• Anastasia Karamzina

Inaugural Speaker Event: Dr Leor Zmigrod

On the 5th March, Cambridge Women Who Lead hosted an inaugural speaker event, featuring Dr Leor Zmigrod, a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College and a researcher in the field of the psychology of ideological adherence and group identity formation. The discussion covered a huge variety of topics, from her passion for science and the role of women in STEM to the questions of personal motivation and her plans for the future.

The event began with Leor telling us more about her personal journey, starting from her time as a Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Undergraduate at Cambridge where she developed an early passion for psychology and neuroscience, and continuing with her time at Cambridge, Stanford and Harvard as a PhD student. Leor is currently enjoying her fellowship at Churchill and particularly values the opportunity to develop her personal research in this position.

The discussion then moved to the topic of Leor’s personal experience as a woman navigating a male-dominated science field. Leor emphasised the importance of standing up for yourself in work-related situations to the extent of having uncomfortable conversations with male colleagues about implicit sexism, as well the creation of support structures for female/non-binary scientists. Following up on this, Leor also gave some advice to young female/non-binary students looking for a way to enhance their research skills and find opportunities for practical work: from trying out as many possible fields as you can before you settle for a single research area, to reaching out to professionals in the field with your own ideas of how you can contribute to their research process. Leor encouraged us to take all available opportunities and use our passion for particular topics to drive our careers forward.

It was extremely interesting to also hear about how Leor herself has contributed to opening a gateway into scientific research for young people as the founder of Cambridge Cognitive Science Research Assistantship Scheme. The idea of the scheme is to give young students with an interest in science an opportunity to gain data analysis skills online, all while helping Leor develop her own neuroscience research. At a time when the world was rapidly changing because of COVID-19, with limited opportunities for real-life research activities or internships, the project sparked a massive interest among students. Moreover, as a result of the experience, many of them decided to apply to read psychology or neuroscience at university, and Leor is currently looking for ways to expand this scheme across other scientific fields.

Leor also told us how she used her time during the pandemic to work on another project: a collection of papers gathered from leading researchers in the field of political neuroscience, which Leor single-handedly compiled with the aim of analysing the direction in which this research area is developing and what it could become in the future. In terms of Leor’s own future, she shared her excitement about an upcoming fellowship in Paris that she will embark on in a month’s time and talked about her plans to either continue her research or focus more on teaching, depending on where her interests lie in the coming years.

In the Q&A session that followed the main discussion, CWWL members had a chance to ask Leor about an even wider range of topics: the focus of her research and why she has chosen to specialise in the neuroscience of radicalisation; the work-life balance in academia, gender differences from the point of view of a neuroscientist as well as Leor’s personal day-to-day motivations and inspirations. This enriching discussion was concluded with the performance of a spoken word piece titled ‘Courage’ by Eliz Avni, whose words truly moved everyone present and inspired us all to keep going no matter how many hardships life throws at us.

The team of Cambridge Woman Who Lead thanks Dr Leor Zmigrod for coming to speak to us, and Eliz Avni for such an emotional performance. We also thank all the CWWL members who joined us for this amazing evening of discussion and reflection - we are looking forward to seeing you again at our future events!

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