Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, ArtLab Foyer
Growing up in Academia with Tatjana Tchumatchenko
What is it to be a scientist? How does one become a scientist? Growing Up in Academia is a conversation series with academics at different levels of their career focusing on the sometimes short, sometimes long and winding roads behind the “official CV”.
At each event, we will have an open conversation (interview) with one faculty member representing science in its broad spectrum. We will cover topics such as dealing with expectations (your own and others’), the role of luck/coincidence in scientific discovery, impostor syndrome, procrastination, and conflicts with advisors. Join us for a conversation about the human factors that are universal undercurrents of working in academia but that too often remain unspoken.
On wednesday, October 30th, 2019, Growing Up in Academia features Dr. Tatjana Tchumatchenko, Group leader Theory of Neural Dynamics, MPI fpr Brain Research
There is no registration required. We will be pleased to welcoming you at this event.
Tatjana's Official CV
Dr. Tatjana Tchumatchenko is the head of the Theory of Neural Dynamics group at the MPI for Brain Research in Frankfurt, where she is also a faculty member for the IMPRS Graduate School for Neural Circuits. She is a physicist by training but went on to pursue a PhD in Computational Neuroscience in Göttingen University, where she graduated with a ‘Summa Cum Laude’ in 2011. She was a joint postdoctoral fellow at Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, the Bernstein Center Göttingen, and the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research Center (SFB 889) in 2011. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, Columbia University in New York City from before becoming a Group Leader at the MPI for Brain Research in 2013. She has received a number of grants and awards of excellence such as Behrens-Weise-Foundation Award, CRC1080 Network Grant, Heinz Maier-Leibnitz-Prize of the German Research Foundation and Dollwet Foundation Award. She is currently a PI in the Loewe Schwerpunkt Program and holds a three-year grant for DFG Computational Connectomics priority program. In 2017 and 2018 she was elected Steering Committee member for the Bernstein Computational Neuroscience Network 2018-2020 and was chosen as one of the 25 young innovators of Germany by Focus magazine in 2018.
Tatjana's Unofficial CV
I was born in 1980 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. My father was an aeronautical engineer and my mother a biologist, though their marriage was only short lived. My kindergarten and school were intense.
We had uniforms, daily drills and I took part in all sorts of competitions in gymnastics, reading, art etc. I guess I would still be doing some form of competitive gymnastics if only my mother didn’t decide to move to a different city, which put an end to these aspirations. The next turn of events brought down the iron curtain and sensing opportunity my mother decided to move with me to Germany, where she remarried and we settled down in the 1990’s. I was 12 at the time. In Germany, I was enrolled in a neighborhood school. However, life as a foreign kid was tough. I was first in a Sonderschule class for foreigners only. Then I worked my way up toward Realschule, but there the teachers didn’t let me take the classes that would lead to the A-level (Abitur), so I had to attend evening classes in a Volkshochschule 30km away instead. After a couple of miserable years at this school (an institution that shall remain nameless), I wanted to transfer somewhere else, anywhere else in fact, to finish the Abitur and be able to study further. However, no school would take me. After two school principals said “no”, I decided to change my strategy. I got my paper work in a nice binder and showed up unannounced in the principal’s office of the last school on my list and explained my situation. I told him I desperately wanted to attend his school, had good grades and had instruction in all required subjects, and asked him can he please take me? He said “yes”, and I got to enjoy a number of wonderful and competent teachers that put me on the path where I am today. This whole experience taught me a lesson: just working hard is not enough, it is important to find mentors who support you and to ignore the rest. After finishing the Abitur, I studied physics. What fascinated me about physics is the fact that the laws of physics don’t change based on politics, language or some individual’s opinions. Plus, studying physics instead of biology was also a bit of a rebellion for me. My father was an engineer and my mother wasn’t particularly fond of my career choice: “What do you want to do with those soulless equations? Don’t you want to do something useful like biology or medicine instead?”. But I got my way and graduated with a physics degree. And yet, after achieving that and having learned enough about nuclear and quantum physics, I realized that these topics were not really for me. In fact, the many years my mother spent trying to get me interested in the microscopy of blood cells and tree leaves probably left their mark. Therefore, after finishing my physics studies I wanted to move closer to biology and settled on neuroscience. Consequently, I did a PhD in Computational Neuroscience in Göttingen with Fred Wolf, from whom I learned to work independently and to choose topics that are doable and interesting. Then, after a short postdoc in the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University with Larry Abbott and Ken Miller, I got the privilege to start my own group at the MPI for Brain Research, where I now work on models of neural circuit function.