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Each year, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Dr. Stefano Sandrone, Teaching Fellow at Imperial College London and a principal investigator within the Computational, Cognitive, and Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory, during the society’s annual meeting in Chicago.
Q: How did you get started in education?
Dr. Sandrone: I started being involved in teaching shortly after obtaining my MSc in Milan. In 2012, my supervisor asked me if I wanted to become his teaching assistant for a neuroscience module. I jumped at the chance, even though just days earlier I had accepted a research offer from Zurich, which is almost 300 km away from Milan. I happily commuted from Zurich to Milan for my teaching commitments.
I consider teaching the principal way to convey passion and knowledge to future generations and to have a positive, inspiring, and long-lasting impact on them. This is what drives me every day. After studying psychological sciences (2010, bachelor’s degree, top marks) and psychology-neuroscience (2012, master’s degree, top marks) in Milan and the brief stay at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich (2013), I joined the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. There, I got my Ph.D. in neuroscience, completed my first postdoc, and started my career as a Teaching Fellow (2017), which then continued at Imperial College London. Since my very early stages, I took several leadership roles in learning and teaching, and I am still very keen on continuously improving myself for personal and professional development.
What is most satisfying about connecting to people this way? What was most surprising?
I am committed to mentor the next generations of neuroscientists and to make science accessible to a large number of people. As a Teaching Fellow, my experience mostly revolves around postgraduate teaching. The most rewarding aspect is to see how students grow as young scientists and as human beings across the year they spend studying and doing research towards their MSc or MRes. The most surprising aspect is observing the variety of delighted reactions of wonder in the students’ eyes. Neuroscience is full of wonders, and we need to share them with as many people as possible.
How important is to engage different audiences with neuroscience findings?
It is absolutely essential! And it is paramount to recognize that neuroscience and neuroscience education are team efforts, and learning how to collaborate should be part of this training. We are part of a community, and if I have a strong and varied portfolio of teaching and outreach activities, which consolidated over the years, it is because these ideas resonated with many people around me. I was lucky to have the chance to launch an Imperial College London-branded blog, called NeurOn Topic, with contributions from Master students. I have interviewed several Nobel laureates and I have been blogging about (neuro)science on Lindau-Nobel.org. I organized a course on pioneers (and, unfortunately, forgotten) women in neurology for the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting and I organize a weekly seminar series called “Brain Meetings.” I have also introduced several teaching innovations at Imperial College London, including the “Personalized feedback” and “Dissertation Days,” and a neuroscience conference for 60 master’s students from three universities across London. I wrote a neuroscience article for kids and I have a strong track record in neuroscience and neurology educational research: looking forward, I see this as an emerging field of research.
Did you have a model or a mentor?
I have been very lucky in growing up in a fantastic family with solid values, so I have always found it encouraging and energizing to have role models and mentors around me, despite none of my family members being a scientist. I often tell students that a mentor can be a person inside or outside science, but it can also be a book, a movie, a music, an idea, an emotion. Anything positive that drives us. Realizing our own dreams is not easy, but it is indeed the way to follow, inside and outside the neuroscience arena. And even if I investigate and teach things about the brain, it is with the heart that our greatest dreams come true!