Interviews with Scientists: Marco Sancandi

Interviews with Scientists: Marco Sancandi
5 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Marco Sancandi

Marco Sancandi was born in Rome, and when he was a kid he wasn’t really into science. However, once he started high school he became very interested in the working principles of things, and by the time he finished high school he knew he wanted to study how the brain works.

Marco got his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and his first Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience in Rome, then moved to London when he was 24 to study for his second Masters (this time in Pharmacology) with the hope that he could stay for a PhD afterwards. Now, Marco is a second year PhD student at the UCL School of Pharmacy with one month left before he starts his final year.

After meeting Marco at ENCODS 2019 (where he won our Kindle Prize Draw!) we spoke to Marco about his work, his PhD experience, his advice for new science PhD students, and more.

Great to speak to you, Marco! Firstly, we’d love to hear a bit more about your PhD...

My PhD project focuses on uncovering some of the deficits underlying hyposmia (the loss of sense of smell) in Parkinson’s disease, alongside with testing new drugs that may help slow down the progression of the disease. Specifically, using a rat model of pre-motor PD, I look at what type of neurons are affected in the olfactory pathway and how these changes affect the overall circuit.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?

No, I didn’t. I jumped between wanting to pursue several careers, from archaeologist to lawyer to medic. However, when it was time to actually choose what path to take I realised that the brain was the thing that fascinated me the most, hence, I decided to become a neuroscientist.

What are you enjoying most about your PhD?

I enjoy spending time with people in my lab. We share a lot of interests, so there is always something to talk about.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out with their PhD?

Three years seems like a very long time. However, they do pass quickly, so don’t sit on your butt thinking that you have plenty of time for doing your experiments – try to get as much as possible done from day one.

What's the most important lesson you have learned in your PhD / career so far?

It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. In school, we get used to being penalised if we can't answer all the questions that we are asked. However, a PhD is based on questions that don’t have answers yet. You do need to know your rationale inside-out though.

What’s your biggest achievement in your career to date?

That I was able to gather enough data for a paper within my first year.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists and their work at the moment?

Science is very expensive, and you do need a lot of money to carry out research. Also, because the impact factor of scientific journals is based on how much the articles they publish are cited, often you find papers comprising very fancy and cutting-edge techniques but with a flawed methodology and experiment design.

Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on right now...

My project focuses on hyposmia, so at the moment I am investigating whether the electrophysiological properties of the cells in the primary olfactory cortex is affected in the PD model.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

At the moment I am doing some electrophysiological experiments. So, I usually come in and start preparing everything at around 8:00am, then I have lunch around noon, and then I start recording until 7:00-7.30pm.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?

Outside the lab I spend most of my time cooking (I really enjoy it, and I love to try new recipes) as well as reading, and exercising.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?

I would say a nutritionist. I am very interested in how our body processes the food we eat.

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

The idea that we – all the researchers working on Parkinson’s Disease – could potentially improve millions of lives.

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

David Nutt. Because of his incredible work on depression and how psychedelics could help patients overcome their mental barriers.

What’s your favourite science quote?

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

Electricity. It completely reshaped the world we live in. I wouldn’t be able to do this interview without it.


Thank you so much for speaking with us Marco, we wish you the best of luck in the final year of your PhD!

Marco is also a member of the BNA and FENS.


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