SS: Why did you choose a scientific career?
LP: When I was little adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I got older, to everyone’s surprise my answer was “I want to be a marine biologist and study Orcas”. Honestly, I think the reason why I even knew what a marine biologist was, was because every Sunday before lunch I would be watching the wild life documentaries. So, in a way I always knew in the back of my mind that I would go for a more scientific career. The idea of that scientific career as changed along the years with my academic formation, scientific projects and internships. I would still like to one day swim with the wales, but I do believe that for my professional career, brain research is the best fit for me.
SS: How did you get your current position?
LP: At the moment I am PhD student, but honestly, I did not always wanted to be one. I always loved research and laboratory work: mix some solutions, create a new compound and see the physical evidence that something microscopic is happening; but when I finished my Master I had to face a big decision: do I commit for four years to do a PhD in a single field, knowing that in my country my chances of getting a job will be highly diminished? Or do I stay with my Master’s degree and find a research assistant position and see where that leads me? I went with option number two and found a position in an institute in the UK. After three months I realized that that job was not enough, I needed more independence, a bigger challenge, a say in which direction my research should go. From that moment on the decision was made and I started looking for open PhD positions in Neuroscience.
SS: What do you do in your everyday work life?
LP: That is a hard question, as my days are never the same. Maybe a better question would be what is the work of a PhD? You start with one big question and you read a lot of literature hoping it will give you an indication on how you should approach that question. Then you create an hypothesis or model of what you think the answer will be to your question based on the information you read, this will also help you idealize what experiments you can do to answer prove your hypothesis and ultimately answer your question. Finally, you start doing said experiments. As you are doing them and analyzing your results you will realize that some answers are not what you were expecting and they no longer fit the hypothesis you had in mind, this means that you need think of a new hypothesis that makes sense with the results you have. This cycle of creating an hypothesis, doing experiments, analyzing results and creating new hypothesis is the bases of all PhD work. It is never static and it can be quite frustrating, but when you get your hypothesis right it is a wonderful feeling.
SS: What is the most exciting aspect of your research?
LP: The most exciting aspect of my research is also the most frustrating one: we know very little about our brain. It is exciting because there is still a lot to find, there are still many pieces of the puzzle missing and I always loved solving puzzles. However, it is also frustrating, because when we are constructing our hypothesis we have to assume as correct, a lot of information that we are unsure off or that we only have partial or circumstantial evidence, this increase the chances that your starting hypothesis is wrong and make you go in circles with your experiments.
SS: What challenges do you encounter in science?
LP: I believe the biggest challenge is the poor sharing of information between groups. In a perfect world groups should be able to share their knowledge freely and without fear: knowledge about the details of the techniques they are using, knowledge about the failed experiments that they have already tried and knowledge on experiments that are happening right now. I do not know how to make it happen, but I do know that science can develop further and faster when we share our knowledge with our fellow scientists and the public.
The sharing of our scientific knowledge with the public is one of the reasons why I wanted to participate in Soapbox Science Munich. I believe this event is a great initiative and I love the concept. And even though the structure is a bit intimidating (no powerpoint, no slides, just myself), I am super excited to try it out.