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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

How to turn your interests into a career | CAREER FEATURE -

Emily Sohn, freelance journalist in Minneapolis, Minnesota observes, Scientists are merging their life’s passions with their academic studies, and coming up with new fields in the process. 
Danish neuroscientist Peter Vuust heads a lab, teaches music and plays his bass in 60 concerts a year.
Photo: Mads Bjoern Christiansen
Indre Viskontas took piano lessons as a child and made her opera debut at age 11. But her mother, a professional conductor, told her that music did not pay well. So Viskontas, who often listened to the opera singer Maria Callas while doing homework, decided to pursue science instead, earning an undergraduate degree in psychology and French literature at the University of Toronto, Canada, and a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. During a year in London, she took singing lessons that she continued during her PhD, when she also sang opera.

Viskontas saw neuroscience as a stable career choice that might offer ideas about how to better embody roles in operatic performances. But after years of alternating her focus between science and music, she found a way to combine the two, by applying neuroscience to musical training. She now works as an opera singer and cognitive neuroscientist, with positions at the University of San Francisco, California, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Scientists who have successfully crafted a research career out of their non-academic passions and talents say that persistence and patience are key, especially when trying to merge two professional paths that might not seem obviously connected. Melding worlds can be unsettling, and it takes time and creativity to persuade funders and advisers that the work is worthwhile...

During the time it can take to work out how to combine science with an outside interest, it might be necessary to pursue both in tandem. Good organizational skills can help researchers to juggle two identities at once, says neuroscientist Peter Vuust, who is director of the Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University in Denmark. He also teaches music at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, and is a bassist. His research addresses questions about how the brain processes music, with projects such as the use of music in health care.

Vuust started playing music professionally when he was 16, but studied French and music as an undergraduate, mathematics for his master’s degree and neuroscience for his PhD. Even now, as a working scientist, Vuust plays music every morning at 6:30 for up to an hour and a half. It’s meditative time for him that helps him to maintain a performance schedule of 60 concerts a year...

Vuust took a different approach to the same need for freedom. For two years, he worked every day on applying for a major grant from the Danish National Research Foundation, which is given to about ten scientists once every three years. He didn’t get it, and had to rely instead on smaller grants. In 2014, with a polished application, he got the grant, allowing him to focus on his research and his music without worrying too much about the need to constantly seek more money...

Researching any type of science requires intense dedication and energy, Vuust says, adding that the best scientists are those who study what they love. “In order to be a really good researcher, it has to be a passion,” he says. ”What you do has to be fun.”  

Additional resources 
Nature 563, 431-433 (2018)
doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07357-2