Ontogeny*: with Victòria Brugada
* the sequence of events involved in the development of an individual organism
In this first edition of Ontogeny we followed the path of Victòria Brugada, a graduate student at the Collective Behavior Lab of Champalimaud Research.
I knew that I wanted to be a researcher since I was 14.
This lab coat, which was our uniform during high school, somehow represents my decision to become a scientist. My friends used to say that it was a presage of my future career!
Because of that, during my Summer break when I was 14, my parents (who were bored of sending me to Summer camps), sent me away to the US for one month, where one of my uncles was running a lab. This was my first real laboratory experience, and although I was just doing very simple tasks, like loading gels, it was a very important experience for me.
Ironically, now, in my daily-life, it turns out that the work that I’m doing for my research project doesn’t require me to wear a lab coat at all!
At a certain point during our degree, our daily-lives were quite intensive, working from dawn to dusk. But that strengthened the ties amongst our group members, which are still very strong today.
This photo is a testimonial of that symbiosis. It’s me together with a group of college friends, who are now also doing their PhDs, in a symposium that we organised amongst ourselves. We took it very seriously, we rented a house and made a programme where everyone presented their work. We all work in different fields, so this symposium was particularly nice since it gave us the possibility to learn about different topics.
Apart from the fun of learning about each other’s work, we are all also currently doing a PhD – so we end up sharing many of our daily-life miseries! ‘Oh, I’m going through this disastrous moment where nothing works’, and someone else would say ‘Yeah, it happened to me last week’. So it’s a true companionship!
I was not the first graduate of my degree, but I was the first to graduate from my university!
Are you wondering how this was possible? That is another story, but I can say it was one of those administrative mysteries… Funnily enough, it even made it to the news on my University website. As you can tell, this photo represents the culminating moment of my degree.
After this, I decided to do a masters degree in Pharmaceutical Industry. After 3-months of classes, when I had to choose where to perform my thesis, I confess… I hesitated like crazy about following research. But luckily I was stopped by close friends – ‘No, you were not born for this, you’re not the type of person that wants to work in a pharmaceutical company, you want to do research.’ And I ended up working on a super interesting project where I studied Down Syndrome in a mice model, at Mara Dierssen’s Lab, in Barcelona. Thank you, guys!
I really like doing research and I feel that it is very important to share our passion for science.
This picture, taken during my masters degree in 2012, captures this sentiment. My supervisor at the time was very involved in Science Communication, and she invited me to participate in the Brain Awareness Week, where I talked about binaural audition. Several people asked questions and participated in our interactive activities, like the barber shop (Check it out, if you don’t know what it is! It’s really cool!).
This made me realise that because I really like doing research, I also feel it’s important to share this with people who are not working in science.
In one of the last Ar events, The Invisible Link, that we organised here at the Champalimaud Foundation, I made a demonstration of an experiment that I perform in the lab using virtual reality. It was very rewarding for me to realise that the public was so keen to learn about it!
During my years at the GABBA doctoral programme I learned a lot, starting with the first year of classes where I met a great group of very interesting people.
During my masters degree, I met a Portuguese student, who joined the GABBA programme a few years earlier. He told me many good things about the programme, which made me very curious about it. At the same time, I decided that I wanted to get out of Barcelona early on in my career, so that I could return a couple of years later and further develop my research path there.
So, when I heard about GABBA, I started reading a lot about it and decided to apply. I must say that I’m very happy for having taken that decision! During the first year of GABBA I met a wonderful group of people, who are now part of my life path. It’s really nice to see that as our lives and career progress, we have the opportunity to meet great people who then end up becoming an integral part of our lives and supporting us through many difficult decisions.
I started my PhD almost two years ago in the laboratory of Collective Behavior where I’m trying to understand how social interactions affect the way we feel about ourselves.
In the classical example of the rubber hand illusion, for example, since both the rubber hand and the subject’s hand are being touched simultaneously, people mentally incorporate the rubber hand as being part of their own body. So, we are wondering if this could also happen while you’re interacting with someone, and if this could contribute to establishing a feeling of a group.
In the experiments that I’m currently developing, I’m using a virtual reality setup that you can see in this photo. Virtual reality is an amazing technique, full of potential, which allows us to test many different variables by controlling the environment in great detail.
I cannot wait to see which pictures I will add in some years related to this exciting moment I am in right now…