UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


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 responsibilities

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!