Marie Skłodowska-Curie Day, Dream big!

Last week I had a pleasure to participate in a panel on the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships together with my colleagues. It was a special privilege since being a Polish-born, French citizen, as Marie Skłodowska-Curie was, I felt proud to represent the fellowship that has a name of this great female scientist. Or as Isaac Newton would say, I had an impression to stand on the shoulders of the Giants for this short moment. Preparing for the talk I was thinking about all the little steps that brought me to become MSCA fellow and now evaluator. Looking back, it all seemed like a faraway dream. But with effort, determination, support, and a bit of luck, it became reality. The beauty of this fellowship is to allow the young researchers to dream…creating at the beginning of their career a project on the topic they want, with collaborators they want, and in the country they want. Being a MSCA fellow is an adventure by itself, and I encourage all young researchers to apply! It is never to late to dream, especially in science!

Bringing a story into science, one important project at a time

Last week I presented our new project in SEPP, 5th congress of Positive Psychology in Bilbao, Spain. I went there tired, knowing that intensive format of the symposiums, inspiring keynote talks and numerous social events will not going to help me coming back home relaxed and energized, where my two boys were waiting for me. They both were not happy about the fact that their mummy was leaving for several days to work instead of going with them for a hike in the mountains. I told them I go there in order to present an important project. They politely responded “OK mamusiu” [a Polish word for mum], but we both knew that hiking together would be much more fun.

While preparing the presentation I realized I do not have much things to say. Since I did not had any data to share and was only showing the protocol of the study, I decided to move outside of the box and tell the public of the congress my story. We do not often hear the story behind the research. Why would someone get interested in studying sea lions migration instead of sea turtles? How someone gets to approach archaeological soil analysis from advanced chemistry perspective? What exactly makes the scientist ask themselves a precise research question and not the other? Or as in my case, what brought me to the point of asking the question whether compassion-based intervention can improve psychological, metabolic, and relational outcomes in youths with type 1 diabetes and their caregivers?

While giving the final touch to my power-point before the session  my heart was bouncing in my chest, and my eyes were filling themselves with tears. It was not really because of the fact that my presentation time was approaching. I did already many of those scientific presentations where some personal insecurities can be nicely hidden behind fancy analysis or well-crafted graphs. It was more because it was my first time presenting a story, my story behind the research.

“I am very activated,” I told to my colleague sitting next to me who was also presenting in the same session. “Are you sure you want to do this?”, she asked. “Yes,” I paused, “I think it is important.”

We went to the conference room filled with people. I set and tried to keep my calm. “I will do a vulnerability exercise in my presentation,” I told to my session moderator. “You will do what?” he responded. “Don’t worry, you will see,” I said, knowing that he is a psychologist and a mindfulness teacher so although the context was not usual, he would understand me.

When it was my turn, I came and started with a joke about my accent so to put everyone at ease, including myself. I continued with the scientific background, innovative points, and research methods. The public seemed attentive, and I could catch the eyes of many of my colleagues sitting there. Just before concluding I said, “I would like to share with you the reason why of this particular project.” I took a deep breath and showed them the quotation of Victor Frankl: In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds the meaning. “This project is for me a way to make a meaning of my experience and share my knowledge so others that hopefully can benefit from it,” I breathed out.

I showed the photo of my 10-month son Teo, just a month before his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes. Back then, in Spain there was no continuous glycemia monitoring, insulin pomps, or nearly any adapted to this age range tools covered by the social security. The doses of insulin that my son needed were so small that even the minimal unit in the insulin pen was too much for him and we needed to mix the serum with insulin in what seemed at the time the biggest syringe in the world, comparing to his tinny thigh. The doctor said to us that the risk is that he might fall asleep and not wake up because of possible hypoglycemia, so I just stayed awake, as long as I could. It was the toughest time in our life.

Now Teo is 9,5 years old and enjoying his life to the fullest. He has the newest equipment supporting his diabetes management in his daily live, and I can go to bed knowing that an alarm will wake me up if his blood sugar dangerously drops.

The goal of my presentation was to emphasize the importance of the psychological support for youth with diabetes and their caregivers, while being aware that there are still some parts of the world where the basic insulin supply is only a kind wish. But we all need to start dreaming somewhere, aren’t we?

I stopped the talk and had difficulties to gaze around to connect with the public. I was vulnerable, but so the whole room was. Not sure if it was the effect of my emotional induction, or a general emotional contagion but the emotions were palpable in the conference room, and one could hear their neighbors blow their noses. I felt released and satisfied. My story helped me to connect to my purpose as a scientist. Also my son could see his photo projected on the screen of a scientific conference, so he could see that although much less fun than hiking, mummies’ work was important after all.

UvA Summer School 2021: A love story

When I proposed UvA summer school office potential collaboration in creating a programme on mindfulness and compassion, I really thought it will be a one time only event… it turned out that it was a whole love story!

I still remember my first encounter with Mirjam and her team, entering their office in rush trying to fit the meeting in the middle of my numerous tasks on my never ending to do list. My plan was to pitch them the concept of a weekend-long lecture/workshops on the topic of mindfulness and compassion. Nice and easy way to disseminate scientific knowledge to the interdisciplinary young academic public. I felt confident and happy with my plan, till the moment when I heard that they are usually working with a 3 weeks format, which put me in a state of shock.

3 weeks?! the whole 21 days of intensive teaching? 6 credits usually taught during few months condensed into this format? During that time I did not had even 3 minutes for a relaxing coffee time; which by the way was not very mindful nor compassionate for myself, I must admit; finding time for 3 weeks intensive experience not mentioning the whole preparation time was impossible to imagine.

I talked to my colleges: they all thoughts it was crazy. I did my pro/cons list in my head: the balance for NO was obvious. I set down… the logical part of myself was saying in loops something along the lines: “don’t you even dare considering it!”. Still, I could not ignore tingling, moving and bubbles popping positive kind of feeling in my body. My heart was filled with joy and my body was exited.

I went to my supervisor and I said to her: Susan, I don’t know why, I know that it sounds insane, but I want to run this 3 week summer school. She responded calmly, if you feel like doing it, go for it! So I did.

From that moment on it was a beginning of a beautiful adventure!

The combination of multidisciplinary knowledge coming from the best experts in the field, different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences coming from the students from around the world; together with the safe space created to reflect, discuss and most importantly experience ourselves in the interaction with others, what we have in common and what makes us uniquely different, made it a bliss. We witnessed together stories of burn out and anxiety in people tired of being perfect; stories of self-discoveries of strengths; coming out for participants born in countries where freedom of being who you are has a different meaning; and stories of beauty of being human.

As Mandy Len Catron [1] perfectly put it in one of her The New York Times article “it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known”. I must say that I feel privileged to know each one of you who were in this programme so far, and those who helped me to build it and continue to innovate it in the most creative way!  Because grace to you all I could also know better myself. This is why also I am looking forward with the same excitement as several years ago to every person with who I will cross my path in the future programmes.  Reis & Aron [2] defined love as a desire to enter, maintain or expend a close, connected and ongoing relationship with another person and another entity. Therefore, the only title I can put to this programme is a real Love story. If you too want to be a part of it, check it out! https://bit.ly/3pDPHkV 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/style/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html

[2] Reis & Aron (2008). Love: What Is It, Why Does It Matter, and How Does It Operate? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(1), 80-86.

What, How, If, and When…of Emotion Regulation

It’s been a challenging, strange and among all a very full of emotions year. As we all struggling with our emotions sometimes it feels appropriate, especially now when this year get toward the end, to stop for the moment and take time to explore our current emotion regulation toolbox. Thus, it was a real pleasure for me to chat about Emotional Regulation and Mindfulness with Tsamara in her Podcast: Meditate with Tsamara (@tsamarafahrana).

Together we explored what emotion regulation is, how to differentiate between the moment when we might want to apply emotion regulation strategy or nor, the impact of certain emotion regulation strategies on the brain, and its relationship to mindfulness. I hope you enjoy this episode and I invite you to continue the exploration by reflecting on your 3 favorite strategies for both, positive and negative affect.

Check out this and many more episodes of Tsamara’s podcast:

Join us for Mindfulness and Compassion Winter online course at the University of Amsterdam

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

In these busier, interconnected, and uncertain times people’s lives take different trajectories toward “new normality”.  To adapt to the changes, we see in ourselves and others we need some new tools. Therefore, I would love to invite you to immerse yourself digitally in our mindfulness and compassion online winter programme (4EC) that I will have pleasure to run together with University of Amsterdam.

Let us introduce you to the theories and concepts of contemplative science, and guide you through the exploration of personal practice.

I look forward to seeing you from wherever you are! More more information please check the website!

Stand-up … for science: Spanish FameLab 2020 final!

So here I was…standing on a stage in front of the public with my heart beating and shaky hands, talking about emotion regulations… hoping that somehow, I will manage to decrease my own amygdala arousal …

And you know what, I did! But not because I am an emotion regulation expert nor so much because the “labelling affect” emotion regulation strategy that I was describing in my monologue worked perfectly well for me. Instead, I felt supported and hold by the whole FameLab team! Co-regulating together our emotions!

So, I feel super grateful for the incredible team from FECYT-Ciencia and British Council (Cesar, Dani, Fatima, Belen) that made all this possible as well as to all contestants that made this adventure worth it (Jorge, Alicia, Javi, Pablo, Victor, Ramon, Inez, Laura, Alejandro, Dani, y Araceeeeeli)! If you speak Spanish check out our performance here! 

In the end of the day, I learned about sexual behavior of insects, light pollution, democracy, diversity in genetics, gambling, luck, explosive cellular death, gut-brain axis, GPSs, nostrils’ cells, and what is the relationship between hypophysis and the Games of Thrones.

But a part of learning new scientific facts in a fun way I also discovered more about Spanish culture, their sense of humor, and their wholeheartedness, which for me is a perfect framework to diseminate science!

5 mindful tips to deal with the current crisis

Wherever you are right now we are all facing the same crisis that leaves us with a feeling of danger and uncertainty.

In consequence, fear and anxiety keeps as company nearly every day…

In this video I would like to propose you few practical tips to help us dealing with this situation. You can check it out by clicking here!

I also want to remind you that each one of us have their own and unique resources that makes us feel safe and connected. Maybe you like to sing and you are regularly meeting your friends online and sing together, or you have a chat group with your family and friends to share updates and encouragements, or you have some free time and you volunteer to help others digitally in your field of expertise; you name it! Find your own resources that make you feel connected and meaningful, which is a best antidote to fear and loneliness.

Stay safe!

Covid-19 confinement from the evolutionary perspective

 

health workers wearing face mask

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

So, why the confinement is so difficult for us, a part of not having enough toilet paper…

With my collegues from the FameLab2020 we decided to support #stayhome inciative and propose you some short and hopefully entertaining scientific monologues.

In my monologue, I shortly explain why this confinement results so difficult for us from evolutionary and our nervous system perspective. You can watch it by clicking here !

For the Spanish speaking public you can follow all our monologues by clicking here!

I wish you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. Be well!

 

What if we could communicate science in a fun way?

When few years ago I invited my student to do a short 3 min pitch on their selected topic, I realized that I do not really know how to do a good pitch. Indeed, as scientists we are very good at communicating our results to other scientists, especially in our field. However, in order to create the bridges between science and society we need to transfer our knowledge in a completely different way. We need to communicate with some fun and simplicity without decreasing the scientific precision – a skill that we are usually not taught during our career.  I started browsing online to give my students the best possible tips, and I found the FameLab – an international scientific monologues competition which the main purpose is to improve our communication skills, talking about our research with a public audience, and to join a global network of science communicators in different fields. Additionally, they are giving very helpful and clear instruction on how to create your own scientific pitch.

My students did great pitch presentations and we indeed had a lot of fun, comparing to previous years with power point presentations. And I kind of forgot about the whole FameLab concept until this year when I had a conversation with my colleagues on science communication. I told them about this cool thing (i.e., FameLab) and my experience with the students, and when I entered their website I saw that the application deadline for 2020 competition is in 1 day! As my New Year intention was to have some fun, I decided to apply, and guess what … I was selected to Spanish national semi-finals among 11 other amazing people! So please keep your fingers crossed because standing in front of 400 people without being able to hide behind a laptop or a power point to help to cover up sudden memory loss is completely new to me!

semifinalistas_2020

Making Friends with Yourself

When is the good time to start taking care of yourself? When I get this degree, my dreamed job, or when I get older and will have some more free time? And how about starting right now?  Adolescence is a time of change, growth and often, struggle.  Teens might be confronted with various intense situations  such as heartbreak, anxiety, peer pressure, bullying.

Making Friends with Yourself is scientifically validated protocol to help teens build resources in managing difficult emotions and learning practices through fun activities based on mindfulness and self-compassion.

Together with AVAST (Valencian Association for Support of High Intelectual Capacities) and Global C (Center of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy) we run this 8-weeks course designed to help adolescents navigating through emotional ups and downs of this life stage with greater ease.