Women Behind Innovation: Elena Canadas

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Elena Canadas is a cognitive psychologist with expertise in emotion and face processing. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology and Master in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Granada, Spain. During her postdoctoral research at University of Lausanne she worked with Immersive Virtual Reality as an ecological approach to study gender-emotions stereotypes during social interactions.As  the recipient of several awards including the Early career publication and Canadas received a governmental grant to work at Mcmaster University (Canada), York University (Canada), and Blaise Pascal (France) during her Ph.D. program.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with Canadas about her interest in innovation, what misconceptions she feels people have about the fields and some of her career highlights. Here’s what she had to say:(edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in science begin?

I think like most kids by the age of 3 y/o I started my “why” phase, however I never got through it and still today I keep asking, Why? Why people behave the way they do? but also, I ask myself, how can I help? I remember when I was in 4th grade my older brother started his Med school, and every weekend when he was studying at home, I loved to check his books and even tried to pass his tests.

What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?

First time I realized that I was an “outliner” in a male dominated field, was back in 8th grade, my math teacher gave me what it would be the equivalent to an A- and I want to check why? All the answers were right, but the method to obtain the result was different to the one he taught in class, (more complicated as I learned from my brother) and he said that I will not be a A+ student. I finish my year with all A+ and a new deep down that for some reason this won’t be the first time. I have seen the same through college, specially in statistic and physics class, however I have to admit that it also went the other way around for other courses such as clinical psychology. From master level until now, I have to admit that less and less I have feel the discrimination, maybe things are changing or I was lucky enough to have an equality rights supervisors (of both gender) to whom I am really appreciated.

What do you like about your field and what you do?

I love reading about new ways to help people in their everyday lives. And to be able to make my little contribution to achieve that. Many people may think that we are all a bit crazy, with our head all they thinking about research, and very limited social interactions. Also that we are very introverted. In my special case, because I work with emotions, and being a psychologist, they always ask me “so, do you know what I’m thinking? are you psychoanalyzing me?

How is your company bringing innovation to the forefront?
Akili is trying to change the way medicine works. Try to make digital treatment for people with cognitive disorders, such as ADHD.
To date, what project is your greatest success?
The way people behave and think is not necessarily correlated. And more importantly the environment can make them behave totally different towards others.This is part of my VR studies, and I was interesting in to evaluate why people perceive and evaluate others differently depending on their own and others facial expressions.
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Mellissa Hopkins

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