ALMA, a look to

Dream big

Just as in the universe there are so many planets that (even just by probability) one of them must have life, on Earth, there are so many young people that one of those heads (statistically speaking) must hold the discoveries that will change the course of history forever. Turning that probability into a reality is the goal of the ”la Caixa”INPhINIT doctoral fellowship programme. 77 young researchers from all over the world, including 37 from Spain, have received a grant this year to do their PhD at the most cutting-edge centres in the country. They are young people who dream big (about everything from improving treatment for autism to how to make healthcare accessible to everyone on the planet). Young people who make their future our future.

Michael Joe Munyua Gachomba (Italy, 1991)
PhD in Neuroscience, Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante

“A good researcher has to be curious and prepared to take risks. Doing science is researching the unknown, setting off on an adventure and, any time something isn’t understood, asking why. I set off into the unknown a bit when I left Italy for Barcelona, first, and then Alicante. I also took a risk in deciding to stay in Alicante without knowing whether I would have the funding to do my PhD at the Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante. When, in the laboratory, we found out I had been awarded a INPhINIT grant, my supervisor sent me to buy cava. We had to celebrate! Now we’re researching the social behaviour of mice to find out how they make social decisions and which parts of their brains are activated in doing so. We have, for example, labyrinths with two mice and one of them can choose whether or not to help the other get food. The idea is to use our results to find new approaches to human neuropsychiatric disorders that affect decision-making, such as autism and social anxiety. Plus, now with social media, understanding how the elements of a whole interact and being able to explain it with a theory of the brain seems increasingly urgent to me.”

Ioanna Taouki (United States, 1989)
PhD in Linguistics, Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL)

“When I finished my degree in Biology, I went into Primary Education. I know it may seem like they are totally unrelated but, for me, there is a bridge between the two: cognitive neuroscience. This discipline seeks to understand how the brain works when we learn language, when we understand the meaning of a phrase or when we create meaning. And this is the core of the PhD in Linguistics that I’ve started at the BCBL, a centre that boasts amazing facilities and technology. If we can understand how the brain works when we learn, we’ll be able to know whether the teaching methods we use in schools are actually beneficial to the children. I spent some time working as a science teacher at a secondary school in Bristol (United Kingdom) and I loved the experience. But I also like research. So, my dream would be to combine the two: I believe collaboration and communication between teachers and neuroscientists is the secret to better education.”

Elena Marbán Castro (Madrid, 1991)
PhD in Translational Medicine, Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)

“You can’t talk about health if you don’t know anything about the patients you’re treating. I realised this when I was taking Parasitology for my degree in Healthcare Biology in Alcalá de Henares. It was the first time in the whole degree programme that anyone had spoken about people, about vulnerable populations affected by the things we were studying. In fact, I did a master in Tropical Medicine at the Autonomous University of Madrid because they offered work experience in Ethiopia and I wanted to do work in the field. Then I did another master, this time in Global Health at ISGlobal, and just as I was finishing, the Zika epidemic broke out in 2015. So, after a year or so as a research assistant in the Maternal Health Department, I applied for this fellowship… and to be honest, I still can’t believe it. It seemed unattainable! I’m so passionate about the topic that I’m the head of the Global Health Next Generation Network, an association of young researchers. I started the fellowship in January and it lasts three years. I’m following a group of pregnant women who were exposed to the Zika virus in Central and South America in 2016. We monitored them throughout their pregnancies and now we’re monitoring the children to see what impact the virus has on them in the first two years. Understanding a disease to be able to develop better vaccines and diagnostics and to reduce neonatal mortality rates… I think it’s a question of human rights. Everyone should have access to healthcare, no matter where they’re born. And this is my grain of sand towards achieving that.”

You can read more stories like this on ALMA, the social social media, a digital space devoted to the social field, which brings a new look at the present and the future of society, from an optimistic and diverse point of view, and from all the initiatives that “la Caixa” Foundation promote.