UCL News


Seven Questions with... Jose Leon-Rojas

4 September 2020

This week we meet UCL alumnus Jose Leon-Rojas, who is now working as an Associate Professor in Neuroanatomy in Ecuador. Here, Jose chats to us about his experience at UCL – including working as a research assistant in a Neurosurgery lab and discovering London's best pizza.

Jose Leon-Rojas

What are you studying, why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?

I studied an MSc in Advanced Neuroimaging at UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology. To say that the human brain interests me would be an understatement! Funnily enough, my worst subjects during my medical school years were neuroscience and neurophysiology. I guess that pushed me to learn more about it and the more I learnt, the more I felt in love with the nervous system and its anatomy, which is why doing an MSc on Brain Imaging at one of the world’s most renowned places for Neurology and Neurosurgery (Queen Square and the NHNN) was a very obvious choice!

The only rival to my passion for studying the brain is my love of teaching. I’m working as an Associate Professor in Neuroanatomy at La Universidad Internacional del Ecuador (UIDE)’s Medical School and enjoy every minute of it. For that reason, I decided to merge my two passions and create a free online course on Brain Anatomy in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), to celebrate the launch of my own Online Course Platform. I have done this both in English and Spanish and it's accessible to everyone.

With the aim to contribute to my country during this trying times of COVID-19, I recently joined forces with a group of graduate students, teachers and medical students from UIDE to create an open-access website with the objective of gathering all the medical information from papers published daily in PubMed and summarising the most relevant ones so that the physicians facing this pandemic can have a reliable and updated resource in their own language (Spanish).

What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?

The most interesting thing would definitely be working as a research assistant in a Neurosurgery lab at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN). During my time at the laboratory, I was able to work with a very interesting group of people from different backgrounds and countries, forming friendships that will last a lifetime. The director of the group chose us to plan an International Brain Tumour Conference receiving neurosurgeons from all over the world, so we had to plan the venue, the emails, the gala and everything. It was a really interesting and enriching experience for me as I was given the opportunity to relate to neurosurgeons on the top of their fields. In the future, I want to become a neurosurgeon so this opportunity was like pure gold for me.

Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?

It's not really that close to UCL's main campus but I have to mention L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Baker Street – literally the best pizza I have ever tasted in my life. My Italian friends approved of it too, in case you're still hesitant – definitely try it out.

Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:

  1. Cultural Activities: be sure to take advantage of London’s cultural environment. There are a lot of interesting – and free to enter – museums for every taste. Also, keep an eye out for UCL’s own student activities and events. I went clay shooting during my first few weeks as a student!
  2. Discover the city's coffee shops. One of my favourite things – coming from the Andean Region of Ecuador – is coffee, so naturally I loved walking around different parts of London and discovering tiny coffee shops hidden from the usual highly-concurred places.
  3. Queen Square Library: for those of you interested in neurology and medical history, QS library is a must. They often have tiny exhibits showing pieces of history of neurology and neurosurgery as well as books written by prominent historical figures on the field. 

If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?

I would promote the creation of a TED Academy based on UCL and bring the TEDxUCL talks back. During my studies at UCL, I found that many of my brilliant classmates had issues when it came to presenting. I think that a huge asset for any person on any field of study is to be able to get their message across in a clear and impactful way. And what better than the TED Talk form of presenting to do that?

Who inspires you and why?

Since I was very little, my father has been my source of inspiration. He has taught me not only with words but with actions. The person I am today is all thanks to him and the opportunities and life lessons that he has given me. 

What would it surprise people to know about you?

During my year of studying at London I went from weighting 105kg to 85kg. I think the issue was that I’m not very creative when it comes to cooking and eating out was expensive!