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Meet Karolina Opová: A Clinical Neuroscientist

What is your name, institution, and field of study?

My name is Karolina, and I have a BSc in Neuroscience from Queen Mary University of London and have recently graduated from University College London with an MSc in Clinical Neuroscience. My primary focus is on neurodegeneration and clinical research. Parallel to higher education, I started coordinating the ‘Translational Neuroscience’ research program at a National Institute of Mental Health and continue to manage clinical trial projects within a European clinical research organisation.

Why did you choose to join a research lab and what has the research taught you about a career in science?

During my time in my undergraduate degree, I have gained diverse laboratory experience, from brain dissections to histology and many other (mostly) entertaining lab activities. I always took it extremely seriously, as clearly documented on the image above - sarcasm implied. But without a doubt, I have found my main calling in the research more directly in contact with human patients. It was also one of the primary reasons why I chose to focus my research endeavors on topics with strong potential to enhance clinical practice in the near future.

Nonetheless, due to the COVID-19 situation slowly gaining momentum, no lab-based projects were allowed. I soon found out systematically reviewing existing literature carried its own challenges, forcing many students like me to learn new skills, e.g. how to devise effective strategies to search through the databases or how to operate statistical software whilst being able to interpret its outputs. So, if you happen to be a scientist in the making, disappointed by lab research being put on hold – do not underestimate the role of well-interpreted, review-based articles for the sake of scientific progress or the learning opportunities it might bring you.

What are your career goals and how has your research experience helped with this?

I would say that my ultimate career goal is to expand my understanding of how the process of clinical trials works and how I can help to better that process through the lens of a scientist.

Both my academic and professional experience has taught me that clinical trials can be extremely complex and nuanced. There are many regulatory and safety protocols in place, to protect the patients involved, all with the rather challenging goal of developing life-changing treatments. These complex projects need input from professionals with many different backgrounds to ensure that goal will be achieved. My involvement in clinical trials has taught me a qualified scientist can be invaluable not only whilst wearing a lab coat, and this realization leads me to consider science-related career options outside of the lab environment.

How could a scientist contribute to your field of research?

As a scientist involved in clinical trials, you can contribute to research from many different angles.

My involvement in clinical research has contributed to the field of Translational Neuroscience by ensuring the studies are ran and managed effectively and safely, in accordance with local legislation, and as dictated by governing authorities. Additionally, I am responsible for determining what procedural challenges could arise and how these problems could affect other important aspects of smooth research conduction, such as study ethics, good patient retention, or securing sufficient funding.

Although not a responsibility in my current role, a scientist involved in clinical trials could also contribute to research by synthesizing the investigated medicinal products, running any tests for outcome assessment, or analysing the biological samples collected from patients.

What is something that a non-scientist or prospective scientists would find interesting/should know about?

Some non-scientists or prospective scientists might still find it surprising that studying STEM-based subjects ultimately leads to the development of a broad range of transferable skills, e.g. data management, causal reasoning, and enhanced critical thinking. This breadth of knowledge from studying these subjects can predispose STEM students to successful careers in a wide array of healthcare and science disciplines.

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