Interviewers: Joint Project – Aleya Arziz Marzuki, Lydia Yeomans and Christos Ioannidis (Bugle Team)

Welcome to the Tricks of the Trade series, a project meant to bridge the gap between students! This interview scheme, brought to you by the Bugle team, is meant to bridge the gap between students of different years and help younglings learn from old-timers! Join us as fellow students share their thoughts about their uni experience and give a tip or two about how to get through life at Bedford Way!

Much like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, our last instalment will be broken down into smaller parts, since we will be interviewing three postgraduate students from different areas! So no matter what year you’re on, be sure to give this a good read. Your future career may be hiding in these paragraphs.

Debuting our third instalment of the TotT series, we have Stephanie Chatzifilalithi talking to us about her time at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, where she now completing her MSc degree. Let’s see what she has to say!

Stephania

Please tell us a few words about your academic background, your current career status and any future plans.

I graduated with a BSc First class Honors in Psychology from City College, International Faculty of the University of Sheffield. I am currently completing an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience, in which I am focusing on the study of aging processes. Through my work, I hope to create a better understanding of cognitive preservation in healthy aging.

How and when did you decide you wanted to pursue postgraduate studies in your chosen area?

I was in my second year of undergraduate studies when I fell in love with the brain. It wasn’t love at first sight, but my professors at the time lured me in (thank you Dr. Chrysochoou, Dr. Vivas and Dr. Ypsilanti). By the end of it I was hooked. I didn’t know much, in fact my knowledge of the brain at the time only really extended to the 4 major parts of the cerebrum, but I knew I wanted to learn more. So I thought, combine my two loves, psychology and the brain; bada bing bada boom, I came up with Cognitive Neuroscience. I looked around for the best postgraduate program for what I was interested in, worked towards my goal, and the rest is history!

 What has your experience of being a student at an environment as vibrant as the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, a world leader in this type of research, been like? 

I’m not going to lie and be cool. When I met Tim Shallice , the founder of the ICN, and pillar of Cognitive Neuroscience, I was star-struck. Other than the celebrity sightings (e.g. John O’Keefe, Nobel prize winner), the environment is surprisingly humble. No one at the ICN ever seem to grasp the fact that they are at the top of their field. They give off the impression that they love research and just happen to get payed for doing it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very demanding line of research in which you are constantly updating your knowledge, learning new methods, and thinking outside of the box. But those challenges are what make the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience what it is.

Tell us a few words about the research component of your degree. What are the possibilities (e.g. is research across age groups possible?), and what did you choose to work on? 

As said previously, this is a research-focused institute which produces a massive amount of quality research. As a student, there are many areas of research to explore; from the neuroscience of laughter to computational modeling to neuro-psychoanalysis. I am personally working with Dr. Leun Otten and her PhD student Ms. Flavia Belham. We are studying the preparatory brain activity that precedes long-term memory encoding across age groups. Essentially, we can tell from a signature in your brain that you’re going to successfully remember something, before you know it yourself.

 What steps did you take to secure your place? (e.g. work experience, volunteering, etc.) 

I don’t think there is s a specific recipe to get into the ICN or any field really, other than being passionate and hard working. During my studies I volunteered for 2 years helping older adults with computers. I spent another half year teaching older adults, held a position as a part time English teacher for a year. I took part in symposiums, presented at conferences, took part in organizing committees, and I am currently the Student Academic Representative here at the ICN. It might feel a bit overwhelming; it just dials down to having a decent academic background (2:1) and having some experience under your belt. But please don’t be discouraged if you don’t have as many volunteering hours or don’t take part in organizing committees; research experience is always the best thing to have, and if you don’t have any, find out what you could do around your department. Academics are always willing to help students gain experience. And don’t forget that you are already UCL students; you already have a foot in the door, and can probably achieve whatever you set your mind to.

How did you find the transition from undergrad to postgrad studies?

I came from a substantially smaller university, and coming to UCL was a big change for me, especially coming to the prestigious ICN. However, as I said before, the ICN is very down to earth. In terms of workload I would dare say it’s lighter than at undergraduate level. However, there is so much more detail that material may take longer to cover in comparison to undergrad where things are more coursework-heavy.

Can you name the most enjoyable and the most challenging element of your MSc?

The most enjoyable part has probably been meeting and interacting with individuals who have or will change the world. As for the most challenging part, I would probably say the same. What makes it hard is what makes it enjoyable, and what challenges you, makes you all the more interested in what the course has to offer.

If you could give one piece of advice to undergraduates currently working their way towards a degree such as your MSc, what would that be? 

My first piece of advice would be to BREATHE. I know the feeling of pressure is everywhere, but enjoy yourself as much as you can. Enjoy the people around you, enjoy London, enjoy the coursework and exams, and enjoy UCL. Secondly be passionate and if you don’t know what you’re passionate about find it. Try something new every week until you find what floats your boat. Take an hour out of your week and devote it to self-growth, read a research paper that has nothing to do with what you are currently studying. Write, paint, or go listen to a seminar you would never have gone to! This will help you find something you love, or at least figure out what it is you don’t love. If it turns out you like Cognitive Neuroscience then join the club. But if it’s dancing, singing, psychology, engineering, photography, that’s great and never be afraid to dream bigger dreams.

We are grateful to Stephanie for taking the time to support the Bugle with this project, and for being interested in helping out younger students with finding their place in the world. Should anyone have further questions for Stephanie, she has allowed for students to come in contact. Please communicate with the Bugle if you are interested in this option. 

As usual, expect an update in the TotT series in a couple of weeks time. Next up, a postgrad student from Clinical Psychology!

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