Samuela – The European Glia Meeting

Hello everyone,

I’m Samuela, a Master’s student in the University of Helsinki Neuroscience program expecting to graduate soon. Today I will bring you back with me to the European Glia Meeting I attended last July in Berlin supported by the HiLIFE Conference Grant!

Choose a conference and apply!

I simply love the brain, and I always have been fascinated by how imperceptible processes allow us to think and behave. Throughout my Master’s studies, I got passionate about glial cells, which are the “supporting cells” of the brain very different from the well-known neurons. These cells are microglia, the brain’s immune cells, astrocytes contributing to the blood-brain barrier, and oligodendrocytes wrapping neuronal axons to ensure fast communication.

Lately, research in my field greatly shifted to glial cells due to their involvement during development and disease etiology. Therefore, I decided to attend this internationally recognised conference hosting the best researchers working on glia and coming from all around the world.

The application process for the HiLife Conference grant is really straightforward and pushes you to think about why you want to attend that specific conference and the impact it may have on your future career.  The process is fast and simple, so try to individuate the conference that aligns better with your interests and apply!

A conference helps you and your career goals in many ways!

I won’t lie, participating in long conferences is exhausting, but extremely rewarding! You get to know fellow students and researchers potentially establishing the ground for lifelong friendships and collaborations. Additionally, you get exposed to the most recent and exciting research on what passionates you.

I chose a conference with a very wide program, spanning from technical innovations for glial engineering to neutron-glia and glia-glia communication. I got to listen to recently published/unpublished data and gradually understood the logic behind experiments. Attending these talks gave me an overview of scientific thinking and the long process that leads from an idea to a discovery, exciting!

I chose to attend a voluntary Introductory course, prior to the start of the conference. It was a one-day course covering the basics of glial cell function in healthy and diseased brains both in the central and peripheral nervous systems. We also explored methods to study glia from stem cells to different animal models including Drosophila (common fruit fly).

The four-day program of the official conference was dense and included workshops on techniques used to investigate microglia and on scientific publishing. The lectures were of different types: plenary lectures by big names such as Freda Miller, Shane Liddelow, and Michelle Monje, and symposia featuring 4 speakers with a common focus (e.g., heterogeneity of microglia in brain stem cell niches).

I also got to listen to a symposium organized by my Master’s thesis supervisor and HiLIFE director Jari Koistinaho, focused on the study of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration employing induced pluripotent stem cells. Helsinki and HiLIFE were greatly represented at the conference!

A  highlight of conferences is certainly poster sessions. Posters are usually presented by young scientists (PhD and postdocs) and are a peerless opportunity to exercise your social and presentation skills!

I decided to be brave and present my own poster based on the research on microglia and Alzheimer’s disease conducted at the HiLIFE Neuroscience Center!

Initially, I was scared of not being able to answer questions and successfully deliver the main points of my research to the audience. But it was fun, engaging, and extremely rewarding. Don’t hesitate and challenge yourself!

Beyond the conference

Conferences are not only an educational opportunity, but also a way to visit new places and countries. The Glia Conference was held in Berlin, which I never visited before. Accompanied by students I met at the conference and also alone, I visited some of Berlin’s highlights!

The last night everyone I met was gone, and I enjoyed a solo dinner in a traditional German restaurant! These experiences make you certainly more independent.

Some advice for embarking on your conference adventure

Overall, I would highly recommend to participate in a conference. Here are some useful tips:

  • HiLIFE Conference Grant most likely does not cover all your expenses (the max amount in the 2023 call was 300 euros). However, most conferences offer stipends for those students who present posters. I would suggest presenting a poster for additional funding and for enhancing your presentation skills.
  • Plan in advance! I suggest you look for a conference you would like to attend as soon as possible since all costs rise with time. Conferences usually offer early-bird and student discounts with advantageous prices.
  • Look for partnerships and agreements between conference organisers and airlines and hotels. Sometimes they might be more convenient than other options, but sometimes you will need to find cheaper solutions (like Airbnb, which I opted for my stay).
  • Do some homework before the conference. It is important you arrive there prepared and organised, with a schedule of what you want to attend and who you want to meet, if possible. For instance, I took the opportunity to talk to some researchers from universities I’m applying to for the PhD.

Final remarks

Thanks, everyone for following my journey! I hope I have inspired you to join a conference you like.

If you are interested in the next European Glia Meeting, it will be held in Marseille in 2025 (it is a bi-annual meeting).

Feel free to contact me with any further questions you may have about the conference!

Behind the Mind

Hi everyone!

I’m Santeri Lepistö, a HiLIFE research trainee and master’s student in the neuroscience programme at the University of Helsinki. I carry out my HiLIFE internship in Satu Palva’s research group, focusing on studying the link between human brain dynamics and psychological processes. In this blog post, I give an introduction to my academic interests and internship’s research topic.


Brain-Mind Relationship

Before studying neuroscience I graduated in psychology from the University of Jyväskylä and worked for a while as a psychologist conducting neuropsychological assessments for children with neurological disorders and developmental delay. What especially fascinates me in science is the brain-mind relationship: how the brain – in a close interaction with the rest of the body – computes mental phenomena. At the level of nervous system, I’m intrigued by the human brain as a complex information-processing device that widely regulates physiological and behavioral functions. At the level of mind and behavior, my interests incline to basic psychological processes like cognitive functions, emotions, learning and development. It makes me wonder, for instance, how attention can be considered as “the set of evolved brain processes that leads to adaptive and effective behavioral selection” [1] and how, on the other hand, emotions have been proposed to serve as a coordinating mechanism, mode of operation that adjusts states of the brain and body influencing thoroughly on individual’s way to perceive, think and behave [2].


Brain, Mind and the Big Picture

My urge to examine brain-mind relationship is inspired by the puzzling questions regarding origins of the brain, mind and behavior. In order to understand astonishingly complicated human condition in all its neuronal capacity and constraints, it is important, in my opinion, to combine knowledge from both evolutionary and cultural foundations as an integrative evolutionary-cultural framework. In other words, to put multifaceted emphasis on where we come from and where we’re living. We are, as a species, an outcome of monumental evolutionary history and possess, among other organs, a brain that is shaped by evolutionary processes, such as natural selection. Alongside of acknowledging our evolutionary past, genetic makeup and biologically grounded predispositions, it is essential to underline the impact of cultural context on human ontogeny and daily living. In addition, it is pivotal to pay attention to altered environmental demands that occur in the modern world in contrast to ancestral ecological niche. Today, our brains and minds interact with factors like technology, city life, advanced medicine, educational system, art and literature, governmental policy, science and HiLIFE blog posts. The high degree coordination of human cultural practices can be traced back to brain and cognition, namely, our species-specific neurocognitive capability to establish shared goals and accumulate knowledge over time [3]. Moreover, we have an impressive ability to learn – brain plasticity to form internal models of external world [4]: humans not only use object recognition to detect faces, spoken language to communicate ideas and social cognition to cooperate but also harness their brain circuits to acquire sophisticated cultural skills concerning man-made inventions like, in case of writing systems, learn to read [5] by recognizing written words, decoding meaning of a text and taking someone else’s perspective in a novel. 


Inside the Brain: Oscillatory Activity 

Indeed, humans have an exceptional track record of peculiar cultural practices. But how the brain, more specifically, manages to orchestrate these kinds of complex patterns of behavior? During the HiLIFE trainee period I explore how the brain computes the mind through the lens of systems and cognitive neuroscience – by investigating activity of large-scale neuronal networks and its association to different psychological processes. When observing the beauty of the natural world, rhythms and synchrony can be found in several places, of which one is the human brain. Collective action of neurons generate rhythmic electrophysiological activity that can be studied by using brain imaging techniques like magnetoencephalography, a tool I use during my research trainee period. These oscillations, electrical ups and downs produced by vast neuronal populations, are considered to vividly reflect how the brain selects, modifies and transmits information. 

To elaborate, brain’s information transmission from one place to another can be addressed by the concept called functional or effective connectivity – describing the correlation or dependence of neuronal activity from each other. Functional and effective connectivity are influenced by the structure of the brain and connect areas with similar functions. According to the hypothesis called communication-through-coherence, selective information transmission occurs when oscillations in two brain regions are synchronized and act coherently [6]. This synchronization, which is a central research topic in systems and cognitive neuroscience, provides an enlightening window to understand brain-mind relationship. For example, brain synchronization has been previously linked to attentional capacity, that is how many objects one can attend concurrently. The study conducted by Palva and colleagues suggests that individual attentional capacity is dependent on how the brain succeeds to integrate activity of different high frequency oscillations in large-scale neuronal networks [7]. From this perspective, I think the research of system-level human brain dynamics serves as an invigorating way to find novel questions and answers in the search for what’s the story behind the mind. 

Magnetoencephalography raw data showing oscillations from the human brain (in a time period of five seconds)










In the next blog post, I will tell you more about my
HiLIFE research trainee experience!



  1. Krauzlis, R. J., Wang, L., Yu, G., & Katz, L. N. (2021). What is attention?. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, e1570.
  2. Al-Shawaf, L. (2021, December 28). What Are Emotions?. Psychology Today.
  3. Tomasello, M. (2019). Becoming human. In Becoming Human. Harvard University Press.
  4. Dehaene, S. (2020). How we learn: The new science of education and the brain. Penguin UK. 
  5. Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the brain. New York. 
  6. Fries, P. (2015). Rhythms for cognition: communication through coherence. Neuron, 88(1), 220-235. 
  7. Rouhinen, S., Siebenhühner, F., Palva, J. M., & Palva, S. (2020). Spectral and anatomical patterns of large-scale synchronization predict human attentional capacity. Cerebral Cortex, 30(10), 5293-5308. 

This summer I didn’t sleep so well  

Sleeping wired

Paavo TeitinenHi everyone! My name is Paavo and I’m a neuroscience master’s student in University of Helsinki. In this blog text, I will share my experience working as a HiLIFE trainee in summer 2020.

First a little bit of background information. My previous academic background is in exercise physiology. However, even while studying sport sciences I was very interested in neuroscience, especially in the effect of sleep and stress on health. Therefore, I came to continue my studies in Helsinki as there are many excellent research groups here focusing on sleep. That is why I was (and I am) beyond excited, when I got a chance to do my HiLFE traineeship in the Sleep and Health -research group, led by professor Tiina Paunio.

Fun fact: in our first meeting I found out that we both share a background in track and field. I remember Tiina saying: “even though some work may not always be pleasant we can remind ourselves that it is nothing compared to 200 m intervals”. I must agree.

As I had no previous experience in sleep research, my traineeship started with learning polysomnography (PSG) and sleep scoring. PSG is the golden standard of the field, where one attaches a bunch of electrodes to the subject to measure their brain activity, muscle tone, heart rate and breathing. Sleep scoring means determining different macro- and microstructures of sleep from the (PSG) data. I was lucky to have Tuula Tanskanen as my scoring mentor. At first scoring was like being at optician when your glasses are not up to date: Tuula asked what this 30s epoch looks like, I squeezed my eyes looking at the signal, thought a bit and ended up half guessing. Luckily, practice trains your eye to find things from the signal, and I would like to think that the glasses I’m wearing now are at least close to the correct prescription. In addition to learning PSG and sleep scoring, I begun the basics of programming. Even though I’m still at beginner level, programming skills will for sure prove to be useful in further analyses of the sleep data.

chartsHere is an example of what different sleep stages look like. On the left there is slow wave sleep (N3) with large delta waves on the EEG channels. On the right there is REM sleep with the signature rapid eye movements on the top two EOG channels.

By this time, I’m sure all of you who read the title of the blog are shouting to the screen: “but Paavo why didn’t you sleep well?”. Well I’m glad you asked. You see, in addition to the thesis work I was doing, my job was to test and learn to use some new sleep monitoring devices. These devices will possibly be used in future projects and what better way to learn to use them than to wear them yourself! You can try to guess how many recording devices I’m wearing in the picture and what they are recording. The correct answer will be revealed at the end of this post.

Paavo wired upWould you participate in a sleep study if the researcher looked like this?

Based on the experience wearing these different devices, I found a direct correlation between the number of cables attached to my head and me being grumpy next morning. The relationship seems to be causal. However, the effect was strongly modulated by the successfulness of the measurement: couple of times I found that nothing was recorded, which was followed by a spike in blood pressure. Testing new equipment always comes with unexpected challenges. Solving these challenges included both reading theory to understand how the devices should work and trying things in practice to solve how they actually work. Couple of times I managed to combine the two: nothing worked, and I had no clue why. Jokes aside, I really enjoyed testing the devices and I could always ask help if needed.

I can honestly say that the HiLIFE traineeship has made a difference for my academic career. Even though I worked most of the time remotely due to covid-19, being able to participate in different (online) meetings and discussing things with my supervisor has opened many opportunities for the future. It is quite likely that I will continue to PhD studies in the same group. A word of advice for future trainees: don’t be afraid to ask and discuss things with members of the research group, you will be surprised where those conversations will lead you. Even the worst-case scenario is rarely worse than running 200 m intervals – and that was one of my favorite track sessions.

Special thanks for my sleep scoring mentor Tuula Tanskanen, for my ask me anything -person Tiina Härkönen and of course for my supervisor and the voice of reason Prof. Tiina Paunio. Thank you HiLIFE for enabling this amazing opportunity.

Paavo wired up and sleeping

  1. For those dying to know, the number of recording devices in the picture was five:

1) The black box on the chest is a polysomnography (PSG) device with several EEG, EOG and EMG electrodes, the white belt and pulse oximeter on the left hand (there are usually even more wring going with nasal airflow sensor and ECG electrodes that are not shown in the picture).

2) The white device on the forehead is an EEG headband, which measures brain activity, movement and temperature.

3) The watch-looking device on the right hand is an actigraphy monitor, which is an accelerometer measuring movement throughout the day.

4) The ring on the right-hand index finger measures heart rate, movement and temperature.

5) The small button on right hand (in the first picture on left hand – the deceit is revealed, the pictures were staged) is a tiny thermometer measuring changes in temperature.

Hej från Stockholm!

Hello! My name is Abigail Dove and I’m a master’s student in the University of Helsinki’s Neuroscience program. I recently arrived in Stockholm, where I am conducting my master’s thesis research at the Karolinska Institute’s Aging Research Center.  My project centers on something I view as one of the most interesting problems in public health: The increased risk of dementia conferred by type 2 diabetes. Specifically, I will be analyzing longitudinal Swedish population data to determine the extent to which a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes increases the risk of progressing from prodromal cognitive impairment to overt dementia, and whether improved glycemic control could stabilize or even reverse this trajectory.

Continue reading “Hej från Stockholm!”