the interaction between episodic and semantic memory, with both experimental and computational work. I am the PhD student Representative for the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee of the Wellcome Centre, and co-founder of the international platform Science for Democracy, which promotes the human right to science and collaborates with UNESCO and African Union.

What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

My background is in medicine and surgery, and I am a qualified MD. Before starting my PhD at UCL, I completed my medical degree in Pavia, Italy, as a member of Ghislieri College, while I was undertaking a parallel advanced diploma in Biomedical Science at the School of Advanced Studies IUSS. Medicine was challenging and fascinating, but I always missed the fulfilment of a deeper intellectual curiosity, which I found only in research. To be honest, research was also a more welcoming and positive environment , and I think the experience in Medical School made me more sensitive to the problematics that especially women can face in highly competitive environments. Thanks to the support of my College and to the ability not to listen to contrary advice from my professors, I used every summer and free time to get additional experience in research, first in molecular and cancer biology, then in electrophysiology and system neuroscience, moving across different countries (UK, US, France, Norway). I also extended my clinical training in Psychiatry and Neurology (I have always been divided between the two fields) in Paris ENS for one year and explored parallel passions with additional exams in cultural anthropology and bio-law. A fundamental experience that influenced my interest in psychiatry was also the field work I did for about one year with migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia, during the refugees crisis in 2016; after we took care of the limited physical conditions, the forgotten need for mental health care took over, and it was astonishing to realise the almost complete lack of support and knowledge related to it. At the end of my medical degree, the only clear idea was how much the words of psychiatry and neurology do not talk to each other, as well as they do not often consider the latest progress in the complementary research community. I found myself facing a crossroad that I was not able to overcome choosing one side or the other, and I would have not been able to find my path without the experience in research. Human Neuroscience helped me finding a balance between divergent and sometimes overwhelming forces that have caracterised my path before landing at UCL. 

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?   

I am quite satisfied by my work-life balance. Sometimes I am less satisfied than others, but I realise it is more for self-inflicted chronical unsatisfaction about my performance than caused by external requests. Personally, the difficulty I can see in finding a balance does not really lie on the amount of hours I spend working, but on the time I waste worrying about not working enough, and this is surely part of the help we would like to provide with our platform. Women are particularly prone to facing impostor syndrome, and this has a great impact on our work, as well as on our quality of life.
 

Who has inspired your career?

Difficult question really...so many people, indeed. I can say the first one was surely my grandfather. He was a nurse after the second world war. More than the choice of pursuing a degree in medicine, he inspired a deeper interest for people's stories, behaviours and thoughts, rather than for their diseases. 
 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Not to worry so much, for sure. More than anything, to enjoy the moment and make the most out of it, without caring too much about the best thing I should be doing to prove myself to others, and more about the best think I should be doing to express my true self. 
 

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

IoN for me is the opportunity to do full time and with support what I saw as an impossible goal, before arriving at UCL. The best thing I found is the collaboration, interaction and mutual help between experts coming from different fields, who bring their contribution and support each other to achieve scientific progress. Of course there are aspects that can be improved, but the very fact that we are asked to write these words proves that we are given the possibility for positive change. 

 

Imran Sayed

Imran Sayed

What colleagues said about Imran: He is so on top of/involved in everything in his working roles, while being the life and soul of the party, and sharing the fruits of his extracurricular labour (from his allotment). 

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

I initially joined the Institute in Oct 2017 as Department Administrator in Movement Neurosciences and with the changes to the Departments; I took over as the Departmental Administrator in Clinical and Movement Neurosciences in 2018, working across the different sites (Royal Free Campus, 33 Queen Square, Queen Square House and 1 Wakefield Street) 
My day-to-day work involves working closely with all staff and students in the Department – My main role is to ensure the Department runs smoothly, working with HoD and Senior Academics to resolve any challenges. No two days are the same; it keeps the role interesting with the various responsibilities across the Department. 

What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

I have been working in Research Management for over 20 years – after graduation, I joined Diabetes UK (formerly the British Diabetic Association), working in the Policy Team and was involved in a number of campaigns to get the message out to all hard to reach communities. I initially joined UCL in 2011 in the Engineering Department as Project Officer, managed a Research Council project and led the Doctoral-training programme (EngD). In 2016, I moved to QMUL as a Programme Manager in the Principals Office, but returned back to UCL in 2017 to take up my current post at ION. I was also a researcher and Project Manager at KCL – you could say I have been round the block. 

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?   

It is important keep the work/life balance, It has taken me awhile to find the balance but not sure I have completely achieved it, still working on it. 

Who has inspired your career?   

I have found inspiration in numerous people I have worked with in the last 20 years, but my first mentor Juliana who inspired me – she was passionate about working in Academia and encouraged me to think out of the box. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?  

Ask questions – loads of questions - do not be afraid even it is a stupid one! 

What is the best thing about working at IoN?  

Working in the Square you get to meet loads of different people –  Great people to work with! 

Tracy Skinner

Tracy Skinner

What colleagues said about Tracy: Doing an amazing job and a joy to work with.

Overview of current position and main responsibilities   

I am the Research Degree Administrator within the Education Team at UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. My main responsibility is to support all Postgraduate Research (PGR) students through from the submission of their application to the awarding of their degree. I work, together with other colleagues, to make the IoN an excellent study and social place for all PGR students. Alongside this, I am also an active member of the IoN Athena Swan SAT, the FBS Race Equality working group and have recently been recruited as a Dignity Advisor where I hope to provide support and a friendly face to staff and students who may be facing difficulties in their life. I rarely say no to a new project, I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone and tackling new challenges. 

What was your career path to this position and subject area?   

I am relatively new working in Higher Education, having previously worked as a Radiology Administrator in an NHS and private hospital. Prior to this, I was studying at University myself completing my Bachelor of Science degree. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at University, working closely with scientific researchers and students. Therefore, my current role seemed perfect for me, also given my experience in administration. Throughout my time at the IoN, my passion for equal rights and the encouragement of positivity in the workplace has developed massively. I am a strong believer that being kind, honest and hardworking can get you far in your career. This is what drove me to take on the additional roles mentioned above. 

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?   

I am fortunate to work under an excellent management team who is very supportive and trusting. This goes hand in hand with being a hard worker myself, I always try to think ahead and ensure that targets are met in a timely fashion. Therefore, I have confidence in myself that I am doing a good job and deserve relaxation in the evenings and weekends. Fortunately, my management team are very approachable so I can confide in them if I am struggling with workload or have an important commitment. I believe that a good work/life balance is dependent on mutual trust and understanding between team members which I am lucky to have at the IoN. 

Who has inspired your career?   

This is a difficult one – it is probably an amalgamation of a few things! My parents were very encouraging and had high expectations for me. They certainly inspired me to pursue science and to attend university since it is a door opener to many opportunities. Whilst I was at university, I thought that my lecturers and administrative support system were brilliant. This partnered with my parents’ influence could have inspired my career path and although I am always open to every opportunity, I can see myself working in Higher Education for a long time coming. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

To appreciate every experience and explore all avenues. I am learning new pieces of information every day, finding new interests and developing new passions. I would advise my younger self to be more open to every opportunity and use it as a learning experience. Knowledge is a very substantial skill to have so every prospect to learn should be appreciated whether it is through school or simply meeting a new person. 

What is the best thing about working at IoN?  

There are so many amazing aspects about working at the IoN, it is hard to choose one! My colleagues are brilliant to work with on a professional and social level. I am very lucky to work in a team who are so supportive and fun to work with. This also connects back to the work/life balance, which is exceptional at the IoN, especially within my team. I also love the location – Queen Square is so beautiful during all seasons of the year and makes going to work even more inviting! Another brilliant part of working at the IoN is the abundance of opportunities, whatever you are passionate about, there is an opportunity to get involved and really make a difference to the lives of students and staff members. 

Desmond Bates

Desmond Bates

What colleagues said about Desmond: Great at his job, with a can-do attitute.

Overview of current position and main responsabilities

My primary responsibility is managing the Wolfson-Eisai PhD Programme in Neurodegeneration. Key elements include student support, liaison with our industry partner and finance management. Some of my work overlaps with the IoN’s wider work to support its doctoral students and I collaborate on this area with my colleague Tracy Skinner.   

What was you career path to this position and subject area?

I developed an interest in medical education when I completed an MA in the History of Medicine. The early part of my career was spent at the Royal College of Physicians working on clinical examinations before moving into the university sector and working at King’s College London (KCL). At KCL I gained a strong interest in student support and developed this experience further when I worked at the Imperial College Student Counselling Service. My current post offers a great mix of student support plus exposure to research administration.

Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Why?

I think this will always be a difficult one! I would say that my work life balance is better in this role than I have experienced in the past. I feel like my manager offers flexibility with work arrangements. The main focus is obviously on getting the work done but it feels like there is an appreciation that there can be a few paths to that goal. 

Who has inspired your career?

I think the biggest inspirations have been managers that I have admired. Early in my career I was lucky to have a very insightful manager. She gave her team members lots of opportunities to grow and when I look back now I realise that some of the things I was doing in my early 20s were really amazing. She had a unique ability to be courageous about making things better for the students we served but also to be honest about vulnerabilities and how to work with them. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Have confidence in yourself and don't be afraid to speak up. Also don't wait too long as the future is closer than you think.

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

I think the palpable desire to progress, improve and learn amongst academics, students and professional services staff is great. The team is really supportive.

 

Josephine Barnes

Jo Barnes

What colleagues said about Jo: Selflessly giving her time to coordinate the IoN Mentoring Scheme and to drive positive change.

Overview of current position and main responsabilities

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurodegenerative Diseases working at 0.8 FTE. I am lucky to be both a PhD supervisor and a Research Departmental Graduate Tutor. This means I spend much of my time working with, or thinking about, postgraduate students. In addition to this I lead the scientists’ mentoring scheme at QSIoN which provides additional support to many people based at our institute.   

What was you career path to this position and subject area?

This is my second career. I had a mini career in science-based television production following my first degree. I’ve never considered this a mistake as it has given me a unique perspective on life and working outside academia. I joined the QSIoN as a research assistant performing image analysis in dementia and was lucky to be given the opportunity to perform a PhD part-time alongside my other duties. I was subsequently awarded a junior fellowship and then a senior fellowship with an extension.

Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Why?

Similar to many people I have periods where the workload extends beyond my contracted hours. However, overall, my schedule is fairly flexible which enables me to have a reasonable work / life balance. I became part-time following my return from my first maternity leave. Now my second child is at school I have one day a week to sort out the myriad things that were put on hold for nearly a decade

Who has inspired your career?

I think my colleagues and students are the most inspirational people in my life with respect to my career. I’m blown away with how capable and skilled they are. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Try to enjoy good things when they happen. Don’t just look at the next thing you need to do!

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

Without doubt it’s the collaborations that can be built within the institute. There are so many complimentary disciplines that enable people to address the same scientific question from many different angles.

  

 

Victorita Neacsu

Victorita Neacsu

What colleagues said about Viky: Inspiring in her work and initiative to set up the International Platform for Women Researchers.

Overview of current position and main responsabilities

I am a PhD student in the Theoretical Neurobiology Group at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, working on computational models of learning. My colleague and good friend Laura Convertino, and I, founded the International Platform for Women Researchers (IPWoR) in 2020  because we felt an internal motivation to increase the autonomy usually denied to women academics on basis of gender identification. Working on this platform, the aim is to provide accessible tools that assist women in their academic pursuits, from collaborations, to resources and mentoring. I am also a PhD Student Representative at the Institute of Neurology, working closely with the Student-Staff committee to improve the student experience for PhD students in ways that promote equity, diversity, and inclusivity, as well as helping to solve day-to-day practical aspects.   

What was you career path to this position and subject area?

A very twisted one, however I am unable to summarise it. Loosely speaking, before starting my undergraduate degree, my experience and interaction with the world was very much guided by (random or otherwise) external contingencies. The best way to visualise this is mainly by imagining a 'grubby little directionnless puppy', as one of my close friends would say ahah... 
It was during my last year as an undergraduate in Psychology that things started changing. The mentoring of Dr. Galli (my research project supervisor) was very meaningful to me - it was the first time when someone objectively assessed my skills and interests in a kind and thoughtful way, that was also relevant to my personal goals and desire to do research. After my final exams, she said to me 'Go to the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL to do a Master's in Cognitive Neuroscience'. I said 'Okay'. And I did.
At some point in time (or multiple points in time) I discovered that I ardently wanted to work towards understanding the workings of the brain. Simultaneously, I became curious about subjective human experience (my own as well), and all the different ways of existing in the world. The field I work in now (Active Inference), still quite niche, nevertheless integrates the philosophical, theoretical and neurobiological aspects of research that I felt would provide a bigger picture in researching the brain. Also I find it fun to build models. So I decided to get funding and do a PhD. And I did, get the funding, I am still working on the PhD part.
I also very much enjoy the process of research itself, the questioning, the probing, the discoveries. Agent-environment interaction, autonomy and the lack thereof (which form the basis of my desire to improve gender equity), fell out of this curiosity and wonder for free. I have to admit that initially I was very displeased to find out about the many obstacles inherent in doing research if one is a woman (which I am). Later on, this vexation started acting as a motivation to change and improve things, which is ongoing, along with my PhD.

Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Why?

Yes, it is a good enough balance for me. It reminds me of this joke where one academic asks "What is this 'work-life balance' and where can we get one for the lab?"... 
There were a couple of personal realisations I had before starting to think of work-life balance as important:
a) being productive is not an objective 'thing' - being productive is for one's personal experience as an agent in the world, rather than for the sake of productivity. 
b) I have a therapist who supports me in this endeavour
c) I have other interests besides doing research, and I enjoy engaging with them
d) I am a human being who is alive and feels alive by engaging meaningfully, work is only one of the ways to do that
e) I am realising my answer is very vague

Who has inspired your career?

I feel no answer would do justice here. I learn something new every day from my interactions with others, so I could say that everyone I interact with inspires my 'career' in one way or another. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I wouldn't really give advice. I would just listen and be curious about younger self and what she is up to. It would be pretty awesome to be able to do that.

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

There isn't one best thing, there are many great things. But if someone pressed me on it, I would say: the feeling of possibility (prospect). I am of course heavily biased by my experience as a PhD student. That feeling (of possibility) is nice - it communicates several things: 'Here are all these resources', 'There is place for change if it is required, let's figure something out together'. The IoN, through the efforts and work of everyone here, hits that nail on the head - the acceptance that 'things' are good-enough, which does not take away from wanting to improve them where possible or necessary. By the way - thank you for that IoN!

Selina Wray

 

SelinaWray

What colleagues said about Jo: Inspirational career journey and working endlessly to irradicate inequalities. 

Overview of current position and main responsabilities

I am Professor of Molecular Neuroscience in the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease.  I lead a group using stem cell models to improve our understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia.  My main responsibilities are running the lab – working with the students, technicians and post docs in the group to help with progress their projects, through to lab management and organisation.  Additionally, I contribute to the teaching of several MSc courses at the Institute and also work closely with one of our main funders, Alzheimer’s Research UK, to help with their fundraising and awareness raising activities.

What was you career path to this position and subject area?

I studied biochemistry as an undergraduate which is where I first became interested in Alzheimer’s Disease.  After graduation, I moved to the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London to do my PhD in Diane Hanger’s group.  In 2008 John Hardy moved back to the UK after 20+ years in the US to set up his group at the IoN – this coincided with the end of my PhD and I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to work with a world leader in Alzheimer’s research.  I moved here in 2009 as a poastdoc, and never really left!  I set up a new technique here which then went on to form the basis of my own research group.  I have been supported by two fellowships from Alzheimer’s Research UK, and was promoted to Professor in 2020.

Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Why?

Overall, yes.  I really appreciate the ability to work flexibly in academia, which means I can fit in my life around work.  Sometimes there will be busy periods with deadlines etc that require weekend or evening work, but equally if I need to start later/finish earlier on a particular day I can usually do that without problem.  I have my own hobbies and interests outside work and these are non-negotiable to me for my well-being, so I’m self disciplined and organise my time so I can always fit them in!  It hasn’t always been this way, for a long time I was primary carer for my dad and spent every weekend travelling back to Yorkshire to look after him, but even then I always managed to find time to take a break and do something I enjoy!

Who has inspired your career?

So many people – I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside amazing scientists at all levels who have inspired me with their dedication and drive to pushing science forward.  As well as other scientists I’ve met many research participants through the support groups at IoN and have always found those interactions really inspiring, that people will selflessly fundraise, lobby, and directly participate in research to enable our work is really humbling.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To try and stay focussed on the bigger picture – sometimes its hard to not let the small stuff get to you – grant rejections, paper rejections etc – but although they might seem huge in that moment, its good to be able to put it in context of the bigger picture where its impact is probably minimal.  Sometimes I still need other people to help me with this!  Which would be my second piece of advice, seek out and establish a good support network as early as possible, having people who will celebrate your achievement and commiserate when things don’t go to plan really helps!

What is the best thing about working at IoN?

The people – on a professional level, I really like working in an environment where clinical and pre-clinical research co exist: it seeds ideas that are truly focussed on translation and keeps the mission of the IoN – to help patients – at the forefront of everything we do.  And on a personal level, I’ve met some of my really close friends through working here!