Professor Jonna Kuntsi
Professor of Developmental Disorders & Neuropsychiatry
Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre (MRC)
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
At school (in Finland) my favourite subjects were psychology, biology and maths. I came to realise I could combine all of these by studying psychology at university. After some investigations and having read a book on children’s behavioural problems by Jo Douglas, (who was Principal Clinical Psychologist at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (GOSH)), I decided, with the enthusiasm and single-mindedness of a young person, that I should first study at UCL, followed by working with children at GOSH. With some luck, I obtained a place at UCL and later worked as an assistant psychologist at GOSH, after which I was ready to make the long-term decision to focus on academic research.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
Much of my research has combined cognitive neuroscience and genetic methods to study attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disorders that often occur with ADHD. My PhD supervisor Professor Jim Stevenson initially sparked my interest in this topic. Recently, I have particularly focused on questions around development, by following participants from childhood to young adulthood, and on links between disorders. For example, we are investigating differences in brain activity between individuals whose ADHD remits in young adulthood and those whose ADHD persists, and are studying preterm birth as a risk factor for ADHD.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding?
A recent achievement of my team has been to identify brain markers of ADHD persistence and remittance. Identifying such markers of ADHD remission is important; if we know which aspects of cognition and brain activity are linked to ADHD improving over time, interventions can be developed that target these processes in individuals whose ADHD persists into adulthood.
I treasure my role as a PhD supervisor and am delighted to have worked with so many incredibly able and hardworking students over the years, who have produced excellent science. I keep in touch with my past students and am ever so happy to hear about their successes.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I have many professional role models, in particular many of my colleagues in the several international collaborations that I am part of; indeed, too many to name! Their enthusiasm, innovative ideas and friendly collaboration is very inspiring. But I have also come to realise how far there still is to go for gender equality; some of the highly successful female colleagues from other European countries tell me that they felt they had to choose between career and having children, that they did not feel it was possible to combine both.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable / rewarding aspect of your job at King's?
The Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre is a very supportive and collaborative place to work. I also particularly enjoy working with PhD students – they are full of enthusiasm and new ideas.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I have two daughters who make sure that I don’t work excessive hours! While combining work and family has its challenges at times, the flexible and supportive approach at the SGDP Centre has been incredibly important. For example, I work two days a week from home, which really helps with some of the practicalities.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
Perseverance is key. Also, make the most of mentoring and other, more informal support available from your colleagues. They may well have been through similar challenges and will help you think through your current dilemmas, as well as plan ahead. Cherish your team and wider collaborations; research is a team effort.