UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


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.