Interview with Prof. Alice Mado Proverbio

Prof. Alice Mado Proverbio has a degree in Experimental Psychology from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and a PhD in General Psychology from the University of Padua. She did her Post Doctoral training at the University of California at Davis and at the University of Padua. As a research scientist at the University of Trieste, she guided the Cognitive Electrophysiology Laboratory from 1996 to 2000. Since 2001, she is Associate Professor of Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology at University of Milano-Bicocca. She founded the “Cognitive Electrophysiology” Lab at the same University in 2003. In 2014, she received the Habilitation as full Professor.

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher …  Without a doubt what I enjoy most about my job as a researcher is the possibility to create and devise new experiments, to test new exciting ideas, to challenge pre-existing models with new hypotheses that I gather from discussions with people, but especially from a lot of reading and listening to insightful talks. It’s not rare that I get, what seems to be, a brilliant idea from reading or listening to scientists working outside my specific research field (cognitive electrophysiology). This can be genetics, evolutionary psychology, cellular biology, primatology or even molecular neuroscience. It can be something on Twitter, or even something that I spotted online. That’s what I like most: the creative process that precedes the actual experimental testing.

I also like that magic moment when, with my young co-workers standing all around my computer, we run the final ANOVA on a particular set of data we judge to be crucial to test our hypothesis. And we are all there, laughing and crossing our fingers, hoping for a high statistical significance, and then it gets p<0.005 and we all scream! I also love when an idea, just an incorporeal dream or a rough sketch at the beginning, but after months of working with my students, and refining details, re-adjusting the methodology, and changing the paradigm and all, finally becomes a consolidated paradigm, a concrete thing, almost a “person”, with a given personality and specific attitudes. We love to coin names for our new studies and paradigms, and stimulus types. Even computers and supplies and ERP components have personalized names in my lab. There are unofficial names (“just for us”) and more official, scientific terms that will be used later in the paper or in the dissertation.

The biggest challenge in my career so far was … there have been several challenging moments in my career, especially when I changed role, by becoming first a PhD student, then a Post-Doc fellow, a Researcher, and finally a Professor. Every passage required great effort in adjusting to the new situation and the many new commitments (not to mention, the new town or country, the new home, the new life, etc..). When I got a PhD student position I had to learn how to speak in public, deliver talks and travel a lot (while I enjoyed running experiments and writing my own papers). When I became a Post-Doc, I had to learn how to manage international relations and cooperate with multiple subjects and research groups. As a researcher, I had to face a lot of new work, mostly coming from student supervision, teaching and writing (books, chapters, papers), not to mention being the only person responsible for the ERP  lab. I often I had to work overnight. Becoming a Professor was very challenging at first, because of the large amount of teaching and lessons that I had to prepare for the first time. I learned how to be a good referee, a wise editor and the best mentor as possible for my students. I learned how to be very efficient with bureaucratic, administrative, and faculty duties, in order to have time for my research and my lab.

One research project I will never forget is…  I will never forget the research project aimed at testing the existence of possible subcortical inter-hemispheric pathways transferring visuomotor information in the brain of callosotomy (split-brain) patients, that I carried out in Ron Mangun’s lab in cooperation with Michel Gazzaniga, at the Center for Neuroscience of University of California at Davis. I had the extraordinary opportunity to test and get to know personally a beautiful person, the famous patient JW. I recall being incredibly excited and proud of my work at that time.

What I look for in a student who wants to work under my supervision … I mainly look for dedication, enthusiasm, patience, competence, rigor and loyalty, not necessarily in that specific order.

Student research could be improved by … I think that student research deserves the right equilibrium between autonomy and supervision. Sometimes I meet bright young researchers presenting poor pieces of evidence or lousy talks because of their inexperience mixed with a lack of supervision from their mentor. Its’ a real pity. Other times, I assist students acting as mere executors of projects they do not fully comprehend and testing hypotheses that they do not even scientifically understand. I think that students should not only perform the practical hands-on work in laboratories, but also do a lot of studying and reading to build a strong specialized knowledge.

Academically, I most admire … woman researchers (especially if independent and not grown under the wings of a powerful male mentor) …  because …. sometimes, they have to work twice as hard as their male colleagues, to prove their qualities. Indeed gender discrimination and inequalities of various types (from the most subtle to the most evident and gross inequalities) are still present at any level along the academic trail.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career … I do not how to answer to this. I think that no advice can teach you better than your own personal experience. But I recall what I was actually being told, which revealed to be very useful in the hard times, and that is: do what you feel is better for you.

The largest changes in psychological science in the next 10 years will be … I am unsure what to predict. But I am pretty sure that the future is linked to a multidisciplinary integration, and that Psychology will grow only in interaction with other scientific disciplines, such as Cognitive Neuroscience, Genetics, Evolutionary Psychology, Cellular Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Neuroimaging and the new emerging techniques (such as diffusor tensor imaging), and others that are still developing these days such as Brain Computer Interface (BCI), robotics.

About the author

Jonas Haslbeck Jonas is a Senior Editor at the Journal of European Psychology Students. He is currently a PhD student in psychological methods at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. For further info see http://jmbh.github.io/.

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