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An Italiana Visionaria

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

by Emily Brustein


Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born and grew up in a small town. There are 16,000 residents of Maglie, a miniature metropolis in between the east and the west coasts of the Mediterranean sea. It is a thriving city, from both an intellectual and commercial point of view. Anyone from closer cities would strive to send their kids to school in my home town.


I was lucky enough to grow up with many other kids and relatives in my neighborhood, close to the playground with nature and many trees. We would play all the day long until, in the late afternoon, our parents would bring us bread with raw tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano as a snack. Sometimes we had dinner parties, listened to the stories of the “older” buddies, built tree houses, and picnicked together. Also, I grew up close to the sea… I could still see a picture of me and my friends coming back home after a whole summer day spent swimming: smiles, sun, and sea in our eyes.


What are you studying?

In a collateral way, I’m still studying what I’m interested in the most: the human behavior and how we “work” as individuals. I’m doing a PhD in Psychometrics (the most statistical part of psychology) and Data Science. I study how to query data and how to get meaningful answers about behavior through them. What I am currently studying, though, is just part of a broader interest, a back door towards my global path as a psychologist. Che è molto intrigante! Life would be pretty boring if everything were given, pre-set, established, linear, static… Twists make life worth to be lived!

Che è molto intrigante! Life would be pretty boring if everything were given, pre-set, established, linear, static… Twists make life worth to be lived!

Tell me about your research and its impacts on society

My research will help people make decisions. At first, it will impact a precise company that is involved with my PhD. However, I know what I am currently learning is much more precious than it may seem: I know I’ll use it to bring change and improvements in other communities as well. And I can do so by developing web platforms for dynamic data query. Besides my project strictly, research is teaching me to be determined and resilient, to get interested and informed about things on my own, and I try to transmit this way of thinking/acting to anyone I cross paths with. Changes and impacts start from the “smallest” things.


What are you passionate about?

Music. I studied violin for several years: both as a musician and as a student, I find comfort in music. To me, it’s the form of art that more than any other can reach the soul. Music helps us let go of something we are worried about; it can energize us or make us daydream. It can really be in tune with what we are living. Thus, I enjoy concerts, from classical music to the ballets, from the Texas country music to the rock and roll, from the reggae music to, as my Italian DNA suggests, the opera music.

Also, I love to read about the latest scientific discoveries, in medicine, astronomy, psychology. I love to build meaningful relationships, share significant interests and have deep talks. I’d say, I am passionate about life as a whole and all of its colorful shades.


What do you like to do in your free time?

When I am lucky to have a little bit of free time (the PhD life is pretty busy, usually), I’ll take long walks or runs in the nature. Sometimes I need to spend some time alone to recharge after extensive time working. Beautiful landscapes, from the trees to the sunsets or the sea, are the perfect stress relievers - the perfect place to restore my balance. Also, I absolutely love to spend time with my friends: they are my safe haven, the best company to share adventures with.


Tell me about a time you had a breakthrough in your research or a setback and what you did.

Research is all about breakthroughs and setbacks: it’s a roller coaster in between them. One moment you feel you’d rule the world with the things you discovered… the next moment after, you are questioning every aspect of your discovery. I think that is a part of all the people who are in the research field. When I am into those moment, I try and use more temperance, because in medio stat virtus. This way, I become more flexible: my enthusiasm can come at terms with the constraints of reality without having my heart broken, and I can view every little improvement as something that helped me grow into a better researcher. Focusing on the small steps is the way to paint out the big picture.

Focusing on the small steps is the way to paint out the big picture.

What do you want to obtain after your PhD?

Before starting my PhD, I was studying to become a Psychotherapist. Even now, I still think there is nothing like looking in the eyes of a person you helped gain their freedom back; nothing like helping somebody get free from their mental barriers/illnesses and watching them blossoming again. After my PhD, I’ll end up my psychotherapy school, become a licensed psychotherapist and bring change in people’s lives. However, research will always be in my DNA. I’ll keep doing research as an independent researcher about psychometrics.


Who inspires you?

Curious people, sensitive people and people who help others/the world improve are my inspiration: people who give their support just because of their innate good nature and those who teach others to believe in themselves instead of giving up at the first obstacle. Those people are able to bring the best out of any of us - to make anything blossom.

Curious people, sensitive people and people who help others/the world improve are my inspiration: people who give their support just because of their innate good nature and those who teach others to believe in themselves instead of giving up at the first obstacle. Those people are able to bring the best out of any of us - to make anything blossom.

That’s why I admire them, and I am lucky to have a few of them as close friends in my life. My Supervisor and my Professor here in Austin are a great example, that’s why I feel I’ll bring so much with me on my way back to Italy. Miracles start from the smallest acts.

Miracles start from the smallest acts.

What’s a fun fact about you?

Sometimes I have the impression I’m connected to something special about the universe. Once, on a typically hot Austinian day, I was telling a person how much I loved the warm weather and that it would be perfect to enjoy a gelato right in that moment… In that EXACT moment, I saw a woman getting out of a restaurant and walking towards us, at distance. She stopped right in front of me with a beautiful smile and said “Would you like this gelato? I prepared it for my boss, but he didn’t want it. It’s vanilla… It’s free.” That was the funniest, most absurd, and surprising experience of my whole life. I accepted and enjoyed that gelato, thinking that maybe a light, playful spirit towards life is the key to make wishes come true.

I accepted and enjoyed that gelato, thinking that maybe a light, playful spirit towards life is the key to make wishes come true.

pictured here Paola Pasca