Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Paradeisios Alexandros Boulakis
We’re delighted to introduce another of our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended nominees! Paradeisios Alexandros Boulakis is a PhD candidate at the University of Liège, Belgium, who was nominated by colleagues for not only his passion, drive and consistency, but also his ability to create ‘a safe space for people to learn and grow’.
Paradeisios is a researcher in cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience and psychophysics. He received a Bachelor's degree in psychology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and then completed a Masters in Maastricht, on cognitive neuroscience. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Physiology of Cognition Lab, studying the role of bodily arousal in attentional arousal, and specifically mind-blanking. His goal is to understand the unique relationship between the brain and the body, and to understand how the body contributes in creating what we consider "thinking".
We spoke to Paradeisios about his career so far, the importance of safe and healthy working environments, and his advice for younger scientists just starting out...
Congratulations, Paradeisios! How did it feel to find out that your colleagues had nominated you as their Lab Hero?
Thank you very much! I felt quite proud and humble at the same time, because it is always very nice for your labmates to appreciate your contribution to the lab life.
How did it feel when you found out you had been chosen by our panel as 'Highly Commended'?
I was really happy that the kind and moving words of my labmates resonated with the panel.
Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate life science researchers, and what more could be done to show life scientists recognition?
Life science attempts to solve secrets that are near to our core as human beings. If this does not speak to a person's romantic nature on knowledge and progress, I don't know what will. As for the second part of your question, I do not know if life scientists want recognition. I don't want to speak for everyone, but for me, recognition would be to advance my work uninterrrupted, so initiatives about scientific funding, grants and university positions that support long-term projects would be near and dear to my heart.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and if so, why?
Not really, I felt like a switch flipped during the final years of my university, when I decided to move towards cognitive neuroscience. Until then, I felt closer to "Humanities" studies.
What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?
From a research standpoint, the fact that my field is chaotic and constantly developing. It feels like you are swarmed with progress, and there is always something interesting being tested. From a personal standpoint, I truly enjoy meeting and collaborating with new people. I never expected to be part of such a kind and diverse community.
Your colleague praised you for creating 'a safe space for people to learn and grow' - how important is it for scientists to feel safe and supported in the lab?
I feel like we have a cultural expectation of the lonely, troubled, anxious, rude and "paranoid" scientist, pouring over their notes alone. The anxiety part might be true, yet realistically speaking, science is collaborating and feeling free to develop your ideas. How can you do that in an unsafe environment? I joined the lab as a naive masters student, and for what it is worth, my growth as a researcher and as a person can mainly be attributed to the kind, healthy and engaging environment I encountered from labmates.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you're working on in the lab at the moment?
My research is based on mind-blanking. Essentially, I try to examine what happens in the brain and in the body when people say that they think of nothing or when they say they have no thoughts. It is kind of weird, that we can try as much as we want to silence our minds to no avail, yet our mind itself sometimes blanks, spaces out or "just goes away". To this end, I want to combine brain activity with body measurements (such as ECG, pupillometry, respiration) to create a brain-body image of mind-blanking.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
It mainly depends on whether it is acquisition day or not. We typically alternate between days where we acquire data, prepare our equipment (EEG, ECG), meet participants, run experiments and then panic about proper data storage. The rest of the days, I try to focus on writing/coding early in the morning, so later I can either focus on meetings or brainstorm with my colleagues over coffee.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists at the moment?
Funding and mental health. I feel like funding is a more well-developed and expressed issue outside of academic circles given that people struggle to progress to a more steady life plan after their PhDs. As for mental health, I would really like to see a more nuanced public discussion on the topics of academic burnout, proper work-life balance and the overall anxiety from a field of work that demands constant output.
What key piece of advice would you give to a younger scientist just starting out in their career?
Don't be afraid to contact people. It can be tough starting out in academia. You are flustered with information, and sometimes it is not clear how you can pursue your goals. Contact more experienced researchers or professors. In my experience, they have always been happy to help.
Which scientists working today do you admire the most?
I feel like everyday I meet another person that influences me, so by the time the interview is out, the list will be longer. So I will say indicatively: my labmates, my supervisor, Athena Demertzi, Sarah Garfinkel, A.D. Craig, Manos Tsakiris and Steve Fleming.
What’s your favourite science quote?
"Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise." - Paul Feyerabend
Is there anything else you would like to tell us, eg. specific issues or initiatives in science that you are involved with or are passionate about?
I am currently involved with Phylis, a student association in Greece that aims to promote gender equality inside and outside of academia.
Thank you so much for speaking to us Paradeisios! And congratulations once again on being highly commended! We look forward to keeping in touch with you and following your career as it progresses.
Connect with Paradeisios:
- Twitter: @par_boulakis
- University profile: BOULAKIS Paradeisios
- Lab website: Physiology of Cognition
And you can meet our other Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 prize-winners here.
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