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Intern Journey: Study to Raising Aspirations

by YPU Admin on May 10, 2018, Comments. Tags: Graduate Intern and psychology

Introduction

Hi, my name is Abbie, and I am from Macclesfield in Cheshire, which is approximately 25 minutes away on the train. On the outskirts of the Peak District, I am comfortably surrounded by lots of hills, forests and greenery, with the wonderful, vibrant city of Manchester just a train ride away! I'm working now as a Graduate Intern in Student Recruitment and Widening Participation at the University of Manchester, this blog is the steps I took to get where I am!

How I got here?

I followed a very traditional route of education. I completed my GCSE’s and then continued onto Sixth Form to complete A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Geography and Psychology. During my years at secondary school, I was sure that I wanted to pursue a career in science; I was good at it and did really well in my exams, and I also knew it was a very prestigious career to be in, with the potential to earn a lot of money.  

To improve my chances of getting onto a science degree, I completed an internship at the pharmaceutical company called AstraZeneca, where I worked alongside experts in a variety of different fields. Nevertheless, as I started my A-Levels, I soon realised that my love of science had diminished, and I found the subject a lot harder than many of my peers. I therefore could not imagine studying a subject for three years that I wasn’t passionate about.

Psychology was a new subject that I had never studied before and it soon became the most interesting and exciting subject I had ever studied. I enjoyed discovering new theories about human behaviour and understanding the depths of the human mind; something I had never really thought about before. My passion for Psychology grew constantly throughout my two years at sixth form, and it became very clear that I wanted to pursue this subject at university.

And now here I am a graduate from The University of Manchester with a BSc (Hons) Psychology degree, and my love for this subject continues to grow each day. I currently working as a Student Recruitment and Widening Participation Intern at the University of Manchester and my degree has been invaluable in the work I now do. It taught me so much, and I have been able to apply so much of the knowledge and the skills that I learnt to my current role.  

In depth

My role is extremely varied and involves working with students in Year 7 to 11, to try and encourage them to consider higher education in their future journeys. I am involved in the planning and organisation of many large scale events that bring young people onto our campus. I also deliver many in-school presentations and workshops to select groups of students. I also work with young people who are in care, and are currently living with foster families or in residential homes – it is extremely rewarding to see this cohort’s confidence grow when they take part in our activities!

The key aim of our work is to raise aspirations and show young people that higher education is accessible to anyone, no matter what your background; and this makes my job extremely rewarding – for me, and the young people I work with! I absolutely LOVE my job!

 

How Stress can have a big impact on your brain and memory

by YPU Admin on December 14, 2017, Comments. Tags: Neuroscience, PhD, psychology, and Research

Introduction

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.

In depth…

How does stress affect memory?

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 right. 

(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 as possible

 

Going further…

To read more about neuroimaging work, check out this website (https://www.humanbrainmapping.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1) 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.

 

 

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)

 

Turn that FoMO upside down

by YPU Admin on August 25, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanities, psychology, Smartphones, social media, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Em Webster and I'm graduating this year from the University of Manchester with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and 1st Class Honours! I was born and raised in Singapore where I completed all of my education at an International School. In sixth form, I did the International Baccalaureate (IB) where I studied Psychology, Economics and English as my 3 Higher Level Subjects. Coming from a humanities background, when I first started my BSc in Manchester I didn't really know what I had myself in for! Now that I've come to the end of my degree, I can say that Psychology has been a challenging but extremely rewarding course, particularly in this last year. My Final Year Project enabled me to focus on my personal interests - our motivations for engaging with social media and the social connectedness that we perceive as a result. My research also inspired me to pursue my love for writing and enter the School's Science Writing Competition, specifically focusing on how the social phenomenon, the "Fear of Missing Out" (FoMO), influences our online behaviours. I hope you enjoy reading it! 

In Depth

It’s the digital equivalent to the Swiss Army Knife – a personal computer, telephone, camera, GPS, music player, alarm clock, TV, newspaper. It has revolutionized your social life and keeps you in touch with everyone you know. Your Smartphone.

No other device gives you a connection as easy, as powerful or as real-time. A connection that’s mobile and offers you unlimited social opportunities on the go. Facebook tells you everything that your friends are doing. Instagram shows you the world through pictures. Snapchat records events as and when they are happening. Push notifications constantly invite you back to your phone to check what others are doing.

According to Needs Psychology,you and I have six fundamental needs that we seek to satisfy. Our Smartphones help us to do so – they give us a sense of certainty and variety, they make us feel significant, they facilitate our growth and our contribution. But above all, they help us to experience love and connection. Our Smartphones have become our companions – they live in our pockets and they help us meet our social needs wherever we are.

Unsurprisingly, Psychologists are becoming increasingly interested in our online behaviours. Back in 2009, a team of researchers at Georgetown University found that students use Facebook to strengthen pre-existing relationships. They suggest social media helps users create an online identity that feeds their self-esteem. Another study in the Computers of Human Behaviour Journal associates social connectedness with positive psychological outcomes including greater life satisfaction and happiness.

But it’s not all good – Smartphones and mobile social networks mean we often struggle to escape from the constant presence of social information. In fact, knowing what everyone is doing all of the time leads to the pervasive apprehension that others are doing more exciting things than we are. Sound familiar? Jenna Wortham first wrote about the phenomenon known as “FoMO – the Fear of Missing Out” in a New York Times Article. Her quiet evening spent in quickly turned into a night riddled with anxiety, irritation and even jealousy that her friends were out at gigs or at fancy cocktail bars instead.

We are social creatures, we like to feel included by others and we feel anxious when we are not – so FoMO is nothing new. But as Ann Mack discussed at the 2012 SXSW Conference, our Smartphones are amplifying our fears of missing out and have brought the phenomenon to light. Though previous empirical research suggests high social media engagement is associated with positive well being, the first study to add FoMO into the mix revealed something interesting.

Andy Przybylski and colleagues developed a scale for FoMO in 2013 (ratemyfomo.com) and used it to determine whether Uni students fear missing out on what their friends are doing. Their pilot research revealed a number of things – firstly that the people experiencing the highest levels of FoMO were also the ones engaging most frequently with social media. Secondly and perhaps more alarmingly, these people were more likely to text whilst driving and to be distracted during lectures. Turning their attention to the wider impact of FoMO on people’s lives, they found that the desire to stay continually connected was linked with lower life satisfaction.

One explanation for low satisfaction falls in line with Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory. As Ann Mack suggests, we compare ourselves to others in similar situations doing seemingly enviable activities. Although an edge of competitiveness is a good thing, it becomes a problem when we start to feel bad about our own lives simply because our Smartphones are a window into everyone else’s.

Sherry Turkle, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology touches on something important – our relationship with technology is still relatively immature. We are still adjusting to the constant presence of social media in our lives and still learning how to limit its influence. As Dr. Przybylski looks at it – social media is a double-edge sword.

In order to reap the benefits and forget FoMO, we need to learn how to manage our use of social media. So how can you turn your FoMO upside down?

  1. Remember that social media shows all the good stuff. Life isn’t always full of amazing adventures, relationships and job offers – so don’t be fooled by people leaving the boring or embarrassing things out.

  2. Enjoy being out of the loop. Social media is a circus of sorts and you’ll probably find that even a day spent away from it makes you happier in what you’re doing.

  3. Go on adventures. Stop wishing you were doing what everyone else is doing and go and do it.

You might not experience FoMO often or you might be too reluctant to admit that you experience it at all – but I can almost guarantee that at some point you have had pangs of it. So when it happens again, remember how it all works and turn it upside down!

References

  1. Grieve, R., Indian, M., Witteveen, K., Tolan, G. A., & Marrington, J. (2013). Face-to-Face Or Facebook: Can Social Connectedness Be Derived Online? Computers in Human Behavior29(3), 604-609.

  2. Mack, A. (2012). FOMO: How Can Brands Tap Into Fears Of Missing Out. Retrieved April 14, 2016 from http://schedule.sxsw.com/2012/events/event_IAP10651

  3. Pempek, T. A., Yermolayeva, Y. A., & Calvert, S. L. (2009). College Students' Social Networking Experiences On Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology30(3), 227-238.

  4. Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, Emotional, and Behavioral Correlates of Fear of Missing Out. Computers in Human Behavior29(4), 1841-1848.

  5. Turkle, S. (2012). The Flight From Conversation, The New York Times. Retrieved April 14, 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1

  6. Wortham, J. (2011). Feel like a wallflower? Maybe it’s your facebook wall. The New York Times. Retrieved Online April 14, 2016 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html

 

Self-Rewards, the key to quitting smoking ……for good?

by YPU Admin on August 11, 2016, Comments. Tags: masters, psychology, Research, Smoking, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Bethany Gill and I am a Master’s student at The University of Manchester. After completing my A-Levels in 2012 (Psychology, English, History, Biology, General Studies), I went on to study Psychology at UoM from 2012-2015. I graduating last year and chose to continue studying, beginning my Masters at UoM in September 2015. My main interests are clinical and health psychology, with the focus of my current research being around treatment preferences for mental health problems. I have always enjoyed creative writing, and I have recently found a way to combine this with my love of Psychology.

In Depth

Some smokers have tried everything to help them kick the habit without success, but psychologists may have found the answer.

Over the past few decades cigarette smoking rates have declined, due to: higher taxes on tobacco products, smoking restrictions and mass media campaigns. However, smoking is still a major health issue facing Britain, remaining one of the main causes of death in the UK. About half of all regular smokers will die due to smoking, equating to 100,000 smokers dying each year. Smoking is also a major contributor to respiratory diseases, and is accountable for over one third of respiratory deaths as well as one quarter of cancer deaths.

The government currently funds stop smoking services to help people quit smoking. But unfortunately due to government spending cuts, these are currently being decommissioned and disappearing from some areas completely. They also face the problem that their current techniques used to help people stop smoking are not working as well as they should.

Stop smoking services employ clinicians who use techniques rooted in psychology to help people stop smoking. These techniques stem from behaviour change techniques like setting goals and making action plans. They help people to make plans to avoid the temptation of cigarettes by thinking of alternative actions. For example, if they wake up and have a craving for a cigarette, they should go and do the dishes first. Or they make a goal of trying to cut down to five cigarettes by the end of the week.

These methods work, but are not working well enough. This is in part due to the stop smoking techniques not being carried out properly, as some advisors fail to deliver stop smoking techniques efficiently. Recent estimates suggest that these methods are not working for about 80% of smokers. Something needs to change because smokers who have been smoking for years are not receiving the support they need to help them quit smoking, and the amount of clinicians who can help are decreasing.

Now, psychologists at the University of Manchester have a solution. Health psychologists explore people’s attitudes and awareness of their own health. They research ways to prevent unhealthy behaviours, like quitting smoking, and promote healthy behaviours like going to the doctor to get your health checked.

Emma Brown a PhD researcher at the University has spent the past three years conducting trials researching how self-rewards can help kick the habit. These trials have been focusing on trying to reducing smoking rates amongst individuals from the community and from the prison population.

Self-rewards are a behaviour change technique where a reward is only given on successful completion of the specific behaviour. For example, people plan to get through a week of not smoking, then they will plan to give themselves the treat of a meal out on Friday night. This is different to the current techniques where plans are made to engage in an alternative behaviour to smoking, like making a cup of tea rather than having a cigarette.

Self-rewards are self-administered, but they do take a bit of planning. People need to plan what, how and when these self-rewards will happen. The reward doesn’t have to be anything grand, it just has to be something that you enjoy and can reasonably do.

Self-rewards are showing promising results for people trying to quit smoking. As Emma Brown explains that ‘people who use [self-rewards] are three times more likely to quit than those who don’t’. But due to the ongoing nature of the trials that Emma Brown is conducting, we will not know the full scope of the effectiveness of self-rewards until September 2016, when the trials end.

But using self-rewards to help people quit smoking is still new, and needs researching further. Emma Brown suggests that future research will need to look into how self-rewards can be administered on an individual basis, and how the NHS can use this valuable technique to help people quit smoking. At the moment, all we know is self-rewards work if people are supported by a clinician, to make sure that the rewards they set are feasible and realistic.

Although challenges still lie ahead on perfecting self-rewards, the hope of a technique that can be done individually and will help quit smoking for good, is a very promising thought indeed.

For now, the best advice to kick the habit once and for all may be set a goal, stick to it and treat yourself!