Prof. Dr. Salvador Soto Faraco
The event took place on May 27th, 2021.
I graduated in Psychology (1994) and completed a PhD in Cognitive Science and Language (1999) at the Universitat de Barcelona, Spain. I published work on lexical access, and on auditory perception. After the PhD, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Experimental Psychology in Oxford University (UK) and at the University of British Columbia (Canada), where I became a fellow of the Killam Family Trust. In my postdoc I worked mostly on human perception and attention in multisensory environments, and published a variety of papers on the Attentional Blink and Cross-modal Motion Capture. By 2002 I returned to Spain under a Ramón y Cajal Fellowship, to establish a laboratory in Universitat de Barcelona as an independent researcher. In 2005 I became ICREA Research Professor and established the Multisensory Research Group at the Parc Científic de Barcelona first, and then moved to Universitat Pompeu Fabra in 2009. During these initial years I concentrated on the study of the effects of attention in multisensory integration in a variety of domains. In 2010 I received an individual Starting Grant from the ERC which helped me consolidate this research program, and expand to neuroimaging methodologies. Currently, my group works on basic and applied research projects across a wider set of domains, from decision making to memory, as well as our multisensory work. The support for our research comes mostly from public agencies (MINECO, AGAUR) including European regional development funds (FEDER), and some private funding agencies (La Caixa, BBVA, BIAL). ICREA has kindly supported my position since 2005. Now I combine research and teaching as one of the group leaders at the Center for Brain and Cognition, in Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
I ended up enrolling in psychology as a vital compromise, though I was more motivated by journalism or history. Since I knew computer programming when very few people did, I could obtain university internships in research groups. I finished in 1994, but did not consider a PhD as an option because my grades were too mediocre for funding. However, in 1995 I was unexpectedly offered an opportunity. At the beginning I was confused regarding what my PhD would be about, so I pursued several unconnected lines of research. During those early days, it was strongly suggested to me that I travel and visit other labs. This turned out to be excellent advice. I visited the LSCP in Paris, the Georgetown University Medical School, and the Experimental Psychology Department in Oxford. During these visits I was incredibly lucky to meet some amazingly clever and altruistic people who found the time and patience to discuss my research and point me to interesting questions, problems, and connections. I was both tremendously inspired and intimidated by them. The subject of my PhD, when I finally closed in on one, ended up being a niche question, of interest to me and about four more people in the world. In consequence, my early conference presentations, and later my first papers, were mostly received with polite indifference. Yet, in 1998, one of my visits took me to Charles Spence and his then-under-construction Crossmodal Research Laboratory. That was another stroke of good luck, because it was fairly straight forward to incorporate a multisensory twist to my ongoing research, and made me more visible. Though I considered my options in the real world after finishing the PhD in 1999, I soon realised I was not attractive for the job market, nor it for me. So I quietly receded into academia again with nothing but hope. I tend to forget the fact that during my postdoc years, from 1999 to 2002 in the UK and Canada, I was almost permanently looking for a job and living off of credit. This would have been overly too stressing had it not been a very intellectually fulfilling time. Lessening the stress even more, I was lucky my partner at the time was willing and able to join me in Canada. When I returned to Europe, I was terrified I would be not competitive for jobs, or worse, that I would end up in a job that would bury me in teaching and administration for the rest of my days. Therefore, as the responsible adult that I had become, I evaded the problem by embarking on yet another insecure research position, instead of signing a job contract for a lectureship. Destiny rewarded my foolishness when in 2005 ICREA decided to fund me to work permanently as a researcher in Catalan institutions. My position does not make it mandatory to teach or work in administration, though I have ended up doing quite a bit of both over the years. Currently, I am a fallen Psychologist working in a Computer Science department, leading what is arguably the best research group in the world.
Prof. Dr. Yee Lee Shing
The event took place on March 25th, 2021.
Yee Lee Shing studied psychology in the United States. In 2008, she moved to Germany to conduct her doctoral thesis on “Dynamics of Episodic Memory Across the Lifespan” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (MPIB) Berlin and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She continued to work at the MPIB as a postdoctoral researcher and was awarded a Minerva research group leader position in 2012. In 2015, Yee Lee left Germany to work as a lecturer at the University of Stirling, Scotland. Three years later she accepted her current position in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Yee Lee is now Professor of Developmental Psychology at Goethe Universität Frankfurt, directing the Lifespan Cognitive and Brain Development (LISCO) lab. Further, she is a member of the IDeA research center of the DIPF (Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education). Since 2018 Yee Lee holds an ERC starting grant for her project on “Predictive Memory Systems Across the Lifespan”.
Yee Lee grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a family of Chinese descendent. Her parents wanted her to study business or economics–preferably in Australia. Yee Lee decided to move to the United States to study psychology. Thanks to two young female faculty members that supervised her as a research intern, she was able to gather first-hand experiences of research in developmental psychology at the University of Nebraska. For her masters she decided to study educational psychology. This decision turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Yee Lee realized that it was not educational psychology she was interested in but developmental psychology. She thus took the offer to do her PhD at the Center for Lifespan Psychology, MPIB under the supervision of Ulman Lindenberger and Shu-Chen Li. After finishing her PhD, Ulman Lindenberger offered Yee Lee to stay at the MPIB as a research group leader. During these years she supervised three outstanding doctoral students, which all were awarded with an Otto Hahn Medal for their dissertation projects.
Knowing that the MPI position would end and after the birth of her second child, Yee Lee and her family moved to Stirling where she started working as a lecturer in psychology. In her first year, she worked on many grant applications, which all didn’t get funded. Looking back, however, it was precisely in this time that she was able to gather the insights and discussions she needed to develop her research idea for an ERC starting grant (which was then funded in 2018).
As the Brexit made the situation in the UK rather unpredictable, Yee Lee was happy to accept the offer from Frankfurt (to which she almost decided to not apply!) even though this meant that she and her family would have to move again. Having escaped (most) of the Brexit struggles, a pandemic might not have been what Yee Lee expected to influence her working life back in Germany. Nevertheless, being in Frankfurt for 3 years now, she has managed to expand her new group and research projects to Frankfurt and beyond.
Being a professor now, her favorite part in academia still is working out new research designs and diving into the data of her experiments–preferably with inspired colleagues and students on her side.
In 2011, I was offered a W2 professorship in Magdeburg at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. I declined this offer. Back then, I did not want to leave Berlin and did not really know the differences that come along with working at a university or working at a research institute. Today, I see things in a different perspective: Being a university professor, I have to simultaneously manage teaching, faculty duties, and research. All in all, it can be quite overwhelming at times.
Obviously, academia is full of failures and doubts. Nevertheless, I want people to remember that being a scientist is a great job! Failures and rejections will come for sure, but they are not about you as a person or you as a researcher. They are about your papers and proposals. Try always to remember what you like about research and what brings fun into your work!
Prof. Dr. Christoph Harms
The event took place on January 28th, 2021.
Christoph Harms studied human medicine in Berlin. His medical doctoral thesis dealt with endogenous neuroprotective systems under the supervision of Prof. Heide Hörtnagl at the Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and was awarded summa cum laude and the Humboldt Prize Berlin in 2003. This was followed by a research period at the Department of Neurology (Director Prof. Dr. K.-M. Einhäupl) in the Department of Experimental Neurology (Director Prof. Dr. U. Dirnagl and Supervision Prof. Dr. M. Endres) and from 2004-2005 a postdoc at the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine Berlin under the supervision of Prof. R. Harsdorf in an experimental cardiology research group. In 2006, he was appointed as a research instructor of the Lichtenberg Junior Research Group of Prof. M. Endres at the Neuroscience Research Centre of the Charité in Mitte (Director Prof. D. Schmitz) and at the end of 2008, he was appointed as assistant professor 'Cell Cycle and Stroke' at the Centre for Stroke Research Berlin (Director Prof. U. Dirnagl). In 2012, the junior professorship 'Molecular Stroke Research' was approved. In 2015, Christoph Harms followed the call for a permanent W2 professorship at the Centre for Stroke Research Berlin (CSB) at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and in 2018 this was taken over by the faculty as a permanent professorship.
Christoph Harms grew up as the youngest child with two older siblings in a family of musicians in a village in the western part of Germany. From the recorder at the age of three to the violin at five to the cello at 9 and piano at 12, as well as in orchestral and chamber music ensembles, singing in various choirs and on stage at the Landestheater Detmold and in ensembles at the Musikgymnasium in Detmold also dominated the period from 1984-88 (participation in a musical production and seven operas as a child soloist). Christoph Harms received cello lessons from Prof. Güdel at the Detmold Academy of Music and Prof. Haesler in Hanover, among others, and singing lessons from General Director of Music Edwin Scholz at the Detmold Theatre. Although an artistic career seemed preordained, Christoph Harms became interested in supervising youth camps and decided at the age of 15 to study medicine with the aim of becoming a child and youth psychiatrist. This decision was probably more of a rebellion, because Christoph stood out at school, apart from in the musical field, more for his stubbornness and argumentativeness than for his good performance and willingness to learn. His salvation came in the form of an entrance test for studying human medicine (Medizinertest) in the twelfth grade, which gave him a free choice of university place even before his Abitur. After doing his civilian service in a home for the elderly and in a day-care centre for chronically mentally ill adults, he studied medicine at the Charité in Berlin. After completing his physics examination, Christoph looked for a doctoral thesis that would tie him down as little as possible and got stuck in pharmacology. Intensive experimental work followed from 1997 to 2001 with three research semesters and a fascination for the realisation of new ideas. Initially, the focus was on endogenous neuroprotection against models of stroke in cell culture, followed later by the cell cycle and regeneration capacity of postmitotic cells, which also led to a postdoc in a cardiology research group with postmitotic heart cells. Although he succeeded in bringing differentiated neurons into division capability, the results were disappointing in that the electrophysiological profile was more reminiscent of glial cells. In 2012, Christoph Harms left the field of cell cycle control and renamed the research group Molecular Stroke Research. Due to the crisis in translational research, endogenous neuroprotection was also no longer a brand to use. The focus of the working group slowly shifted to imaging techniques in stroke (KFO) and the role of local inflammation and the microbiome in the plasticity of neuronal networks and vessels (SFB-TR43) including brain collaterals. Today's focus is on brain resilience in stroke in addition to inflammation, stimulation of network plasticity (TRR295) and the role of intra- and intercellular communication as well as endomembrane systems and protein transport in neurons, glia and the vasculature in mouse and rat stroke models.
Many — here are just a few:
At the 2003 Nobel Laureate Conference in Lindau, Prof. Torsten Wiesel (Nobel Prize for Medicine 1981) advised me to abandon the idea of cell division of differentiated neurons in favour of a postdoc in a large laboratory abroad. Unfortunately, I was too taken with my idea for that and too offended that he didn't think it was viable. He just replied to me: 'The project is great, but you can also do a postdoc in a great lab abroad'. I did not get his point.
Prof. Wieland B. Hutter (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden) provoked me in 2006: 'If you get the motor neuron of a giraffe to divide - then I believe you!' That could have been food for thought for me.
However, it was even more stupid not to publish the data then. I did not even submit it.
I believe to this day that it was not my talent that made my career possible, but that any success can be explained by chance, luck and my ability to communicate.
One of my mentors once told me that he kept dreaming of failing his A-levels - that reassured me a lot at the time that other people also have a great sense of insecurity and can still make a difference in their field.
My basic tension and vigilance has never subsided, even as a tenured professor. There always remains an uncertainty and fear as to whether the next proposal or paper will be accepted or whether staff positions can be extended. That is probably normal. Reporting on this can perhaps help to overcome weaknesses and one's own limitations and fears in people from the audience.