My name is Catalina Cimpoeru and I have recently graduated
from The University of Manchester with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. My
degree captivated me from the beginning, taking me from interesting facts
about the human brain to how we use our senses (vision, hearing, touch) and the
way medicines interact with our bodies to alleviate the pain. During my third and final year of study we
all had to carry out a project in order to complete our degrees. I based my
project on something that I think is very popular at the moment, which is
gaming, and what effect this has on people. More specifically, I was looking at
the impact video games had on people’s motor and visual skills, which is
basically the effect on our eyes and movement. I have also reviewed what role
technology and games have in rehabilitation treatments regarding movement
How did I decide on what to study?
When I was in high
school, I knew I wanted to study Science in University, but there were a lot of
courses involving science so I had to narrow it down to the things I enjoyed
studying the most. I decided then that I wanted to study something biology
related, which is part of the Faculty of Life Sciences. This helped me look at
the different courses that different universities have to offer in this area. I
chose a biological area specialising in the brain as I wanted something more specific
to focus on.
Why precisely the brain?
The brain is the most complex and outstanding organ in the
human body, weighting only 1.5 kg and having more than 86 billion neurons that
connect and work with our body to produce all our emotions, the languages we
speak, the tasks we carry out daily and so much more. The work that the
students and, more importantly, that the researchers carry out is aimed at
discovering how the human brain works. By discovering this, we find out what
each of the parts of the brain are involved in, what causes different
illnesses, to ultimately find a cure for them. The work researchers and their
students conduct is very important in order to improve and prolong human life.
Why video games?
Around seven in ten British households are
active video games players, from playing games on their smartphones to computer
games and PlayStation or Nintendo Wii. Does it have an impact on people that
play very often? Yes. This is what my research has looked at and what I have
written in my Literature Review, which is a piece of writing you submit prior
to your big final year project write-up. Research showed that active video
gamers have improved dexterity, finesse and speed of their hand movements. Data
was recorded using Microsoft Kinect, a technological tool that records and
traces your eye and hand movements whilst playing games. This tool was
initially released in 2010 as a
controller for Xbox 360, so for gaming purposes. Soon enough, its powerful
tracing sensors were discovered and it was introduced in science and research
clinical trials. It is now used in different areas of research such as computer
graphics, human-machine interaction, eye-hand coordination and rehabilitation
programs for motor diseases-Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy. I soon found
out researchers demonstrated that using exergames (a type of video games
focusing on exercising) improved the patients’ hand movements and reduced
shakiness. Microsoft Kinect was also used to produce different educational
games for children with autism, dyslexia, ADHD in order to enhance eye-hand coordination, focal
attention and short-term memory.In my degree, especially in my
final year of study, I was able to choose my own topic for my project, which
combined two very important topics to me: science and technology. As we are all
aware of this, technology is a big part of people’s lives, both socially and
academically. Technology is fast making advances in science, with continuous
advances in prosthetics 3D printing and developing a needle-free kit for
diabetics by using patches instead.
What about the future?
After graduation, I have been working as an intern at
the University of Manchester. During my university degree I have been a very
active student ambassador, which already allowed me to have a taste of the work
field. I am not working in Science or in my domain at the moment (which is fine
if you aren’t!) but I plan to return to health/technology in the future. I still find it tremendously interesting and
I always keep updated with the new technologies used in medicine and neuroscience.
I have ‘’challenged the known and embraced the unknown’’; I wanted to try something
different - which is great because my degree equipped me with a wide set of
transferable skills that allows me to work in different areas!
For more information about the Life Sciences courses that
The University of Manchester offers, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/
For information about the research we carry out at the
University of Manchester, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/research/
For more information about different careers path you can follow
after graduating from a Life Sciences degree, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/careeropportunities/
For interesting facts about the brain,
For neuroscience news, you can visit:
http://neurosciencenews.com/ or http://www.bbc.com/future/tags/neuroscience
To find out more news about science,
To find more news about technology
you can follow: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology
For medical technology news, follow: http://www.medgadget.com/
My name is Adam and I am a
first-year Neuroscience PhD student, studying how our bodies measure the
passage of time. In fact, nearly every cell in our body contains a clock.
However, it is the brain that keeps our cells in sync with the environment.
Think of the body like an orchestra; each musician (cell) has the ability to
create music (measure time), however without the conductor (brain), the
musicians will play out of time with each other.
An important feature of our
natural environment is the 24-hour changes in solar conditions, which we can divide
into day and night. The brain receives natural light information through the
eyes that tells it how much light is available at different times of the day. Then,
it adjusts its internal clock to the correct time of day and coordinates the
rest of the body. The resulting ‘circadian’ rhythms in our behaviour and physiology,
for example sleep/wake and body temperature patterns, last approximately (circa) a day (dian). Without a circadian system, we would be unable to partition
our phasic biology to the day and night.
In 1972, scientists found the
location of the ‘master’ circadian clock in an area of the hypothalamus, called
the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Many SCN cells contain a network of genes,
including the Period and Cryptochrome, that function like the
cogs of a wristwatch; the time between switching them on and off is equal to
around 24 hours. This genetic rhythm is detected in many different organs and
tissues however in the SCN it is self-sustained and reset by light. We can detect
these genes to identify other brain areas that may function as a self-sustained
clock. As a result, our understanding of the circadian system has progressed towards
a multi-clock model in which different brain regions combine circadian
timekeeping with different physiological processes. One such region is the
mediobasal nucleus of the hypothalamus (MBH) which has an established role in
the regulation of metabolism (energy intake and expenditure).
One issue with modern life is
that our daily schedules no longer correlate with sunrise and sunset, but with
our working hours/social hours. Recent evidence suggests that this misalignment
increases the risk of a range of diseases from obesity and diabetes to
depression and dementia. The MBH, being both a clock and a metabolic
controller, may play a role in this relationship between circadian disruption
and metabolic disease.
My project aims to develop an
understanding of how the clockwork in the MBH influences how it controls
metabolism under normal conditions and with different diets. A detailed
understanding of this interaction may help us develop clock-targeted treatments
for metabolic diseases.
4 tips for a healthy
yourself to as much natural light as possible
bedroom dark – seal up the windows and avoid light at all costs!
artificial light before bedtime – that means no phones, laptops, tablets folks.
at regular times – While a lie in at the weekend is good for catching up on
‘sleep-debt’ accumulated during the week, try not to overdo it.
The website for the faculty of life sciences at the
University of Manchester - http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/
At the University of Manchester we have the largest group of
chronobiologists in Europe! Information about this research can be found here- http://www.manchester.ac.uk/collaborate/expertise/neuroscience/biological-clocks/
How the circadian clock affects sleep – The sleep foundation
As part of our Thinking Careers section, we explore the non-academic career options taken by those who have completed their PhDs. This week, Natasha Thomas talks about moving from a job in the laboratory to a career in medical communications.
My name is Natasha Thomas and
I’m a Senior Medical Writer. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and was interested
in pursuing a career in science when I completed my A-levels (although I had no
idea what job I wanted to do at the time!). I studied Neuroscience at The
University of Sheffield, and went on to complete a PhD in cardiovascular
science at The University of Manchester. I was lucky enough to be offered a
post-doctoral research job in the urology lab at Bond
University in Australia, and stayed there for 18
months. Towards the end of my post doc I realised that I didn’t want to stay in
research for the long term, and I started to look at careers in medical
communications. When I moved back to the UK I started as an Associate (or
trainee) Medical Writer, and progressed to a Medical Writer, and then to my
current position as Senior Medical Writer.
I currently work for Fishawack
Indicia Ltd, which is a medical communications agency (www.fishawack.com). The people that we work
for are usually pharmaceutical companies. Medical writers get involved wherever
there is new information available about a particular drug that doctors and
researchers need to know about. The communication of new information about
drugs is important, as it can help doctors to decide on the best way to treat a
patient, and can lead to new ideas or developments for future medical research.
No two days are the same, and there is a lot of variety on a day-to-day basis.
I write up trials of drugs for publication in scientific journals, work on
materials for presentation at conferences, and have meetings with doctors and
researchers to talk about future publications. One of the reasons I enjoy my
job is that I have the opportunity to learn about lots of different diseases
and treatments; I’ve worked on drugs for asthma, HIV and Alzheimer’s disease,
to name just a few. Some of the drugs I write about are still in development
and are being tested as treatments. It’s exciting to think that one day these
drugs might be available to treat and help people.
There is often the opportunity
to travel as a medical writer, as speakers at conferences may need help
checking their slides before their presentation, and writers often report back
on what presentations were most interesting for people. I enjoy going to
conferences and meeting new people, though the hours can often be long when
you’re away on site.
Any kind of communication
experience is good experience for being a medical writer. While I was a PhD
student I wrote an article for the university newsletter, and a course I
attended asked for people to write up a short review so I jumped at the chance.
Creating presentations and posters for conferences, and finding different ways
of explaining your work so that other people can understand are all good skills
that can be used by a medical writer. This sort of practice is also useful for
applying for jobs in medical communications. Most agencies ask you to complete
a short writing test as part of the application process but this isn’t designed
to be scary or to catch you out, it’s there so that you can show off your
When I was looking for jobs in
medical communications one of the most useful websites I found was
The website advertises jobs, but also provides details on careers days,
workshops and courses, and has links to lots of other useful websites. There is also a link to ‘A Day in the Life of
MedComms’, which is where on a particular day, people in the medical
communications industry send in articles or photos about what they’re up
to. This provides a good insight in to
what people in the industry really do on a day-to-day basis, and makes for
My name is
Joe and I am a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester where I
study Neuroscience. Having finished my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and
History, I applied to study Zoology in Manchester. Once accepted, I deferred the start of my
degree for a year to fulfil a childhood dream to travel the length of South
America while attempting to learn Spanish along the way - albeit pretty badly.
survived my travels, I finished my undergraduate course with a first class degree
and decided to carry on my studies at Manchester through a research masters in
Integrative Biology. It was during this time that I ended up on a
laboratory-based project with my current supervisor and I became interested in
the field of biological rhythms and their role in neurological disorders.
Almost four years on, I am still focused on trying to understand how changes to
your body’s biological clock within your brain can contribute to the unusual
behaviour seen in bipolar disorder.
As you have continued reading, I imagine you may be wondering what are biological clocks and what do they have to do with bipolar disorder? As we live on a planet that rotates over a 24-hour cycle, all organisms are subjected to daily changes in light, temperature and many other factors important to life. Almost every species on earth has responded to these environmental changes with the slow evolution of biological clocks that allow us to anticipate these daily cycles. These clocks are made up of genes and proteins that strictly control the timing of cellular and body processes.
In humans and mammals, these biological clocks now exist in a deep part of our brains as two dense clusters of brain cells known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei. These tiny but intricate structures strictly control the timing of almost everything in our bodies, from when we wake up to when our hormones are released. They also they let our cells know when they need to do specific jobs at different times of the day. When these biological clocks go wrong, there is a growing amount of evidence that has shown you are much more likely to become ill.
Illnesses that have been linked to faulty body clocks are quite varied but include neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People with these diseases very often have highly disturbed sleep-wake rhythms, often sleeping much less, or waking up a lot during the night and we think that faulty body clocks might be to blame.
My work focuses on trying to understand how molecular and electrical activity changes in the suprachiasmatic nuclei during bipolar disorder and whether any such changes in biological rhythms may contribute to disruptions in our daily behaviour. As many drugs that can change our body clocks are being rapidly discovered, we hope that this type of work will pave the way for the use of new medicines that improve body rhythms to help treat people with bipolar disorder and other similar neurological problems.
Find out what’s going on in Manchester’s vibrant Neuroscience department here
The University of Manchester’s Neuroscience course page, where you can find out about what you can study and what you need to do if you are interested.
Find out what type of body clock you have here and compare yourself to others around the world via this global questionnaire, set up by the world’s most prominent biological rhythm researchers:
The Guardian’s two Neuroscience blogs, with some nice articles on the most recent advances and stories in the field - click here and here.
Take a look at the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) for up-to-date news and information from the UK’s biggest Neuroscience organisation.
Only for the most intrepid minds out there! A link to the most prominent neuroscience journal out there including a weekly open-access article (you need to pay to read these normally). Don’t be put off by the crazy language as you will only really understand this after years of study, but you can get an idea of what real neuroscience looks like here.
The new Thinking Careers section will explore non-academic career options pursued by PhD students. The first case study
will be on Emily Robinson, who completed an undergraduate degree and a PhD in
Neuroscience at the University of Manchester. Emily now works as a Secondary
and Post-16 Co-ordinator for the Sciences at the Manchester Museum.
When I was in sixth form, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I liked
both biology and geography, but wasn't sure if I wanted to spend
years of my life studying either. Then one day, in a very small section of
books termed 'Careers Library' in the corner of our study room, I found a book
about Neuroscience – the study of the brain and the nervous system. With every
page I turned, I realised that I had found what I wanted to study. My mum was
shocked that evening when I announced over my spaghetti bolognese, “I'm
applying for Neuroscience”. Her first reaction was to ask, “What is
Neuroscience?” But as she heard me enthuse about this intriguing subject and
how interesting studying the brain would be, she realised that she was going to
have to trust me.
Flash forward ten years and I am now working at Manchester Museum
coordinating their secondary and post-16 science programme. Therefore, I get to
share my passion for science by creating engaging science workshops using
Manchester Museum's stunning collection. But how did I get from Neuroscience to
museum? Well, I did end up studying Neuroscience for my degree at the
University of Manchester and I liked it so much I stayed and did a four year
research PhD in Neuroscience.
The focus of my PhD research was on trying to block the immune system's
damaging reaction to brain injury. It might seem odd to try to stop our immune
system – which normally protects us from dangerous injections. However, when a
brain injury occurs, such as a stroke, our immune system can overreact and as
the brain is such a sensitive organ, it can easily be inadvertently damaged, making the situation
worse. The research group I was working with are currently trialling an
anti-inflammatory treatment which will hopefully reduce the potential damage
caused by a stroke if it is given within a few hours of it occurring. Alongside
my lab work, I also enjoyed communicating the research to the public.
Therefore, I was involved in creating a lot of family and school activities to
try and get people interested in Neuroscience and to highlight the important
research we were doing. So my current job is an extension of that in the wider
context of science; as I get to simplify complex scientific concepts and get to
show students the real life application and importance of the science you are
taught in school.
Although my current job does not directly use my Neuroscience knowledge,
my PhD has been invaluable and helped me to get my current job. Conducting
research, no matter what subject, develops your analytical skills as well as
your specific subject knowledge. So whether I mean to or not, I now think like
a scientist! Along the way you also gain many useful transferable skills such
as communication and project management skills. Don’t get me wrong, doing a PhD
isn’t all rosy; there were tough times when things got me down and I had a few
wobbles with my confidence – but the challenge was all definitely worth it. I
loved being part of a large laboratory group, seeing how everyone’s separate
research linked together in the hope of making a big difference to people’s
lives in the future. On top of that, I have made some lifelong friends along
the way. Looking back, I can't say that I had the last ten years mapped out
since sixth form. I could never have guessed I would end up becoming a doctor
and working in a museum. But I’m always glad I chose to study a subject that I
found so interesting.
To find out about studying Neuroscience at the University of Manchester,
go to the Faculty of Life Science's webpage and
the Neuroscience Research Institute.
The book which inspired my interest
For up-to-date news about Neuroscience, go to Neuroscience News.
The Guardian has excellent articles about
For more ideas about what you can do with a Neuroscience degree, visit
the British Neuroscience Association’s website.
To find about more about non-academic career options for PhD students, visit
the Prospects website.