Leading the Way – Neuroscience PhD student David Cappadocia is clear on goals

Now living in the Annex neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, Cappadocia continues to credit his encouraging family with helping him stay focused on his academic and career goals. “A large part of who you are is where you come from,” he says. “I have a wonderful family. There’s lots of love, lots of support and lots of culture.” 

After earning his undergraduate and Master’s degrees from York University, Cappadocia decided to continue studying how the brain works by pursuing his PhD. He researches the neural basis of co-ordination and how people use vision to guide actions like eye and arm movements. One of Cappadocia’s favourite aspects of his studies is collaborating with fellow graduate students in the lab at York University’s Centre for Vision Research. “Some people think graduate 

students are like lone wolves,” says Cappadocia. “I’ve been very lucky to work with some really great people in an awesome team environment.”

During his years at the university, Cappadocia’s involvement has never been limited to his schoolwork alone. He’s currently the president of the Neuroscience Association at York, which aims to promote research and 

education in his field. He’s also a teaching assistant in the Kinesiology 

department, and works with the school’s Teaching Commons to help TAs become better instructors. Through seminars and one-on-one sessions, Cappadocia coaches TAs who hope to improve their abilities and explain new ideas to students more effectively. 

Cappadocia was once a first-year student who was unsure of what he wanted to study. That’s why sharing his experiences with undergraduates through York’s peer-mentoring program – an initiative he’s committed to for the last three years – is especially important to him. “It’s nice when you can talk to people who have [been there]. It’s something I don’t think universities do enough of.” Last year, he was presented with an Outstanding Graduate Peer Mentor Award from the Student Ombuds Services at York’s Bethune College for his time and dedication. 

While still working to complete his PhD in 2016, Cappadocia is already laying the groundwork for his future career. “I want to make an impact,” he says. He hopes to transition into business consulting, and he has begun gaining experience as the president of the York Graduate Management Consulting Association. The student group helps graduate students who are considering non-academic careers develop the necessary skills to work in business. Cappadocia knows firsthand how beneficial it is to hear from people who have already achieved their career goals. To meet accomplished individuals and benefit from their years in the industry, he has sought out connections within the Italian-Canadian community. This year he joined the Canadian Italian Business Professional Association. “It’s been a really positive experience for me,” says Cappadocia. “I’m pretty early in my career, so it’s a great opportunity to go out and meet other Italian-Canadians in different fields.” He notes that the organization’s cultural and networking events are always fun and draw a friendly crowd.  

Cappadocia’s impressive achievements and ambitious spirit are inspired by the go-getter attitude instilled in him and his sister by his parents. “When I was younger, I was really curious about a lot of different careers,” he says. “I went through phases when I wanted to study engineering, then medicine and then law. [My parents’ advice was to] ‘Find what you like and go for it.’” 

For Cappadocia, his fascination with the way the brain works has led him to a fulfilling education. But it’s his knack for leadership roles and busy life outside the lab that have ensured his experience on campus isn’t strictly about studying. He hopes that the programs he works with grow and continue to have a positive impact within the York community. Referring to his parents’ pearl of wisdom about being a driver in life, he sums up his career thus far by saying, “I’ve always tried to step up and help lead the car in the direction I want to go.”

written by Erica Cupido