#BEHuman (Bioengineering Human) is a series that profiles the academics, researchers and students that make up the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College. Our aim is to give you an insight into the ground-breaking work that takes place in the UK’s leading bioengineering department through the eyes of the fantastic bioengineers that are advancing research frontiers, solving life sciences-related problems and creating future leaders.
As it is International Women in Engineering Day on the 23rd June, our focus this week is on celebrating the achievements of our outstanding female bioengineers.
Today’s BEhuman is Dr Katerina Kandylaki, a Research Associate in Dr Tobias Reichenbach’s group. Dr Kandylaki’s goal is to reveal shared neural principles of language and other cognitive functions, such as social or musical cognition.
How did you become a Bioengineer?
I was offered a post doc position in the Bioengineering Department, given my previous experience with modelling neuroscientific and language data. Even though I have no formal training in Bioengineering in the strict sense, I take a bioengineering approach in the neurobiology of language. To be specific, I engineer the language input, extract linguistic features and use these features to model electrophysiological responses to spoken language during comprehension. This approach is in the intersection of Linguistics, Neuroscience and Engineering and creates a niche within the neuroscientific branch of Bioengineering.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
I am proud for my PhD thesis entitled Put it in Context: the Neurobiology of Language Explored with Controlled Stimuli in Naturalistic Auditory Stories. The main reason I am proud of it is the development of a new paradigm that allows researchers to test linguistic features in their natural context and in auditory comprehension, as opposed to the previous approaches, which studied them in isolated words or sentences, which were presented visually. I am also especially proud of my first author publication in the Journal of Neuroscience entitled: Predicting “When” in Discourse Engages the Human Dorsal Auditory Stream: An fMRI Study Using Naturalistic Stories. I especially like this paper of mine, because it is hypothesis-driven, methodologically solid, and feeds exceptionally well into predictive coding and language processing theories, informed by the inherent anatomy and physiology of the brain.
What is your proudest personal achievement?
My proudest personal achievement is that I am a teacher for Margaret Morris Movement (MMM), an athletic and creative training method. I started training in this method during my PhD and have experienced its benefits in my mind, body and soul throughout my PhD studies. I decided to become an MMM teacher, in order to spread the word about it and make people feel the same benefits that I am so grateful for. I am currently running lunchtime classes for PhD students, post doc researchers and the department’s professional and support staff. The classes are free, because my goal is to gain experience in teaching this method and to help people feel mobile, relaxed and energised by counterbalancing the long hours they spend at a desk or microscope with some movement.
How has being a woman shaped, influenced and impacted your career?
I am not sure how being a woman has shaped, influenced or impacted my career. I have always done whatever I wanted and put all my effort into it, without focusing too much on being a woman. This said, I do have to acknowledge that I have had strong female role models such as my grandmother, my mother and my PhD supervisor, who were always an inspiration and encouragement to do my thing and do it properly. To stay focused on my goals and give my best to achieve them.
How has being a part of the Department of Bioengineering shaped your career?
The Department of Bioengineering has offered me the opportunity to work in an extremely interdisciplinary environment; my group includes expertise from physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and computational neuroscience. I think that this is the particular feature and strength of Bioengineering, the fact that the people come from different backgrounds and bring diverse expertise into the field. By thinking together we shade different colours of light onto a focused point and we can achieve a clearer understanding of the human body machine. Working in this department has shaped my thinking into a more global understanding of hearing and comprehension, from the physiological processes of perceiving sound up into the cortical representation of language.
What piece of advice would you give a 17-year-old girl that is thinking about studying Bioengineering?
I would give her my dad’s advice for whenever I doubted myself: “remember that successful people are 10% talent and 90% hard work”. If you are inclined to a job or a subject that gives you a feeling of success and satisfaction, then you should work hard to develop yourself, so that you can create your own successful career path.