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Scientist Spotlight: Glenda Lassi, PhD
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Scientist Spotlight, 10th Edition, October 2017

From Our Field…

 Scientist Spotlight: Glenda Lassi, PhD


Interview conducted by: Valeria Lallai, PhD

During a brief but intense period of visiting that Glenda spent at UCI, we had the pleasure of chatting with her on her research experiences in three different countries across academia and pharmaceutical company. In fact Dr. Glenda Lassi was born in Florence, Italy. Throughout her career, she has studied and worked in Italy, USA and UK. Glenda graduated in Psychobiology at the University of Padua, Italy, in 2000. Soon after she started her PhD in Cognitive Sciences at the University of Siena, focusing on neurophysiological correlates of behaviour. She did most of her PhD project at MIT in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department, where she studied the neuronal activity associated with motor control, learning and memory. In 2009, she started her Post-Doc in the Neurobehavioural Epigenetics Lab of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genoa, where she focused on the role of genomic imprinting in sleep and cognition. At the University of Bristol she is working on an academic-pharma collaborative progamme with the aim of contributing to the understanding of the genetic causes of tobacco use and dependence. She shared the following specific insight into her career and thoughts on science:


1. Why did you choose to become a scientist? 

I cannot remember an exact moment when I chose to become a scientist. It’s been a ‘natural process’. I selected the only high school that taught Psychology in my city. Luckily, I also got to study philosophy of science and scientific disciplines and methods. I was immediately attracted by the latter, especially when applied to Psychology. At University, I studied Psychobiology as a major and then did my PhD in a neuroscientific environment.

2. What are your current research interests?

At present I am investigating the genetics and psychology of health behaviours with a focus on smoking but also including alcohol consumption. More in general I am very interested by the nature-nurture interaction at the basis of behaviour and cognition.

3. How have your research interests evolved over the course of your career?

A lot. I have investigated a variety of topics within a number of species. I started studying Psycholinguistics and did my PhD on motor learning and memory. During my post doc I focussed on genomic imprinting and behaviour (especially sleep) and I am now investigating health behaviours. 

4. What do you view as the main challenges for your field? From your perspective, what do you view will be the next biggest breakthrough(s)? 

I think that the huge technical progresses achieved in the last few decades have not been accompanied by a big increase in the understanding of the brain and behaviour. Sometimes I think that we need a Kuhnian shift of paradigm to approach the complexity of brain and put together the micro-picture (e.g. microRNA) with the macro-picture (e.g. conscience). 

5. Why did you choose to pursue a research career in academia? Based on your experiences, what are the pros and cons of this career decision? 

Well, since September 2015 I am a post-doctoral scientist at the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Before, I spent a few years in academia and, anyway, I am now based at the University of Bristol. Academia gives a lot of flexibility and allows to choose what one wants to study and ‘grow’ a project from the beginning to the end. At the same time I feel that it easily becomes hard to keep it as a job rather than a vocation. 

6. About how much time per week do you commit to professional organizations, administrative duties or similar?

It’s hard to quantify. Since in the UK, in the last 2 years, I have developed an interest in promoting women in science, in particular in STEM, with also the objective of making sure that Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience are well represented in STEM. Although still at an early stage, I am also working with some colleagues on a project to create a scientific and social supportive group for international staff at the University of Bristol. I also have some minor commitments within SRNT.

7. Have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities? How do you prioritize work and non-work activities? 

I don’t think I am doing too well on this. Nevertheless the lab within which I work in Bristol has helped me; lately I am trying to be more forceful in defining my work hours and to dedicate more time, at week-ends, to my family (by the way I am answering this questions on a Sunday…so as I said…not very successful in this).

8. What strategies have you found to be most beneficial for managing all of your commitments?

I keep a little rubber frog on my desk, present of a friend from Cambridge, to remind me to ‘eat my frog’ every morning. Therefore, I do what I least want to do first thing in the morning rather than keep thinking of what I should have done all day. Besides, I need to be working on something that it’s meaningful to me (that hence will hopefully make a difference to others eventually).

9. What is the best advice that you ever received from one of your mentors?

I had excellent mentors and they all taught me a lot. I found extremely interesting how they approached their ‘job’ as scientists in very different ways.

10. What do you foresee as your main career milestones that you hope to achieve over the next 5-10 years?

I hope to establish a line of research that studies the causal role of genetic and psychologic factors of health behaviours to inform preventive and therapeutic interventions.

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