Science has no gender, but gender bias is an undeniable issue and can have an effect on the development of a scientific career. We find ourselves making assumptions about gender, based on the scientific domain, or the level of seniority. Do you assume the gender of this scientist based on their profession, or maybe based on their experiences? We present: A scientist in the field of experimental psychology.
Seniority: Associate Professor / Group Leader
What do you investigate?
“Recent advances in AI are awe-inspiring—yet, they are widely surpassed by the capabilities of the human brain. My research aims to better understand the information processing and learning capabilities of humans and to create behavioural interventions to improve those capabilities. In my lab, we develop carefully designed video games in order to collect meaningful, large datasets from people interacting with those games—the games serve both as an assessment of people’s cognitive abilities and in some cases to train them.”
Ultimate goal of your science?
“The ultimate goal of my research is to develop digital technologies that can a) quickly and accurately assess a persons’ cognitive abilities and knowledge across the whole lifespan and b) exploit that assessment to provide effective, personalized learning experiences.
“Such a technology could have a large impact on society. In the health domain, for example, cognitive decline may be indicative of a medical condition (e.g., Alzheimer, Parkinson); the early and accurate detection of cognitive decline could trigger medical treatments earlier and ultimately lead to better outcomes. In the educational domain, a person’s academic performance may be limited because of a specific lack of knowledge or skills; the ability to unlock such local bottlenecks could help people take full advantage of their cognitive potential.”
Highlighted scientific discoveries
“We gained many insights over the past two years; perhaps one discovery people may relate to concerns Mathemarmite, a video game we developed to train young children in counting and to recognize different ways in which numbers can be represented (mathemarmite.lu).
“One interesting discovery from that project is that certain properties of the motor behaviour—how exactly children drag-and-drop elements within the game—are indicative of the child’s chronological age and its cognitive development.
“There are several reasons why this finding is interesting. First, if the properties of the motor behaviour are very different between children and adults, then we can make sense of the data that is collected when a parent plays together a video game with a child.
“Second, if those motor properties are diagnostic of cognitive development they may be used for diagnostics and exploited to improve personalization of content (e.g., avoiding activities that are currently too hard or too difficult for that child).”
Thinking about the time from University to now, have you ever been treated differently because of your gender? Or maybe found yourself being the only person of your gender in the room? Were/are you the only man/woman in your class, group or lab? If yes, how did you deal with this situation, or what did you think? Did it discourage you or make you feel even more motivated to continue?
“When I started studying psychology at the University, there were several hundred students in my class—the vast majority of which were women. I sometimes had the feeling of not belonging there and wondered why there weren’t more men and what this might reveal about me. This also led me to think more deeply about my motivations and ultimately to get clearer about what I wanted to achieve professionally.”
If you have children, have you ever been in a situation where certain expectations from your peers changed after/because you have children, or felt excluded in any way?
“I have two playful young daughters; one is 8 years old the other 15 months. My overall impression is that my peers are genuinely happy for each other each time a new child is born (and empathetic regarding the sleep deprivation and other presents parenthood offers). I have heard crazy stories of supervisors expressing anger and resentment, usually towards mothers-to-be, but I did not personally experience such behaviours—which are increasingly and rightfully recognized as being unacceptable.
“I think there is in general the expectation that researchers should resume their work as soon as possible without any loss of productivity. Research is a highly competitive domain and being absent from work may have a negative impact on one’s career; alternatively, focusing on the career may lead one to miss precious moments with one’s family.
“In addition to this personal dilemma, one often has to factor in the implications for other team members as in practice, taking a long leave may imply more work and stress for them (the deadlines still need to be met, but there are now less people working).
“There is clearly progress to be made in how we handle parenthood in academia, and to make it fair for both men and women.”