Nicola, Neuroscientist



I am a Neuroscientist and I’ve basically done anything to do with Neuroscience since I was 18. I am currently working on dementia, which is something that I’ve always tried to focus on after university. So right now, I’m doing a lot of cell culture, so we take fibroblasts from Alzheimer’s disease patients and healthy patients and then we reprogramme them to become neurons. I’m looking at those and seeing how they differ and what happens if I put certain proteins on them. So that’s what I’m doing now. During my PhD, I was at a conference in Geneva and this guy from Northwestern University in Chicago was talking about looking at synapses in the brain, and he was doing techniques that I really loved and that I was doing at the time for my PhD, so after the conference I emailed him and he was just starting up his new lab and he just offered me a job - so yeah I moved to Chicago. It was a bit scary because I had never been to Chicago before so it was completely new, but because it was a fairly new lab everybody was kind of new so it was just like joining a new group of friends and we did everything together. It was actually really nice and I’ve ended up with some amazing friends so it was a scary leap to do, but it was definitely worth doing and like, my mum said on the day I left “if you don’t like it you just come home”, it sounds a bigger deal than it is, you don’t have to make it such a big deal - you can just try it. And it was the best thing that I have ever done, Chicago is amazing, I loved it.


Ultimately I want to be an academic research professor. I’ve always wanted to do research just because I love that every day I do and learn something different or I see something that nobody else has seen before and I think that is really, really cool. I’ve had such a positive experience and I don’t think it should be as gender weighted as it is because, like I’ve loved science since I was in high school and I don’t know why you can’t just try. It doesn’t matter whether you’re female, male, whatever - you should be able to do what you want to do and I’ve had such a great time. We’ve got a lot of things in place now to make it more accessible for women. There’s 3 girls in our lab that are on maternity leave - they’re going to come back and they’re going to carry on with their research and carry on with their career. For me, I decided that academic research was the way forward because it’s a lot more flexible and you can have your own ideas. And because I come to work every day and love my job. I think that’s really important - if you don’t have that passion for a particular subject then it doesn’t matter how clever you are, it’s not going to work for you.


I love travelling, and I think that actually not many people realise that that links into my work too, so I get to go to all sorts of conferences everywhere, and because science is so international it was easy for me to move to Switzerland for my undergraduate placement year and Chicago after my PhD, but yeah so I do love travelling. What else? I like to read a lot, and I like to do a lot of shopping. People are always really surprised which, sometimes, is a bit rude when I say that I’m a Neuroscientist because they’re expecting this person with the typical geeky look and they are just really surprised, like a lot of people think they can’t do it because they’re not brainy enough and I’m like it’s not that, it’s – so my sister is a hotel reservations manager, and I wouldn’t be able to do her job, she is really good at what she does - I can do what I do and she can do what she does, and it’s because we like those things. It’s got nothing to do with how intelligent you are. It’s also about being inquisitive I guess, I’ve always wanted to learn something new, I mean I’ve always said that even if I had millions of pounds I’d still work and do research because you’re always learning. I think that’s something you have to be in research, you have to always keep learning and keep asking questions.


In our lab there are a lot of women, but then when it gets to that higher step it’s mainly men and I think the younger generations need to move forward in science. It’s crazy that teens are making such big decisions for themselves, and I think it can be hard when they can’t see what people do, like showing that it’s easy – well it’s not easy but just being shown that you can do it, that it doesn’t matter whether you are male or female. I want to show that it’s not a boys club. Women are strong and smart and they can do a lot of stuff and you’ve just got to remember that it doesn’t matter as long as you love what you do. If you love science, then just go for it because you are just as strong as everyone else and just as smart and there shouldn’t be, I don’t know, it’s just - if you have confidence in yourself and enjoy what you do then the other things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter what other people say. I’ve always gone for the thing I love, I am happy with my life and the gender bias type things have never played an issue in that. I’ve never thought ‘I can’t do that because I’m a girl’. I want to do it because I like it, and because I never thought that I can’t.

Read Nicola's experience of travelling and attending conferences by reading her blog post. Find out more about Nicola by following her on Twitter and Instagram, and see more of the work Nicola has contributed to by following her lab on twitter, and reading published journals on PLOS ONE (free to read) and Elsevier (subscription/purchase needed).