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Spotlight on Carola Salvi: Postdoctoral Fellow and Avid Photographer

Created: March 27, 2018
Carola Salvi

Dr. Carola Salvi came to Northwestern as a visiting scholar from Italy to work in Mark Beeman’s Creative Brain Lab. She is now a postdoctoral fellow studying the changes in the brain during creative problem solving, specifically the “Eureka!” moment that is reached after a problem-solving impasse. Outside of her research, Dr. Salvi enjoys expressing her creativity through both film and digital photography. View her work here.

What were you doing before you arrived at Northwestern?

I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Milan, Italy at the University of Milano – Bicocca, where I also received my PhD. I then came to Northwestern as a Visiting Scholar for a year.

Why did you choose Northwestern for your postdoctoral fellowship?

As a Visiting Scholar at Northwestern, I worked in Mark Beeman’s lab, which I found to be the best place to study creative problem solving. I couldn’t really study this in Italy because the verbal tasks for participants are written in English. I needed to translate them into Italian to offer my non-English speaking researchers the opportunity to study insight problem solving.

I also met Dr. Jordan Grafman, who is my co-mentor and a good career advisor. 

Tell us about your research in non-specialist terms.

I study the neural bases of creative problem solving, and I look at the changes in the brain when people solve creative problems. Specifically, I look at what happens when the “A-Ha” or “Eureka!” moment is reached after a problem-solving impasse.

What is a rewarding aspect of your research?

The freedom of having an idea and being able to develop it. Also, figuring out how the brain works and being able to test one’s hypotheses. I also like that one’s ideas about how something works can become knowledge.

What is a challenging aspect of your research?

Grant writing is a challenge and having to continually find funding for my research. It’s a bit different than in European universities where faculty do not have to pay their own salary due to government funding. I’ve learned that as one progresses through his or her career, more and more time is allocated to finding grants instead of actually doing research.

Describe a typical research day.

I’m a morning person. I typically get up at 5 AM, and if I don’t work out, I head straight to work. In the lab, I’m working at my computer, writing papers, analyzing data, going to lab meetings, and meeting with my research assistant who manages my research participants. 

What might an outside observer perceive from watching your routine?

What I do is not that different from having a typical office job in that I work on a computer and go to meetings. Perhaps the difference is that I do not have a strict schedule. It’s flexible in that I can leave whenever I want and work on weekends. If anything, an outside observer may think that I’m overworking. 

What’s one thing you’re passionate about beyond your research?

Art and cinema. I like them because they involve creativity.