Today’s Young Professional: Canadian Neuroscientist Dr. Lorina Naci

Lorina Naci is a neuroscientist with a passion for understanding human consciousness. She studies people with brain-related injuries to assess their brain function post-accident. Dr. Naci will receive the L’Oréal-Unesco for Women in Science International Rising Talents award in Paris, France, on March 23rd.

In Lorina’s words:

My passion for science stems from my desire to understand the human mind. I’ve always been intrigued by human consciousness, specifically ‘what makes human consciousness special? Question such as ‘can we build intelligent machines that are indistinguishable from humans?’ have previously informed my work. My background in intelligence and psychology has helped me solve these questions. What fascinates me most of all is ‘how consciousness emerges from the workings of the brain?’ and ‘can we help brain-injured individuals to regain consciousness?’ this has led to my work in neuroscience.

Do you know where you got your drive to succeed from?
Deep down, I think my drive to succeed comes from growing up in a family, where our idea of fun was pondering philosophical topics like what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or discussing the meaning of ‘not judging a book by its cover’ over meals and in our free time.

I learned early that success is about doing the ‘right’ thing, or getting things ‘right’, not narrowly for oneself, but about issues that can have a wide societal impact. So, success for me has never been about money or being successful in terms of material wellbeing.

To me, I’m most “successful” and proud of myself when I’m helping to make the world a better place.

Capture (via son site)

Do you know where you get your drive to succeed from? 
Overcoming hardships motivates me. Science is always on the cutting edge of creativity and innovation. With this comes tremendous uncertainty, much more present in science than in other well established professions, whether be it regarding research results, funding sources, or the ability to create change and have a positive impact in society.

The potential implications of my work are so exciting and make all my effort and hardwork worth it. I’m fired up with passion and energy when I think that my work can provide hope to the family of a coma patient, allow a non-responsive brain-injured individual to communicate, or even, in the future, help save patients’ lives.

As I continue to grow in my career, I am hugely excited and motivated by the opportunity to serve as a role model and inspire girls and young women who want to pursue science careers. This is what I love about the L’Oréal-UNESCO “For Women in Science” program, it’s all about mentorship, encouragement and growth.

What would you say is your preferred way to network?
Nothing beats meeting someone in person and speaking face to face, whether in a conference, at a party, or even at the water cooler.

What I love is when the opportunity presents itself to uncover common ground and connect with people on issues I care deeply about.

Social media can be great for this, because it enables issue-driven conversations. For example, I often speak out about causes I believe in, like the progress of women in science or helping refugees on Twitter or Facebook, and the strength of the connection that can emerge even with distant acquaintances takes me by surprise.


How would you describe your process for deepening relationships?
For me, the strongest and deepest connections have been born in moments of difficulty when I’ve had to show my vulnerability and have had to ask for help. A small gesture like a heartfelt kind work can quickly deepen a relationship. These moments of true need break barriers, and also help me really understand the people around me. In turn, one has to be there for others in difficult times. This idea resonates with the words of Robert Frosts, one of my favourite poets, in his beautiful poem “Mending Wall,” where he questions whether “good fences make good neighbours.” It’s worth a read if you have not come across it!

What are your preferred tools for keeping organized?
My strongest tool is visualization, or creating an inner vision of what I need to do, in order of importance. It is not a quick fix; rather, it takes a lot of thinking, but I find that the vision of how things (whether events or items on a to-do list) fit together helps me stay on top of a busy life. The beauty of this system is that, if something does not fit into the vision, organically I know it has to go, and the decision of cutting stuff out becomes an obvious one.

How do you market yourself and/or your work?
I market myself through my personal website and social media tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I also present my work at scientific conferences, deliver public lectures to lay audiences and engage in outreach activities. To ensure that my research is impactful outside of academia, I also contribute to the public understanding of science, by presenting my work on radio, TV, newspapers and online.
Overall, I would say that in my field of work, the scientific output, such as journal articles are the substance of the marketing, and once you have high quality work to speak of, the marketing job is easy.

Who has been your mentor in helping you find success?
I have been lucky to have had countless mini-mentors. Most frequently, mentorship has been entirely informal. There have been many people in my life that have served as mentors, these people are friends, peers, or senior co-workers who I respect. By asking questions, I’ve found that different individuals have pointed me in the right direction at critical turning points or helped me look ahead into the future and think ahead of important decisions.

Sometimes mentorship can be like a Secret Santa gift. You don’t get to choose where it comes from. However, the key ingredient for me has been to proactively ask for advice and welcome mentorship that comes from unexpected sources.

What social issues do you support?
The equal access and promotion of women in STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics) fields.
The plight of immigrants
The plight of brain injured patients
Public understanding of science

How and where do you continue to learn?
In our technological times, there is no shortage of information channels. However, for me the most transformational learning occurs by example. Surrounding myself with people who are better than me, and whom I admire, helps me learn from their lived experience, knowledge and actions.

Do you have a fitness ritual that you live by?
I am a big believer that movement boosts mental power. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing. I like to exercise before important events, when I feel I need to be at my personal best.

How do you feed your soul?
Meditation, playing with my 3 year old son and chatting with my family. Although my parents and sister live in Tirana, Albania, speaking on the phone with them every couple of days fills me up with love and encouragement.

What lifestyle brand would you say shares your values most, if any?
The partnership between L’Oréal and UNESCO – I am inspired by their visionary support for women scientists, their commitment to research and their shared belief that science can help change the world.

What is your favourite meal?
Sashimi sushi ☺

Where is your favourite place to unwind? 
The swimming pool!