Martina Ratto featuredMartina is a cognitive scientist  with application in real world settings such education and business.  She has used her skills in both further education and corporate training.

Martina now manages research projects for MyCognition, in clinical, education, corporate and local community settings worldwide. She also ensures that cognitive science feeds into all the company’s activities.  Martina has collaborated on projects with the Laboratory of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences at University of Genoa, IT.  She is also the co-author of several international scientific publications on cognition.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m Martina Ratto, a 29 year old cognitive scientist from Italy. Being a cognitive scientist means studying the human mind, how it works and how it can be enhanced in its functioning. I have got a background in philosophy, focusing my research in cognitive science, which is a fascinating, multidisciplinary field including psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, AI and anthropology, in addition to philosophy. I’ve always seen technology as a key for cognitive research, allowing us to better model, measure, interpret and enhance the functioning of our mind. I currently work in the MedTech/EdTech sector with a London-based SME, MyCognition, a world-leading company for cognitive assessment and digital therapeutic. As well as clinically investigating cognition, my mission is to bring cognitive research into the real world to help people and organisations to reach their full potential, such as in education and in the workplace. Digital technology allows us to stretch our arms and reach more people at the same time, thus escalating the benefits.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I see a career as any other important journey in your life: it is essential to make plans, but the best things that come are often unexpected. I tend to be a very well organised and planning-ahead person, but when it comes to my career, my plans are more about keeping multiple roads open and trying to feed them over time, rather than having a detailed fixed plan. No matter if those routes are not your priority today, they might become in 10 years, and it is good to be prepared for it. Therefore I never sat down and planned a route for my career, but I make plans and actions to leave several routes open. In the 21st century I believe it is a key skill to be able to stay flexible and change yourself according to circumstances. In my current job I play multiple roles at the same time and I don’t know which of these will develop most during my career – but I love it!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Following a career in an innovative sector can be an everyday challenge. Despite obtaining worldwide recognition and outstanding achievements, it is not easy for a MedTech/EdTech start-up to break steadily into the market and obtain investments. Innovation aims to be disruptive in creating new ways of living, but it also needs to be balanced and undisruptive for implementation in the real-word, and to be able to show proven benefits. It is an everyday challenge to make this happen, and this exposes you to the uncertainty of circumstances. You can face those challenges with perseverance, resilience and adaptability, allowing you to live with uncertainty and sail successfully through it.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My own greatest achievement has been to become a member of the MyCognition team around four years ago. This means helping people of any age to improve their cognitive health – their ability to learn, to work and to stay independent. This includes children and adults with special educational needs, psychiatric and neurological disorders and long term health conditions. It means collaborating with international academic institutions and contribute to innovative research. Our technology has been reviewed as the best cognitive health app of the year by The Times and recognised as unique by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Being a key part of this is the greatest everyday achievement of my career so far.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve always tried to build my own way, regardless of marked pathways or obstacles. Dealing with what you are passionate about makes you able to commit at your best and achieve success more easily. I was on a good MA degree course, but I wanted something more: I have personalised my curriculum with STEMs. There weren’t any Erasmus opportunities available in the UK through my university so I looked on my own for an Erasmus internship in cognitive science in London, and I got it, which is my current job. I think it is about not stopping where there’s no route, but starting to build yourself the route you wish. But the greatest factor for success is to be surrounded by people who believe in you and support you on that way. I’ve been lucky enough to meet them.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Keep your mind open. As well as specialising in a narrow field, try to broaden your knowledge and expertise on a multidisciplinary landscape, also nurturing soft skills such as organisation, problem solving, ability to work in teams and to communicate effectively. 90% of problems are communication problems and without good communication skills you will not be able to express your talent and ideas, no matter whether your profession deals more with numbers and graphs than words. Do care about people, not only the ones around you, but also the ones beyond your work. Technology is a human product made up to help humans. Always try to deeply understand the human need you are trying to meet with technology, making a clear distinction between the purpose and the means you use to achieve it. Finally, stay curious about new things and never stop your lifelong learning pathway. Be prepared to be flexible and change your mind, absorbing inspirations from anywhere.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I believe there are still some barriers, and most come from society and education. You can see this mirrored in individual choices for different academic pathways: only a minority of girls still opt for an engineering, IT or data science undergraduate course, and the reason for this may sit on established stereotypes for technology roles in which most girls don’t see themselves represented. A way to overcome this barrier could be to change both the way girls represent themselves, and the representation of tech roles through education, starting from early years and primary school. On the one side, girls can be encouraged to undertake playful activities cleaned out from gender connotation, such as coding, robotics, brick building, problem solving and experimental activities. On the other side, the ‘human face’ of technology should be highlighted, thus encouraging girls to still nurture different soft skills which are not technology-related, but which can add value to technology advancement. Also tech roles that combine creativity, arts and human relationships with ‘hard science’ should be promoted, where a larger proportion of girls could see their aspirations represented.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think the key is reducing inequalities, while promoting diversity. Any worker should be offered the same opportunities of employment and a career based on objective measures of competence and quality of performance, rather than gender. At the same time, company policies should encourage different approaches to work and promote gender differences, which can be an added value for divergent thinking, leading to innovation.

An obstacle to a woman’s career is often work-life balance: appropriate company policies allowing flexible timings, smart working and dedicated training programmes for returning to work after maternity leave can help women progress their career alongside their life plans. However, there are still women willing to commit most of their lifetime to their job, and companies should invest in them, allowing them to reach high responsibility roles and career rewards without prejudices.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

If I could make a spell, I would make a massive digital alphabetisation happen. Tech should not be dedicated to specialised insiders only, but be an accessible mean to improve processes for any sector. A large proportion of women working in other industries could become pioneers of new frontiers of the application of tech. I have sometimes heard women say, “I can’t do that, I’m not into tech”. To me it sounds like, “I can’t speak, I am not into linguistics”. Every woman in the future has the potential to be a ‘woman in tech’, thus enabling innovation in any sector they are into.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

To stay up to date with scientific research: take a look to the Science magazine https://sciencemag.org

To get inspiration from our pioneers: read a biography of Alan Turing (e.g. Alan M. Turing, by Sara Turing)

To get inspiration from the industry: listen to a podcast of a successful entrepreneurial story https://www.investedinvestor.com/articles/2019/9/25/capturing-the-outcomes

To meet likeminded people and join themed webinars: check for a local tech hub (e.g. Microsoft Reactor https://developer.microsoft.com/reactor)

To develop new skills: enrol to an overseas online course at https://coursera.com

To improve the way you think: read Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman and Executive Function by Keiron Sparrowhawk)

To nurture and maintain your mental wellbeing: try the MyCognition app. Free if you live or work in London at https://www.good-thinking.uk/resources/mycognition/

To explore new ideas in your free time: read a sci-fi short story from Exhalation by Ted Chiang

To change the minds of the next generation: share stories for rebel girls by Timbuktu Labs https://www.rebelgirls.com/


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