Alexandra PLONKA is the winner of MT180 at Université Côte d'Azur !

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Published on March 25, 2021 Updated on March 26, 2021

on the March 18, 2021

Alexandra Plonka is a doctoral student funded by the NeuroMod Institute at the laboratory CoBTeK (Cognition, Behaviour, Technology). She presented her thesis about the "Modeling of a graphical and gestural analysis system for the early diagnosis of Primary Progressive Aphasia" and won the first prize of the competition "ma thèse en 180 secondes" at Université Côte d'Azur. Read this article to get to know her.

Hello Alexandra, can you present yourself briefly?

Hello, my name is Alexandra, I am a speech and language pathologist and a PhD student in neuroscience. During my studies at the department of speech therapy in Nice I quickly became interested in research because I understood that clinical work and research were dependant on each other. This is why, during my second year of master studies I joined the research module which allowed me to acquire both the experience and the skills necessary to pursue a doctorate. In June 2020 I obtained a NeuroMod thesis grant which allowed me to join the Doctoral School of Life and Health Sciences of the Université Côte d'Azur and the researchers team of the CoBTeK laboratory.

What is your research area ? 

I am currently working in the field of neuroscience, more specifically on the diagnosis of a neurodegenerative pathology which is Primary Progressive Aphasia. My work falls within the framework of a multicentric research protocol set up at the CoBTeK laboratory and the speech therapy department of Nice, which deals with the research of ecological and sensory markers for an early and differential diagnosis of cortical and subcortical pathologies. I am particularly interested in the use of graphical markers.

What else are you interested in? any hobbies? 

 I was raised in Polish culture and traditions and I have never spoken French at home! Throughout my youth I was surrounded by different cultures, I am therefore particularly sensitive to all the wealth cultural diversity can bring! To go further in matter of culture, I am very sensitive to arts and more specifically to every kind of music. I sometimes try a few notes on the piano or guitar, but mainly on the trumpet: my instrument of choice since I have been playing it since I was 7 years old!

Why did you take part in MT180? 

The MT180 competition was a real challenge! I wanted to give it a try because it is a very good training exercise for public speaking. Explaining your thesis subject in 3 minutes is a very difficult task because we tend to want to talk about it for hours! In addition, you must adapt your speech to a large audience, the aim of the exercise is bringing science within everyone’s reach. I am very happy to have been able to attempt this exercise, and to have convinced the jury with my thesis subject. This competition also enables to meet researchers from very different fields, which makes us realise that research is also extremely varied.

You explained during your presentation that you are working with tablets and technologies, can you tell us more about that? Why are they necessary?

Nowadays, new technologies are essential in clinical research and practice. Pen and paper tests are of course still used and remain necessary, but thanks to new technologies we can take much finer and more precise measurements, and this allows us to see what we could not see with the naked eye.

What are the benefits of modeling for your work?

I am working on graphical and gestural markers, and we know that a single marker can lack sensitivity and specificity to determine a diagnosis. Modeling would allow to merge gestural and graphical data in order to generate an automatic analysis of said data in the context of an early diagnosis of Primary Progressive Aphasia, but also differential diagnosis with other motor, behavioural or cognitive pathologies. NeuroMod Institute has the advantage of including researchers specialised in modeling, and therefore of providing me with these essential skills for my thesis that I personally do not have.

Are you looking forward to go to the semi-final on the 1st of April? 

Of course I am looking forward to it! Unfortunately, the semi-final will be held remotely but I hope that my performance will convince the jury and that I will be able to represent the CoBTeK laboratory, NeuroMod Institute and University Côte d'Azur in the final in June! Fingers crossed!

What are your ambitions, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

I like the idea of sharing knowledge, that is also why I took part in the MT180 competition. So in 5 years I see myself involved in teaching at the university while continuing research and of course the clinical work. I hope to be as well surrounded by people as I am today in an equally dynamic team who likes to work on innovative projects… and maybe for it to be my turn to lead a project like this?

You can watch the replay of this amazing competition here: REPLAY MT180 UCA