2009-13: PhD Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck College University of London. 2007-08 BA Psychology, Cardiff University. 2004-09 MA Psychology, University of Social Sciences & Huamities, Wroclaw (Poland)
MA (Hons.), PhD
2018-present: University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (HES-SO Valais-Wallis), Sion (Switzerland). 2014-17: Depts. Clinical Neurosciences & Radiology, University of Lausanne (Switzerland). 2012-13: Dept. Experimental Psychology, Oxford University.
Junior Group Leader/ Lecturer
I’m a Central-European creative guy who decided to study people’s brains so that he can help children and adults better learn and function every day
I live in Lausanne, a small city in the French part of Switzerland, situated between a large crystal-clear lake (Lake Geneva) and the Alps. But, actually, I don’t like the mountains very much; instead I go to the gym and bike up the hilly streets of Lausanne and along the lake itself.
I live in a spacious pre-War flat (5th floor, no lift), surrounded by an ever growing collection of plants and books. If I could, I’d have a dog (but I travel too much). I typically read several books at the same time, and often don’t finishing any of them; this way I have at my fingertips access to multiple worlds, without ever having to say goodbye to any of them. But as often you can find me at some café, catching up with friends or trying out a new restaurant. I’m probably too old for this, but I still like to go out, as I like to dance.
I am Polish by birth, but I have German, Ukrainian and Hungarian roots. I’ve been permanently living abroad since I was 23, and I feel everyone should spend at least one or two years living abroad.
I lead a small group of researchers interested in the how people learn and behave in the outside world, like the classroom, the high-street or at home. In all those environments, a lot of things are happening at the same time. If a person wants to learn something, they need to focus all their attention on it, so they don’t get distracted by other events. We do know that the better people can focus on something – a letter, a word or an equation – the better they will remember it. But in the classroom and other outside situations many of our senses, not just our eyes are stimulated at the same time. So I study if in such “multi-sensory” situations, people need to focus more or less when only their eyes are stimulated. I am especially interested in how this need to focus is different for children and how it changes as they grow older. Understanding these ideas might be important in helping all children learn better every day. But maybe it will help us most to help those children that have problems with reading or counting, or those with problems with their health, for example, not seeing well. As to have a better idea about how people learn, we need every bit of help we can get. So I use electroencephalography (EEG) – a cap put on people’s heads where sensors pick up the activity of their brain – and often I use as the first person to test the new experiments on (see picture where I am pretending to be a child with a patch on my eye :). I also study if kids learn better (or worse!) if they learn while playing games, on tablets or even virtual reality (see picture). So, in my work, I use technology and the knowledge about the brain to better understand how we learn. If you want to read a little bit more about my research, my colleagues and I wrote easy to understand article about attention, and a blogpost about learning. Have a look 🙂
My Typical Day:
I answer emails (meh!), train students how to do experments (uff..), and work with doctors, teachers and experts in other fields figuring out how to improve how people learn (yay..!)
My job involves conducting experiments, and teaching Master’s and PhD students how to do run experiments (I don’t really give lectures to students). To do so, I spend half my time at the Department of Radiology at University of Lausanne, where we measure the behaviour of children and adults as they do our tasks measuring, for example, how they attend, and how their brains activate while they are doing those tasks. The other half I spend at the University of Applied Sciences in a nearby region of French Switzerland where I work with experts in complex analyses of data collected during medical procedures; these experts help us better analyse our data measuring participants behaviour during our attention or memory tasks, data measuring their brain activity, and other data, like how kids are doing in school (see first picture). This way, my typical day is spent on the train, as the two cities are 1,5h apart (and I get to take pretty picture of the lake and Alps – picture!). I also spend a lot of time meeting with doctors, teachers and other experts, like engineers specialising in securely storing the data that we collect or with the developers of games that we use in our experiments. Here, a big part of my job is explaining the aim of our experiments (and why they are important!) and discussing how we can improve them by working together. This is quite a hard job. In the meantime, I write scientific articles (or speak at conferences – see picture) to explain the results of our studies to other scientists; this is one of my favourite activities. To write in peace I try to escape to some nice café, put nice rhythmic music on and write, for a few days in a row if I am lucky.
What I'd do with the prize money:
I would organize a series of events for teachers and for parents (with whole families!), where where we can discuss with each group our results, what do they mean to them, and how to improve our studies to answer questions that are important to them.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Impossible is something-that-hasnt-been-yet-done
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to go to an arts university, but I've soon realised I can't draw a chair that looks like an actual chair. So I decided to study something equally complex - the human mind. (I still dabble in arts and crafts at home; but I stay away from recreating chairs)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes, a bit (Don't tell my mom I told you).
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I listen to a lot of new and/or obscure artists making electronic music, and am an avid fan of techno music (quite rare for a scientist). Check out Forest Swords or Chris Clark :)
What's your favourite food?
Chips and pizza are my kryptonite
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Teleportation, so I can see my close friends and family spread around the world more often; 2) Patience; 4) Be less distractful
Tell us a joke.
<inserts a meme>
What topics do you work on?
I am interested in the processes that help children focus on the currently important bits of information and ignore the distacting bits in naturalistic, multisensory (with information stimulating multiple senses at once) environments. Real-world environments, such as classroooms, are multisensory in nature, yet most reseach here focused on how children attend to visual or auditory information. I study how those “multisensory attention” processes shape the abilities to read and do basic maths in healthy children and those with visual impairments (e.g. amblyopia or “lazy eye”). I typically use EEG (method of recording electrical brain activity) to better understand the brain mechanisms orchestrating these attentional processes, as behavioural measurements are often not reliablye in children.
What methods do you use?
I use rigorous tasks developed in research on visual attention processes in adults that offer well-tested behavioural measures of attentional processes. I combine these with advanced analyses of EEG (called electrical neuroimaging) that offer insights into when, where and how a given process happened in the brain. I also use standardised tests of academic achievement to assess children’s basic cognitive and reading/ basic maths skills
Who was your favourite teacher?
The teacher who had the biggest influence on me was my high-school Polish teacher, Mr Bonarski. Kind, polite (only stark when appropriate) and witty, taught me that passion is built on hard work.
Me and my work
Funded by an Ambizione grant from the Swiss Science Foundation, I am currently setting up my own group at the Information Systems Institute at the HES-SO situated in the Valais canton (“the valleys”) in the middle of the Swiss Alps. My research focuses on how to best combine experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience & technology to improve classroom learning and the treatment of sensory and learning disorders. For example, I’m currently testing if embedding new ophthalmic treatments in virtual reality environments helps children recover their visual functions faster than with typical treatments.
I typically spend my days writing scientific articles (often also grant applications, ugh..), supervising Master’s and PhD students and setting up and managing research collaborations with a wide range of scientists and experts in health, technology and education. As such, my typical day involves finding a common language with experts in different fields, and then putting the fruits of our discussions onto paper (uff..).