A Woman's Journey into Cognitive Psychology.

Akila Kadambi - Cognitive Psychology PhD Student at UCLA

Photography : @maria_boguslav

Photography : @maria_boguslav

I am currently doing my PhD at UCLA in cognitive psychology. I reduce the human body to dots and use deep learning models to understand how to recognize people’s body language. I actually started college as an undeclared major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and took a cognitive science course in my freshman year. I found it so interesting and gravitated towards the research of my professor. I joined her lab and got mentored by so many wonderful grad students. I learned how to use different methodologies like electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and assisted graduate students in their projects.

Over time I became comfortable with being computational and rigorous when studying the brain. I learned MatLab and went on to learn how to program in three different languages. I was only one of three girls in my programming course and we teamed up on a project. A professor visiting from Germany loved what we were doing and invited us out there. In Germany, I worked on a brain computer interface. The goal was to use electrical brain signals to predict what set of cards someone would choose from their hand.

The most difficult part for me was always not having computation or neuroscientific experience when I started out. I restricted myself from going into those fields because I thought they were complicated and I didn’t know enough. I was also scared to speak scientifically because I didn’t want to say something incorrect. I was blessed to have encouraging mentors that helped me overcome that (and I know that not everyone has that privilege). I was pushed to see my own intelligence and not be scared to share my opinion and that helped me a lot.

Even now I struggle with self doubt. I compare myself to the people around me and what they are doing. Even though I don’t face a lot of issues that most women do (like being in a male dominated environment), I still have moments of insecurity. Even though imposter syndrome can technically happen in both men and women, I think women tend to compare themselves to unrealistic standards and are extra hard on themselves. Living up to the standards society puts on women for their education, intelligence, and beauty is exhausting. The best way to overcome it is to talk about and share your experience. It’s only after that do you realize that other women go through it too and that you are not alone in that journey.

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