In the Spotlight

International Women’s Day 2022

Three of ELSC’s outstanding female researchers at different stages of their professional career share some insights on International Women’s Day 2022.

The science world has a long way to go before it achieves gender equality. The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences is working to promote talented female scientists and change the scissor-shaped curve of gender imbalance in academia. Currently, ELSC’s PhD program in Computation & Information Processing program has a student body that is 42 percent female. Our goal is to increase this ratio to 50 percent. Registration is still open, and we encourage you to sign up! Click here for more information.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we talked with three of our outstanding women—in different stages of their professional career (graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members)—about their research. We asked them what piece of advice would have helped them at the beginning of their career, and this is what we heard from them.

Prof. Yifat Prut

“Movement is an essential component of our daily lives. All kinds of movements, including locomotion, reaching for objects, communicating verbally, or even making subtle facial gestures require coordination across large numbers of muscles. The nervous system is able to perform these tasks in a rapid, precise, and adaptable manner. Our lab investigates the mechanisms that generate the appropriate patterns of neural activity that underlie movement, and the consequences of damage or the malfunctioning of this system. We’re interested in the interplay between local motor cortical computation and long-range descending and ascending connectivity. Specifically, we investigate (1) how descending motor cortical activity is translated into action by the spinal cord; (2) how long-range ascending inputs from subcortical structures gain a powerful impact on motor timing and coordination; and (3) the degree of universality of the control policy used by the system for controlling different effectors, such as face vs. hand. Our long-term goal is to identify how the microscopic structures of motor cortical circuitry dictate and shape macroscopic patterns of motor cortical activity and hence movement.

When I started my PhD there were few women scientists in general and even fewer in my field, so circumstances were different to what they are today. Nevertheless, the advice I would like to give is to never lose self-confidence and not to be afraid of failures. This is an integral part of the path you choose to take.”

Anna-Kristina Schmidtner, Post Doc

“I am a postdoc researcher in Prof. Naomi Habib’s lab that investigates the processes occurring in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Most of the research in AD in recent decades focuses on the degeneration of neurons that is found during AD; however, recent research (also from our lab) clearly shows that other cell types in the brain play a crucial role in the disease. Specifically, I look at the communication between different cell types in the brain (astrocytes and microglia) and how it changes during the disease onset and progression. We aim to identify the communication networks that trigger the disease onset and drive its progression to eventually find a target to prevent the development of AD altogether. Additionally, we are investigating why AD develops in some patients but not in other elderly people and see if we can identify a factor that makes people resilient to neurodegeneration.

A PhD is hard work, so take it step by step—trust your judgement and abilities and be proud of your successes and achievements. Work together with your colleagues and researchers from around the world to drive our understanding of the nature that defines us. And most importantly: have fun!”

Adi Kol, PhD student

“What are memories made of? For decades, the study of memory has been neuron-centric, yet neurons do not function in isolation. In my PhD, under the co-supervision of Prof. Inbal Goshen and Prof. Mickey London, I study how astrocytes—star-shaped glial cells—interact with neurons and contribute to the complex process of memory formation in the brain. We found that astrocytes communicate with neurons at the synaptic, cellular, and circuit level and dramatically modulate memories from the immediate and distant past. These findings not only advance our understanding of how the brain encodes, stores, and recalls memories but they also demonstrate the importance of embracing an inclusion approach when studying the brain.

My advice to women considering a PhD in STEM is to remember their value and work with people who value them. Success requires support!”

“Working memory”