Growing up in Academia with Emily Cross
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”.
Each event features an open conversation (interview) with a different faculty member, representing the broad spectrum of academic life. 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 universally inform the profession, but that too often remain unspoken. These events will be hosted and presented by Lucia Melloni (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics).
On Monday, May 23, 6 p.m. CET, Growing Up in Academia features Emily Cross, Professor of Social Robotics, Centre for Social, Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow.
The event will take place as a live talk in the ArtLab foyer of our institute and will be broadcasted in real-time on Zoom.
- You have the possibility to register for participation on site by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can register for the event online by using this link.
Professor Emily S. Cross is a cognitive and social neuroscientist who directs the Social Brain in Action research laboratory, based jointly at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University in Australia. The defining characteristic of the work conducted by Cross and her research team is a focus on how different kinds of embodied experience shape how we learn from and perceive others in a complex social world, and across a variety of experience domains. Throughout her career, Cross has combined intensive learning paradigms with pre-/post-training brain imaging measures, to build a richer understanding of experience-dependent plasticity at brain and behavioural levels. She is especially well-regarded for (1) identifying the neural signatures of embodied expertise using expert dancers and training paradigms; (2) combining neuroscience and performing arts to propose a new theory of embodied neuroaesthetics; (3) uncovering new insights into neurocognitive foundations of visual learning across the lifespan, and; (4) developing innovative neurocognitive paradigms to explore the mechanisms and consequences of people’s social engagement with robots.
Prof. Cross received a BA in psychology and dance from Pomona College (USA), an MSc in cognitive psychology from the University of Otago (NZ) as a Fulbright Fellow, and a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from Dartmouth College (USA). She completed postdoctoral training at the University of Nottingham (UK) and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Germany), and was previously an assistant professor at Radboud University Nijmegen (NL) and a professor at Bangor University (Wales). Her research has been funded by an eclectic mix of national and international organisations, including the National Institutes of Health (USA), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NL), the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (DE), the Economic and Social Research Council (UK), the Ministry of Defence (UK), the Leverhulme Trust (UK) and the European Research Council.
Cross’s research and public engagement work across experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, empirical aesthetics and social robotics has been recognized by a number of honours and prizes, including the Jacob Brownowski Award for early career contributions to the arts and sciences from the British Science Association (2017), the UK’s Philip Leverhulme Prize in Psychology (2018), and being named one of the World’s 50 Most Renowned Women in Robotics by Insight Analytics (2020). She is an elected member of the Young Academy of Europe and the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland. In addition to building bridges across disciplines and research perspectives, Cross is passionate about training the next generation of research scientists, with a particular focus on the many manifestations of research ethics.
I was born and raised in the great state of Ohio (the one that’s round at the ends and hi in the middle!), in picture-perfect small-town America, where pretty much everyone looked the same, came from a similar background, and whole-heartedly supported all-American values (amen). Even though my eyes were opened as a young teenager to the dark allure and old-world mysteries of Europe when visiting family in Germany each summer, I still towed the small-town all-American party line, even going so far as becoming treasurer of the Young Republicans while in high school. However, I was pretty sure the world had a lot more to offer than white bread, small town America, and my career ambitions bounced around between wanting to become a vet (and live in Tasmania! In a tree house! And do stand-up comedy on the weekends!)…, then a dancer, then a roboticist, then an ornithologist, then a visual artist. By the time I graduated high school, I had devoured every advanced science class on offer at my school, and was also dancing 5 days a week. When it came time to finally decide, I was pretty sure a career on stage was what I wanted to pursue, and thanks to wholly supportive parents, I packed my bags and shipped off to sunny LA to study to become an actress and dancer. However, I still felt utterly unable to commit to a single career path, so chose to study at Pomona College, a liberal arts college where I could continue to explore many different interests (from philosophy to neuroscience to German literature).
During my penultimate year at Pomona, it was during an intensive theatre program in London that I had my first taste of how brilliant a career as a professional dancer and actress could be. As fate would have it, immediately after returning from London I secured a part-time job as a research assistant in a memory and ageing laboratory directed by a fierce and brilliant scientist who would become my mentor, cheerleader, and thesis advisor: Prof. Debby Burke. My time working as an RA in the Burke Lab opened my eyes to an alternative career path that appeared endlessly stimulating, collaborative, unpredictable, and rewarding: a researcher of the human brain and behaviour. As a consequence, right toward the end of my studies, I added psychology as a major. However, as graduation loomed, compared to so many of my classmates who were going on to PhD or medical degree study, I was certain I didn’t have the chops (or CV that showed a clear, steady, and dedicated path) to carry on in scientific research. I also felt like the door had closed to my ideal performing arts career, as I had just learned I was now too old to attend Clown College in Montreal (as a step toward someday joining Cirque du Soliel). To buy a bit more time to think about what next, and with outstanding mentorship from Prof. Burke, I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship to New Zealand. It was a total long shot, but my thinking was that such a fellowship would be ideal for gaining more experience working in a research lab in the hot new field of cognitive neuroscience in the most spectacular country in the world, and would also enable me to figure out if I had what it took to continue on this career path. I learned my application made it past the first cut, but ultimately wasn’t funded. While mulling over this (not unexpected) disappointment in the summer after college, and planning a move to NYC to start auditioning for acting and dance jobs, I received a message on my parents’ answering machine from the Fulbright commission informing me that they had found some extra funding and the fellowship was mine if I still wanted it.
To cut this long narrative short, that phone message, and the opportunity to pursue my very own (modest) research project in New Zealand was the first of three pivotal events over the past two decades that have sustained my passion for, commitment to and enjoyment of a career in human neuroscience research that bridges the arts and robotics. The second pivotal event was being encouraged by my fabulous PhD supervisor, Prof. Scott Grafton, to devise a way to quantify neural changes within my fellow dance company members when learning new choreography, and the third was the award of an ERC starting grant to study the human side of human—robot interactions, with a focus on experience-dependent plasticity in this context as well. Looking back, I am acutely aware of how lucky I have been to have worked with such a spectacular cast of mentors, collaborators and students at leading institutions around the world (so far, 10 institutions across 8 countries and 3 continents!). It would have been impossible to plan a more circuitous, serendipitous and fulfilling career path, although I still sometimes struggle to convince myself that being curiosity driven and fighting the good fight to develop properly interdisciplinary collaborations is research time and effort well spent, rather than a liability that makes me appear simultaneously under- and over-committed to too many different ideas, different disciplines, and different methodologies. Growing up in Ohio, I think my school-age self would have been ecstatic to learn that it’s possible to entwine multiple interests from wildly different disciplines into one career with exciting opportunities to learn, live and work all over the world. While my path certainly doesn’t fit the Young Republicans’ small-town American dream, I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for the opportunities I have had, and cannot wait to see what adventures in research unfold with my amazing research team as part of the Social Brain in Action Lab over the coming decades.
The event will be held on Zoom. Pleaso note the Data Protection Information Regarding Zoom Webinars.