Hi I’m Liz, a second year BBSRC funded cognitive
neuroscience PhD student. Since A-level I have always wanted to be able to
combine my interests in psychology with my interests in physics but was always
told they were too different and I would never be able to study both…. LIES!
Cognitive neuroscience lets me explore psychology, in my case the effects of
stress on memory, while also using neuroimaging techniques (YAY Physics!) to
examine the under-lying brain mechanisms involved. Before coming to Manchester to start my PhD,
I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology with Neuropsychology and my
Master’s degree in Neuroimaging at Bangor University in North Wales.
How does stress affect
Do you ever notice that some people can just handle stress
really well while other people really struggle to cope and forget everything
they were doing? This is known as a person’s stress reactivity. Highly stress
reactive people experience much greater hormone responses when stressed than
low stress reactive people, meaning that in comparison, they suffer more
‘mental blocks’ when trying to compete tasks.
More seriously, however, continual high levels of stress have been
linked to serious social and health problems such as job loss, divorce, heart
disease and stroke.
Similarly, have you ever sat down in an exam that you
thought you were prepared for and suddenly had a complete mind blank? During
stressful situations memory can sometimes become impaired leading to these
sudden ‘mind blank’ moments where we are unable to remember information we
previously knew. These can happen to anyone but do more commonly happen to
highly stress reactive individuals who struggle to cope under pressure.
In contrast however, it has been shown that sometimes,
learning under stress or intense pressure can increase memory ability. This is
because stress hormones help slow the rate of forgetting which can be shown
using neuroimaging the highlights brain activity in certain regions.
What is Neuroimaging?
Neuroimaging covers a range of techniques that allow us to
examine the brain and measure specific activation associated with certain
tasks. The imaging techniques I use require magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
scanners. With these scanners we are able to explore different features of the
brain including the size and structure of certain regions, the connectivity
between these regions and the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals) within
different areas of the brain. MRI scans can also be used to explore the
function (known as fMRI) of brain regions by examining levels of activation
within these specific regions while completing a range of tasks. fMRI is one of
the most common methods of imaging shown on medical TV shows- often they show
areas of the brain ‘light up’ in response to sounds or images when people in
the scanner- this isn’t exactly how fMRI works but the gist of it is about
(Image 2: This is an MRI scan of my brain)
Using Neuroimaging to
Explore Stress & Memory
So, using MRI we are able to compare the brain differences
between high and low stress reactive people. This allows us to attempt to
understand why some people can and some people cannot cope during stressful
situations. We are also able to examine the activation in the brain during
memory to attempt to compare brain activity to behavioural memory task
outcomes. Finding any differences in brain structure or activity between stress
reactive groups will help us to better understand what causes this detrimental
response to stress that may then allow us to control negative outcomes as bets
To read more about neuroimaging work, check out this website
that explores current work using neuroimaging to discover more about the human brain.
There are lots of cool blog posts and YouTube videos that go
into more detail about stress. Here are just a few to get you started:
TedBlog- Stress as a positive (https://blog.ted.com/could-stress-be-good-for-you-recent-research-that-suggests-it-has-benefits/)
TedEd- Stress in the Brain
TedEd- How memories form (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOgAbKJGrTA)
Science Central- Stress & Memory (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHl7BewJ0yU)
Finally, The Signal (https://thesignalmag.wordpress.com) is
a student magazine founded by students at The University of Manchester and has
some brilliant articles for young scientists interested neuroscience,
behaviour, psychology and mental health. Issue 1 (https://issuu.com/thesignalmagazine/docs/issue_1_-_stress_oct17)
was all about stress and is well worth a read for anyone interested.
My name is Gillian and I am an AHRC funded
first year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester. The focus of my
research is the medieval religious dramas (known as the mystery plays) that
originated from areas of the north of England, specifically those associated
with the cities of York and Chester, along with those contained in the Towneley
manuscript that appear to have some connection with the Wakefield area. I did
my undergraduate degree in English Literature at Manchester where my passion
for medieval literature soon became apparent. Having achieved a First Class
B.A., I went on to study my M.A. in Medieval Studies also at the University of
Manchester. Hard work is rewarded at Manchester – I got a scholarship which
enabled me to study for a Master’s with all fees waived!
Medieval literature may seem rather
irrelevant to a modern society, but I believe that there are important challenges
that we face today on global levels that have precedent in medieval society.
Negotiating borders and boundaries, tensions inherent in religious beliefs and
differences, the global economic and environmental challenges we face today –
all of these, I contend, were of concern to medieval people who imagined the
consequences of these challenges in ways which could appeal to an everyday,
non-academic audience. The texts of the religious dramas are, on a very basic
level, re-workings of Christian biblical narratives that depict the story of
the bible from Creation to Doomsday. But they are also much more than that.
People wrote how they spoke well into the seventeenth century (and in some
cases well beyond this) and so what you can also tell from these stories is
where these plays could have been best understood, in the region in which they
were written. They are regional texts written with a preferred audience in
mind. Part of the humour which, perhaps surprisingly, runs through these plays,
depends upon local dialects – they promote regionalism as a mode of belonging
just as much as any religious persuasion. My research is currently
investigating the plays’ depiction of Noah and the flood from the three
different regional perspectives of York, Chester, and the West Riding of
Yorkshire (Wakefield). The questions I am posing are whether the differences
between the plays’ dramatization of similar material is influenced by the
environment of their production – do they display an acknowledgement of the
very real threat of global environmental disaster caused by flooding that is of
concern to everyone today? Do they promote inclusive community reaction and
therefore action? Or do they display more individual responses that reveal
exclusions and self-interest? During the summer months I will be visiting both
York and Chester where the plays are being staged again. I want to ask the
people who go to see these plays today what they get out of them, why do they
still go? Why do the cities still produce these plays? What relevance do they
have in today’s society? Can they be produced to appeal to a multi-faith
international community, or do the choices taken by the producers of these
modern versions maintain notions of civic imperialism and Christian elitism? My
research will investigate these plays as transtemporal texts to suggest that
each rendering of familiar material has specific differences in order to offer
a very regional mode of both belonging and questioning as the following
medieval images reveal. The first image is from a manuscript housed in the John
Rylands library – look at all the fantastical beasts, and then see how the
raven pecks at the eye of the corpse not among the chosen few on Noah’s ark.
Were Noah and his family the first boat people, early refugees?
There are twelve people in the
image below, but only eight made it onto the ark – go figure!
How do the texts
respond to/replicate/question these contemporary images?
(www.inthemedievalmiddle.com) A really useful website
detailing the lastest research areas of key medieval scholars and the relevance
of medieval literature to modern society.
(www.alc.manchester.ac.uk) A key contact point for all
current information regarding entry requirements, course components, etc. in
the School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures at the University of Manchester.
(www.luminaruim.org) A veritable treasure trove
of free to access information/essays/texts on all things medieval.
(www.medievalsociety.blogspot.co.uk) Blog from the
Manchester Medieval Society which is run by current academics who are all at
the cutting edge of research in their fields. All are welcome to join and join
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.
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
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.
: The University of Manchester Aspiring Students’ Society – a good resource for
anyone who’s considering applying to any academic institution.
: The Widening Participation programmes at Manchester, which encourage students
of all educational backgrounds to apply to Manchester.
: 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
: The University of Manchester’s Student Blogs.
These give a valuable insight into university life and offer tips
covering all parts of student life.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
“What is Linguistics?”: a great
introduction to linguistics by the Linguistic Society of America
“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
Multilingual Manchester: a project
investigating the over 200 languages that are spoken in Manchester
About eye-tracking as a scientific
Some interesting language-related
The Linguistics department at