Growing up in Academia with Beatriz Calvo-Merino
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, January 24, 2022, Growing Up in Academia features Beatriz Calvo-Merino, PhD, Reader / Associate Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit (CNRU), Psychology Department, City, University of London.
The online application for this event is Zoom. You can register for the event here.
Dr. Beatriz Calvo-Merino is a cognitive neuroscientist based in London. She trained at University College London and Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her initial PhD work investigated neurocognitive mechanisms involved in action observation, sensorimotor expertise, and dance using neuroimaging methods. She worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in a series of studies dissociating visual and motor mechanisms of body perception by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). More recently, she has developed a line of research investigating the sensorimotor neural and cognitive underpinnings of aesthetic perception of performing arts (dance, in particular). She received the 2019 early career award of the British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience for her contributions to the field. Her contribution to the field of neuroaesthetics were also recognized in 2018 when she received the Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten Award of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics.
Through her research, Dr. Calvo-Merino has worked extensively together with the dance community (e.g., Royal Opera House Ballet, Laban Dance Centre, Mavin Khoo, Tom Sapsford, Random Dance Company/Wayne McGregor). Her work has been published and disseminated in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters for the general audience, as well as in meetings with artists and public engagement activities.
Calvo-Merino is a reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at City, University of London, where she serves as Programme Director of both the MSc Clinical, Social, and Cognitive Neuroscience and the Joint PhD Programme in Psychology and Social Neuroscience (the latter in collaboration with CoSAN International PhD in Cognitive Social and Affective Neuroscience, in Sapienza, Italy).
My passion for neuroscience and my vision for how to educate a new generation of neuroscientists started during my BSc in Psychology at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. I absorbed the passion transmitted by my lecturers and was fascinated by Michael Gazzaniga’s book The Social Brain. I explored all the old books I found in the neuroscience and cognitive psychology sections in the library, reading classics by Alexander Luria, Ellis and Young, Tim Shallice, and Elisabeth Warrington. If you want to understand the brain today, you need to acknowledge that knowledge is dynamic, and learning from the history of neuroscience is not only a beautiful thing, it is essential for providing a framework for your own contribution.
Looking back at my journey, I appreciate the mentorship and support I was given during this time. A wonderful woman mentor, Prof. Maria Jesus Benedet, sent me to London to expand my training and to grow as a person. The plan was to join Prof. Patrick Haggard’s lab there for a six-month internship to learn fMRI; but I ended up staying, and workied with Patrick for five years, developing some of the most beautiful studies I could ever have imagined. More importantly, I learned a big deal from the generosity of other researchers around me, such as Julie Grèzes and Daniel Glaser. Since then, I have spent many years scanning the brains of dancers brains, and I’ve met wonderful people in the performing arts community through science/art collaborations that I would have never met otherwise. It is not easy to think beyond the “science box”, but being in contact with other disciplines allows you to see the real world more clearly and to expand your creativity and your research questions.
As a woman trying to find my place in the cognitive neuroscience world in London, I feel I have been enormously lucky. I took a career break for a few years, had my first child when I was still a postdoctoral researcher and my second when I was a young lecturer working only part-time. I say I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to work with young researchers who wanted to do their PhD or postdoc with me; and together with them I’ve developed some excellent research while having only a rather new lab, and often a baby in the office with me. Many senior colleagues supported me then, and I feel it is now my time to support other younger minds. When I teach about the brain, one of my favorite modules is History of Neuroscience. I give my students the original articles from Broca (about patient tan) and from Scoville and Milner (about patient HM), combined with graphic novels such as Neurocomic, hopefully to awaken their curiosity for learning. Finally, for an example of how to integrate your passion for neuroscience with your creative side, I recommend reading the short science fiction stories of Spanish neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal, which he wrote while working on his neuron doctrine: Cuentos de vacaciones: Narraciones pseudocientíficas (available in English as Vacation Stories: Five Science Fiction Tales, translated by Laura Otis [University of Illinois Press, 2006]).