Pictured above: The first IBRO-USCRC Marine Biological Laboratory Fellow (2015), Angie Salles (3rd from right) from Argentina, with Dr. Cynthia F. Moss’s BatLab at Johns Hopkins University in 2017.
Our first IBRO-USCRC Marine Biological Laboratory Fellow, Angeles (or Angie) Salles from Argentina, has been excelling in her neuroscience research career since being awarded her IBRO fellowship in 2015. She is now a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Cynthia F. Moss’s Comparative Neural Systems and Behavior Lab at Johns Hopkins University. Below, she took some time to share her experiences with us and what her hopes are for the future.
Why did you first become interested in neuroscience?
I’ve always been interested in animal behavior but it was during my undergraduate studies that it became clear to me that I wasn’t satisfied just by observing behaviors; I wanted to understand how those behaviors came to be. This led me to start asking myself questions about the brain that expanded my interest in the field of neuroscience.
How did you find out about IBRO?
I found about IBRO when I got accepted to the Neural Systems and Behavior Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). My thesis advisor, Dr. Ramiro Freudenthal from the Institute of Physiology, Molecular Biology and Neuroscience (IFIBYNE), was very supportive in encouraging me to apply for the course and advised me to apply for an IBRO fellowship to help cover the costs. In Argentina, financial support for professional development in science is scarce and IBRO is highly regarded as an organization that helps the development of scientists in the region. Fortunately, IBRO and MBL together covered most of my expenses and I was able to attend this course which was a pivotal time in my life and career.
As IBRO USCRC's first fellow in 2015, what did you do during your grant period?
I searched for a lab that would provide me with an insight into ways of tackling questions in neuroethology that weren’t being developed in my country. After thoroughly looking at many labs online I contacted Dr. Cynthia F. Moss who was very welcoming and opened the doors of her lab to me so I could learn about the research they carried out at Johns Hopkins University. There I observed and participated in several projects that involved behavioral, neurobiological, and computational studies in bats.
Did the grant help you in your career?
This grant was instrumental for the next step in my career. It helped me consolidate my interests in neuroethology and decide how I wanted to expand my expertise in neuroscience during the following years. Furthermore, it gave me the opportunity to get to know the work environment at Dr. Moss’s lab while, at the same time, it gave Dr. Moss the possibility of evaluating me as a candidate. This is a rare opportunity since most graduate students from Argentina that decide to move abroad to do a postdoc rely on skype interviews to make that decision. I can definitely say that I would not be where I am now if I hadn’t obtained this fellowship.
What research are you doing now and where?
At the moment I am a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Moss’s Comparative Neural Systems and Behavior Lab at Johns Hopkins University. The lab works with bats as a model system to study auditory scene analysis, space representation, decision-making, sensorimotor integration and flight control. My research focuses on trying to understand how the brain of these auditory specialist discriminates echolocation from communication sounds that may overlap in spectral features. I believe this research will have great impact in the understanding how the brain of other mammals such as humans discriminate auditory stimuli that differ in behavioral relevance.
What would you like to focus on in the future?
I am fully committed to pursuing a research career and I hope that one day, in my own lab, I can bring together the expertise in molecular neurobiology I gained during my PhD with the behavioral, electrophysiological and computational expertise I am developing now to tackle important questions in neurobiological bases of behavior. In my own lab I would aspire to foster a creative and productive environment, with a clear intent on promoting collaboration among its members and other labs.
Furthermore, I hope to encourage young scientists from diverse backgrounds to pursue research and help reduce the gender gap we still face within academia. I am very interested in teaching, both by having graduate students perform research in my lab and by giving lectures; and would be very happy to be able to make this part of my career.
What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for young researchers in the field of neuroscience right now?
I believe that the field has become intensely competitive and that unfortunately many professional opportunities hinge on the impact factor of the journals one publishes in. This is a big challenge for scientists from regions with lower investment in science because some journals favor publishing papers with cutting-edge techniques that might be hard to develop as fast, and publication costs are also a big factor to be considered.
As for opportunities, I believe that the offer of international courses in different areas of neuroscience has risen and that these are extremely beneficial. These courses help build connections and collaborations while at the same time expanding the knowledge of how to tackle questions in the field.
Could you share any lessons learned and insights based on your experiences that could help others in the early stages of their careers?
I would say apply for everything. Apply to participate in courses, apply for fellowships and apply for travel grants. The experience is that you might only get a small fraction of the things you apply for, but the ones you get will greatly help your career and professional development. Also, the more you apply the better you get at it as you learn from your mistakes. This is something that not many courses teach but securing funding will be an intrinsic part of almost everybody’s academic career.
Do you think brain advocacy is an important activity for neuroscientists today?
I do believe brain advocacy is an important activity for neuroscientists today because it brings neuroscience closer to the community. This has the potential to inspire young kids that will be the scientists of tomorrow. Also I believe it is the responsibility of neuroscientist to make sure that the news shared with the public are of sound scientific content and express the truth regarding the findings in the field.
Is there anything else IBRO and its regional committees could do to support young researchers such as yourself?
IBRO has many ways of helping researchers (travel grants, return home fellowships, etc.) at different stages in their career and I believe they are doing a great job at it. In particular, IBRO supported me on different instances; I received the IBRO USCRC fellowship and also I received support from IBRO to attend the Neural Systems and Behavior Course at MBL in 2014 and the IBRO travel grant I used to attend SfN in 2016. I published my first lead author research paper in IBRO’s journal “Neuroscience” which is a high quality journal with no submission or publishing fees for subscription papers. All these stages helped my career in different aspects and I’m grateful for each.