“Know what you want, know how to ask for it.”
A phrase that inspires confidence, said by none other than Professor Ilyssa Monda. Monda teaches neuroscience, a subject she is extremely passionate about, in addition to psychopathology and psychopharmacology. Monda serves as an inspiration to students, as she has worked hard to overcome the many obstacles that going into the field of science as a woman entails. She also opens up discussing how stressful academic life really is, as well as how she found her passion for neuroscience.
Monda initially started out as a pre-med student, double majoring in biology and psychology with the typical workload of psychology and biology courses. “When you take a psychology course, you learn the tenets, i.e cognition, Freud. When the psychoanalytic perspective was introduced, I was in awe of Freud, he was the coolest thing ever to me at the time,” Monda recalled. This fondness of Freud did not last for long though, since her affinity for neuroscience began in her sophomore year of undergraduate studies at Long Island University Post, where she delved into the world of neurons, the brain and synapses.
Monda met her astounding mentor, Dr. Grace Rossi. “She absolutely blew my mind,” she explained. “Everything I learned in 101, all those tenets, I realized they had roots in neuroscience, like this was it. What was I thinking?” Monda went on to discuss how in addition to neuroscience holding a prominent place in psychology, research does as well, ensuring that principles are valid and have integrity. “Upon looking back at Freud, I quickly realized that this could in no way be reliable, because you cannot replicate these principles onto most people.”
Aside from her undergraduate life, for those who have taken Professor Monda’s classes, she vividly described a funny anecdote in which she happened to vomit on her computer screen during her GREs (graduate school admission exam). In a much more serious sense though, Monda detailed her research experience while obtaining her first and second master’s degrees.
Studying at LIU Post for her first master’s degree, Monda worked with mice, studying the behavioral effects of different pain medications. Monda emphasized that mentors most certainly define the research experience that any student has. For her second master’s, she studied here at Queens College, and worked on the Queens College Preschool Project, studying ADHD.
Monda touched on how she went into science, a field predominantly filled with men. When asked what Monday would like to say to women pursuing science, she stated, “As a woman, be aware that we have these issues, be aware that there is sexism, favoritism, bias in the workplace, but also be aware of your strength, be aware of your ability, be aware of your worth. Just because we lack in numbers, it does not mean that we are less capable, less able. Know that your voice, your talent, your intellect are worth something, and do not be afraid.”
Building on this, she added, “In the event that you are facing clear bias against you in the workplace, for no apparent reason, speaking from experience, know that you should rise above the micromanagement of the situation, and work for what you would like to achieve.”
Anxiety is something that Monda brought up when discussing her journey. Monda wanted to shed light on a huge problem that stirs up lots of anxiety in students: expectations. Monda explained that when she talks to students about family expectations versus their expectations of themselves, they are not the same. Additionally, she explained, “ Social media is killing these students, telling them what they should look like, what they want to look like. The consequence of this is that they don’t know how to talk to one another, or how to talk to a professor.”
Monda also emphasized that her journey through undergrad was not smooth sailing. “A very small percentage of the population go from place A to place B directly,” she stated. “Humans will go zig zagging all over the place, just like I did. As long as you know where you want to be, you will eventually get there.”