Blog

Intern Journey: From Student to Staff at the University of Manchester

by YPU Admin on November 2, 2017, Comments. Tags: internship, Physics, STEM, and Students

Introduction

My name’s Jake and I went to school in a small sleepy town in North Wales, followed by sixth form where I studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry A-levels.  After this I was accepted onto the Physics course at the University of Manchester, is one of the most exciting, friendly and liberal cities in the U.K. - a really exciting change compared to the slow pace of life in Wales!  After a jam-packed few years of study, work, fun and travel, I’ve fallen in love with Manchester and now work as a Student Recruitment and Widening Participation (SRWP) Intern at the University.

In depth…

I began university with absolutely no idea about what I wanted to do in terms of a career.  I knew that I liked science, helping people and travel, but there was no particular job that took my interest, so I decided to do an MPhys Physics degree as my science grades were good, I liked Brian Cox documentaries and the idea of academic research, as well as this Physics is a very well respected degree with broad career prospects.

I assumed that over the course of the following four years that I would have an epiphany moment – that everything would fall into place and I would exclaim ‘Eureka!  I’ve found my life’s passion!’, and start doggedly pursuing an exciting career to eventually become a world-leading researcher in an exciting and dynamic field.

To my dismay, this career revelation never occurred, and actually as my degree went on I became more and more unsure about a career in scientific research.  For my MPhys research, I investigated the effect of graphene upon bacteria, in the hope that one day graphene could be used in a new generation of antibiotics.  However, despite the amazing applications of this research I learnt that a career in research is not for me (at least not yet), as I’m not cut out for long hours in the lab and fiddling with computer codes.

But by all means doesn’t mean that my degree was a waste of time.  On the contrary, my time as a student was the best in my life – I’ve made fabulous life-long friends, gained extremely employable skills, travelled to amazing places, and my self-confidence has sky-rocketed.

One of the most important things that I’ve gained is that I’ve learnt much more about myself, and what I like and what I dislike.  I’ve discovered that I’m hugely passionate about science communication, helping people, and spreading public awareness about science, education, and social issues.  I also love working with people, using my creativity to blog and solve problems, and enjoy variety in my work.

I’ve recently began work as a Student Recruitment & Widening Participation Intern at the university and love it!  In this role, I coordinate the University’s Aspiring Student Society (UMASS), which helps people considering higher education to think about their options and gives application and career guidance.  I represent the University of Manchester at UCAS fairs, help organise Open Days, and give talks to young people to help them make more well-informed decisions about their futures.  I work with the public on a regular basis, every working hour is different and I feel proud working for such a prestigious institution for which social responsibility is one of their core values.  As term starts again soon I’m hoping to get back involved with science and LBGTQ+ outreach too!

I’ve got no idea what’ll I’ll do after my internship, but I’m sure as I carry on learning more, getting involved with more things and get to grips with the job, I’ll have a clearer idea of what my next step will be.

Going further…

http://www.umass.manchester.ac.uk/ : The University of Manchester Aspiring Students’ Society – a good resource for anyone who’s considering applying to any academic institution.

http://www.manchester.ac.uk/connect/teachers/students/secondary/widening-participation/ : The Widening Participation programmes at Manchester, which encourage students of all educational backgrounds to apply to Manchester.

http://www.manchestersciencefestival.com/ : Manchester’s hugely popular annual science festival – a great opportunity to learn about different areas of science, its importance and impact.  You can also speak to world-leading scientists!

https://manchesterstudentblogs.wordpress.com/category/jake/ : The University of Manchester’s Student Blogs.  These give a valuable insight into university life and offer tips covering all parts of student life.

 

Food for thought

by YPU Admin on October 19, 2017, Comments. Tags: brain, Neuroscience, obesity, PhD, and psychology

Introduction

My name is Imca Hensels, and I am a PhD student nearing the end of my first year. I am in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, where I am a part-time Teaching Assistant and a part-time PhD student. My research focuses on what happens in the brains of obese people when they eat, and how this differs from what happens in the brains of people who have a normal weight.

In Depth...

I started my education at Amsterdam University College (http://www.auc.nl/), where I studied Liberal Arts and Sciences with a major in Psychology. I always really enjoyed studying lots of things and I did not know exactly what I wanted to study for my bachelor’s degree. Studying Liberal Arts and Sciences allowed me to explore lots of things (from biomedical sciences to English literature), and I ended up loving psychology, so I stuck with that. After my bachelor’s degree, I went on to do the MSc Research Methods in Psychology at University College London (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/pals/study/masters/TMSPSYSRES01). This is where I met my current PhD supervisor and where I really started to specifically study eating behaviour, which is the topic of my PhD as well.

For my PhD, more specifically, I investigate what happens on a neuronal level in the brain when people expect to eat food, and when they actually eat the food. I do this using electroencephalography (EEG), which allows me to measure brain activity at the millisecond level. I am hoping that by finding out how obese people’s brains differ from normal-weight people’s brains when they eat food, we will be able to understand why some people overeat and others do not. It might even be the case that my current research will be able to lead to the development of new therapies or even social policies at some point. I would say that in general, I very much enjoy what I do. Doing a PhD is very challenging – much more challenging than I expected when I started – which is usually quite fun because it keeps me on my toes. Of course, the flipside is that sometimes the challenges can get quite overwhelming, leading to a lot of stress.  

I am not sure what I want to do after my PhD. My plan was always to keep doing research and eventually become a professor. I might still do this, but the experience I have gained during my PhD has also shown me that there are many things to do outside of research, or even outside of academia. For instance, being a Teaching Assistant on the BSc Psychology has also made me think about the possibility of going into teaching full-time, because the teaching I am doing now feels very worthwhile and fulfilling.

Going Further…

If you want to know more about the research that my lab group does, please visit our website. (http://research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/emotionalcognitionlab/)

If you are interested in studying psychology, you can read more about the University of Manchester’s BSc Psychology here. (http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2017/00653/bsc-psychology/)

If you want to read more about psychological research in an accessible way I would recommend checking out Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/) and the science blogs from the Guardian for scientific research in general (https://www.theguardian.com/science/series/science-blog-network)

 

Linguistics and the way we learn!

by YPU Admin on October 5, 2017, Comments. Tags: foreign languages, Humanities, language acquisition, linguistics, and MFL

Introduction

My name is Sascha Stollhans and I’m a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Manchester. Linguistics is the scientific study of language and an incredibly versatile and interdisciplinary subject. Linguists look at all sorts of things related to language, e. g. the structure and sounds of language, how language is represented in the mind, how similar or different languages are, how we use language to express our thoughts, feelings and opinions, or even to insult people, why we talk differently depending on who we are talking to, and so on.

 My research investigates the acquisition of foreign languages, in particular how the languages we know interact with and influence one another.

In Depth…

At school I always enjoyed foreign languages the most. That’s why I decided to study Linguistics and French at University, followed by a Master’s degree in Language Teaching. I like to discover how languages work, how we learn them and what successful language teaching should be like.

 Being a great enthusiast of languages, I’ve always found it unfair that children learn their first language so effortlessly. Why can something so natural turn into rather hard work when we are older? What can we do to make language learning as effective and enjoyable as possible? It was my interest in questions like these that made me choose to become a linguist and language teacher.

 After a few years working as a language teacher, I came to Manchester to take up my PhD in Linguistics. My study explores how previously acquired languages influence the process of learning a new language.

Specifically, I work with English learners of French and German. With the help of a number of experiments, my aim is to shed some light on the way several languages in our mind might influence one another.

 For example, I am trying to find out if the fact that someone speaks French makes a difference when they start learning German. Could the additional language make it easier for them, or might it in fact be a hindrance?

 In order to investigate this, I will conduct a number of experiments with language learners. For instance, I will do an eye-tracking study, which looks at the way our eyes move while we process sentences in a foreign language. Comparing the eye movements of native speakers with those of language learners can tell us a lot about the struggles languages learners have.

 The results of my study will hopefully provide some explanations and help make language teaching and learning easier and more effective. They might help us explain why language learners find certain aspects of the language more difficult than others, and how we could make sure language teaching is more effective.

What I enjoy most about my PhD is that I can combine the scientific study of language with very relevant real-life problems. I’m using theoretical considerations about language and the results of my research study to tackle real problems. And in doing so, I learn something new every day - be it a new fact about language or a new method.

Going Further…

“What is Linguistics?”: a great introduction to linguistics by the Linguistic Society of America

https://www.linguisticsociety.org/what-linguistics

“What do you start with in a Third Language?”: very interesting YouTube video introducing the linguistics research about people who learn more than one foreign language

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F5Bq_uvbcM

 Multilingual Manchester: a project investigating the over 200 languages that are spoken in Manchester

http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/

 About eye-tracking as a scientific method:

http://www.eyetracking.com/About-Us/What-Is-Eye-Tracking

 Some interesting language-related Twitter accounts:

@EvrydayLg, @WorldOfLang, @lynneguist, @TheLingSpace

 The Linguistics department at Manchester:

http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/linguistics-and-english-language/

 

Can we cure back pain in the future?

by YPU Admin on September 21, 2017, Comments. Tags: Engineering, masters, medicine, and STEM

Introduction

Hey, my name is Farah Farzana and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. Last year after I completed my third year, I decided to take a year out of medicine to do a Masters in Research degree in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.  This is known as an intercalated degree, that many medics opt to do if they have further interests in research or any subject in general.  After completing this Masters, I will go back to medical school to complete my final remaining two years and hopefully graduate and become a doctor.

I never imagined or really anticipated during the first few years of Medicine, that I have any interest in research. To be honest, I was always scared by the prospect of going into research and imagined it to be pretty intense and hard. However during my third year I started becoming more interested in regenerative medicine, especially cell based therapies and the potential of regenerating tissues. The growing area of research that focuses of regenerating damaged organs or tissues, so in effect you are giving them a new life every time they are damaged intrigued me. So I decided to look into regenerating the structures within our spines known as the intervertebral discs.



In Depth

What is the intervertebral disc and how does it cause back pain?

The intervertebral discs are structures that make up our spine, and helps in overall mobility. With progressive age the spine goes through trauma and increase pressure due to many factors such as obesity, because of which these discs slowly starts to breakdown gradually. This causes severe pain and discomfort for suffers and is known to be one of the major causes of back pain. The pain occurs mainly because the discs are no longer mobile enough to support our range of movements, such as twisting and turning or even sitting which puts pressure on our spine. It is estimated that approximately 60-80% of people will at some point in their lifetime experience back pain. Despite the condition not being life threatening, it imposes a huge economic burden on our health care system, as well as being one of the foremost causes of disability due to chronic pain between the ages of 45 and 65 worldwide. Current treatments are costly and only offers symptomatic relief for the patients and most treatment available are a temporary fix to the underlying problem. Therefore research is now focussing on understanding the disease process itself of why the breakdown of the discs occurs and what cells are involved in such disease. Identifying the exact cells involved in the process that leads to breakdown of the discs will allow researchers to target such cells and stop them from causing the breakdown.

What does my research focus on?

Researchers have discovered that some cells act to maintain the discs health, which can be also targeted to restore the damaged disc. My research is looking to find out more about the types of cells present within the innermost layer of the disc. Some cells within this layer of the disc have the ability to stimulate rejuvenation of the damaged disc, when given signals. These findings of how these cells function and what signals they need to remodel the damaged disc will further guide upcoming research that will look at developing treatments by manipulating such cells to regenerate the discs. Such treatments will target the underlying disease itself in order to give patients suffering from back pain a permanent cure to back pain caused with progressive age. Such discovery in the future can even lead to developing treatments that can potentially cure back pain forever and change millions of lives.

Going Further

I made a video on studying medicine and how it is like to be a medical student, if you would like to have a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LgGrc6182g

This research is a hot topic now and we even managed to somehow feature on the daily mail a few years back!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1267326/Growing-new-disc-help-relieve-pain.html

Feature on medical news today about future and techniques of regenerating the spine:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263496.php

Interested in studying medicine here is a good website to look at:

https://www.bma.org.uk/advice/career/studying-medicine/becoming-a-doctor/introduction

Interested in becoming a scientist? Look at this website for a step by step explanation:

http://study.com/articles/How_to_Become_a_Biological_Scientist_Education_and_Career_Roadmap.html

A detailed scientific paper explaining disc degeneration and processes of regeneration:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3008962/


 

Working on a smarter future

by YPU Admin on September 7, 2017, Comments. Tags: Computer Science, PhD, Research, science, sensors, STEM, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Hashir Kiani and I am a PhD researcher at the School of Computer Science. My research is titled “Wireless Sensor Networks in Smart Grids”. I work on designing algorithms which can be used to make an electrical grid smarter by analysing the data collected from the grid through wireless sensors. These algorithms are used to detect faults in the grid and then employ appropriate measures to prevent those faults. The end goal of my research is to develop methods for a more efficient and smart electricity network.


Hashir

In Depth

I did my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan. After my bachelor’s degree I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Communications Engineering and Networks from the UK. The main motivation behind going for a PhD after the completion of my Master’s course was the worsening situation with respect to electricity generation and distribution in my home country, Pakistan. Pakistan is facing a huge shortage of electricity and people have to go without electricity for multiple hours each day. The situation worsens in the summers as demand for electricity peaks due to cooling requirements as temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius. According to a report by USAID, Pakistan has suffered a loss of 10% of its GDP due to power shortage. The long power outages have caused great distress to the public with people resorting to rioting on a number of occasions. The distribution losses are above 20% which is more than double the global average. Therefore if distribution losses are brought down close to the global average Pakistan can solve its energy crisis.

The main objective of my research on smart grid systems is to find ways to make the electrical grid more efficient and thus considerably reduce the distribution losses. My research is focused on using wireless sensor networks in order to monitor the electrical grid so that timely decisions can be made to increase the efficiency, reliability and robustness of the grid network. Therefore my research will be very helpful in solving the energy crisis Pakistan is currently facing. 

After completion of my PhD I have plans to work at a reputable engineering university of Pakistan as an academic and a researcher. One of my objectives would be to introduce a course on smart grid technologies at the MS level and develop interest among the students in this area. I will use the knowledge I gained during my research to form a research group responsible for doing high quality research in the field of smart grid systems. The research group would strive to work in partnership with national bodies and distribution companies to facilitate the transition towards a smart electrical grid which will not only be efficient but also cost effective as it will be able to detect electricity theft and thus prevent losses of millions of dollars each year. 

Going Further…

Further information about smart grid technologies can be found at the following links:

https://www.smartgrid.gov/  : A good resource on information about smart grid technologies

http://www.smartgrids.eu/ : Details the smart grid initiatives taken by the European Union

https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/smart-future/britains-smart-grid : A cool video showing Britain’s future version of smart grids

http://www.cs.manchester.ac.uk/mlo/ : A link to my research group (Machine learning) at the University of Manchester.