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My Journey into Mental Health Research

Introduction

Hi everyone! I’m Jess and I’m a PhD researcher at the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at the University of Manchester. I’m in my second year of a 4-year biosocial PhD programme – a programme that specialises in research in both biological and social sciences. My research specifically looks at how social support affects mental health, whilst taking into account different factors. Those factors include the structure and function of the brain, wealth and education, and personality type. 

In Depth…

I have always been interested in why people act, think and feel the way they do, which is why I decided to study Psychology at university. We learned about different areas of psychology, such as developmental, social and cognitive psychology, but I had a strong interest in clinical and biological psychology – mental health and the brain. Like many people who studied psychology, at first I considered becoming a clinical psychologist, so I worked for a mental health service provider for a couple of years after my degree. 

However, I realised that my passion lies in research, so I went on to complete my Master’s degree in Edinburgh and then (after a short detour of work and travel in Japan) on to start my PhD in Manchester. I wanted to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in a research topic and to contribute to the body of knowledge that has the potential to impact the lives of many people. This is important in the field of mental health, as the majority of people in their lifetime will struggle with their mental health, and we need to understand the biological and social mechanisms behind this and the best way to help. 

A bird's eye view of different sections of the brain from top to bottom from an MRI scan.

Currently, my day-to-day life is very varied. For my research, I am conducting a systematic literature review, which involves trying to find all the research there is on a particular topic and combining it all together. Alongside this, I teach on the undergraduate Psychology course, deliver workshops to schools and write my own blog about psychology and neuroscience research. This is one of the parts I like most about doing a PhD; you have the opportunity to get involved with different areas and build skills and confidence outside of your niche research topic. After my PhD, I want to continue to work in research, but I am also attracted to the idea of working in policy and science communication. I want my work to have meaningful and far-reaching consequences, which could be achieved by any of these career paths. Luckily I have some time to think about it before I finish my PhD!

Going Further…

If you want to find out more about different aspects of psychology, check out the links below:

-  Interested in studying Psychology? Here is the website for Psychology at the University of Manchester, which gives more information about the course and the requirements: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00653/bsc-psychology/

-  Wondering what you can do with a Psychology degree? The British Psychology Society (BPS) has some careers information here: https://careers.bps.org.uk/

-  Keen to learn more about psychology and neuroscience research? Check out my very own blog: https://brainsinaspace.home.blog/ or my own academic Twitter:https://twitter.com/JStepanous

-  Want to learn more about your mental health? This website has videos and articles on different topics: https://teenmentalhealth.org/learn/

-  Curious about what the different parts of the brain are? You can download this free, interactive app for your phone: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/3d-brain/id331399332



 

A cure for Alzheimer's?

by YPU Admin on August 16, 2019, Comments. Tags: Alzheimer's, biology, chemistry, medicinal chemistry, medicine, Research, and STEM

Introduction

Hi, my name is James, I am a second year PhD researcher in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Manchester and I make drugs. To put that statement into context, I make drugs targeting the biological process of inflammation which is involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

My research group are interested in targeting the aptly named ‘inflammasome’ using small molecules. We hope that these small molecule inhibitors might one day be able to treat diseases which involve inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is something that everyone is aware of. And it’s only going to become more common – we are all living a lot longer than we used to, which means that age-related diseases are on the rise. That’s why I think that the work that we do is really important!

In Depth…

I studied at the University of York where I graduated with a first class MChem degree in Chemistry (with a year in industry), taking my fourth and final year on an industrial placement at LifeArc in Stevenage. LifeArc is where I first started working in the field of medicinal chemistry, and it is the year I spent there which inspired me to continue in that area. There is something amazing about manipulating molecules to make ones that have never been made before. Chemistry is a lot like cooking in your kitchen, albeit with a few more pieces of safety equipment, and without licking the spoon at the end…

On a typical day, I will spend most of my time in the lab – setting up reactions, as well as analysing and purifying them. I will never get bored of the fact that I am playing around with electrons to form new bonds… and mixing two coloured liquids together to give a sparkly white solid will always be absolute magic to me.

Going Further…

For those interested in learning a bit more about everyday chemistry and how it impacts on your life, take a look at the ‘Exploring Everyday Chemistry’ twitter pages or even sign up for a free online course. This will help to expand your everyday chemistry knowledge, and with the brilliant Professor Andy Parsons as your guide, you will have no choice but to get excited about chemistry! (https://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/news/deptnews/free-online-course-eedc/)

For the latest on Alzheimer’s research and news, look no further than the Twitter feeds for the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK (https://twitter.com/ARUKnews)

The University of Manchester has a huge range of exciting research – I would really suggest taking a look at the UoM Research Hive for approachable and jargon-free updates on the work of postgraduates (like me!) at the University. (https://twitter.com/UomHive)

For all the latest news from all areas of science, take a look at the New Scientist twitter feed. (https://twitter.com/newscientist)


 

Health Promotion in High Schools

by YPU Admin on March 15, 2018, Comments. Tags: Health Education, Pharmacy, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Emma and I’m currently in my first year of a Health Education England funded PhD within the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry at the University of Manchester. My A-Levels were in Maths, Biology and Chemistry and in 2011 I started a Master’s degree in pharmacy, again at the University of Manchester.

After I graduated from university in 2015 I completed a one year professional training programme at Warrington and Halton NHS Foundation Trust. At the end of this year I sat the General Pharmaceutical Council Pre-Registration exam and qualified as a pharmacist in summer 2016. For the next year I worked for Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust as a junior clinical pharmacist and although I did enjoy this job, it was at the start of 2017 I applied for my PhD.

In July 2017 I started my PhD at the University of Manchester. My research is focussed on developing a compulsory course for undergraduate pharmacy students to deliver health promotion workshops to high schools students using the teaching style of peer education.

In depth

The principal of peer education is simply that people are likely to learn more from individuals of a similar social status to themselves than from more traditional authority figures. This social status is usually determined by age but it can also be based on other factors such as ethnicity, gender or religion. Peer education can be used in many situations to teach various different topics, including health promotion.

Health promotion involves giving people information to take control and improve their own health. It is important as it can help change personal behaviours that can lead to disease and morbidity. Some of these health behaviours can start early on in life so targeting health promotion within schools is essential.

My research is therefore based around 3rd year pharmacy students delivering health promotion workshops to Year 9 and 10 pupils within schools around Greater Manchester. The workshop topics include mental health, sexual health and alcohol awareness. The pharmacy students must each deliver a workshop each in small groups as part of their degree course. The analysis of the workshops will include if the high school students improved their knowledge about the topic and also how the experience as a whole affected the pharmacy students.

Going further

To find out what we’re up to in Division of Pharmacy and Optometry follow us on twitter: @UoM_PharmOptPGR

 

Changing the Climate, Changing the Planet!

by YPU Admin on March 1, 2018, Comments. Tags: Climate Change, PhD, Research, and STEM

Introduction

My name is Zainab Bibi, and I am doing PhD in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the University of Manchester. As a well-rounded student, my interests span across Climate Change, Sustainability and Atmospheric sciences. The topic of my research is new methods for studying atmospheric soot. I want to introduce new processes of using the existing instrumentation and develop novel instruments to further explicate the major properties of Black Carbon and provide new insights and progress into its major processes.

Following my research on Global Universities, I came to conclusion that work being done in School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester is the perfect match for my research interests. My passion is to learn about emerging technologies in the field of Atmospheric sciences and use them to reduce climate change effects.


 

In Depth

The warming impact of BC is 460 to 1500 times stronger than CO2 and having a varied from few days to few weeks life time. BC, when placed on the snow and ice, causes both increase in melting rate and warming of the atmosphere. BC is produced from the assortment of combustion procedure and is accessible all over the earth system. It has the unique part in the climate system of earth because it influences the cloud processes, absorbs solar radiation and alters the ice cover and snow melting.  Another product of incomplete burning is soot under the hot and air starved conditions. It is also a part of atmospheric aerosol particles that has received the attention of health care and climate research communities because of its adverse impacts and increasing the disease susceptibility leading to cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems diseases in humans. For measuring some of their properties various instruments are being developed for example light absorption and scattering at variable wavelengths and elemental and organic carbon concentrations. On the other hand, new technologies are on their way which allows us to study about them on the next level, which has not been done in the past. Therefore my research focuses on new methods for studying atmospheric soot.

This research work is of the critical importance because emissions from Black carbon are the 2nd major cause of current global warming, after CO2 and it affects the atmospheric content of heat directly and indirectly. By measuring the soot particles we will attain a full picture of how the soot and other atmospheric pollutants are affecting the climate and by characterizing how the atmospheric particles scatter the light and quantifying the particle size and concentrations. Moreover this type of research work will help the scientists to understand the impacts of BC towards climate change and what mitigation strategies would be adapted to reduce its impact on the climate in future.

Going Further

You can read about my research center here: http://www.cas.manchester.ac.uk/

You can read about my school here: http://www.sees.manchester.ac.uk/

 

 

Leading the way in biomaterials!

by YPU Admin on January 18, 2018, Comments. Tags: Biomaterials, cells, nanoscience, PhD, and Research

Introduction

Hi! My name is Zara Smith and I’m a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Manchester. I’m funded by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and am currently based on the North Campus of the university. I am part of the Biomaterials research group headed by Prof. Julie Gough.

I finished high school in 2011, with A levels in Biology, Chemistry and English Literature.  Though my decision to study Biology was a quick one and rather rushed, I REALLY enjoyed studying for my undergraduate degree at the University of Hull, and loved it enough to continue onto a Master’s degree in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine at UCL. I took a year out following this and worked as a Trainee Assistant Analytical Chemist for TATA Steel in their environmental monitoring department, before deciding on my PhD project. My work at Manchester focuses on repairing tissues in the body that naturally would not heal by themselves. I work specifically with the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), a major knee ligament, which accounts for the majority of sports injuries and has a high rate of reintervention post-surgery.

So far my PhD has been great! I’ve travelled to a European conference in Switzerland to present my work and been to another here in Manchester, where I have met academics from all over the world. Hopefully there will be many more opportunities to share my research with the academic community!

In Depth...

I first became interested in the field of Biomaterials when I was doing my undergraduate degree, specifically the tiny biological interactions that happen at a surface and how we can use those interactions to guide a desired biological response. I have always been interested in creating biomedical devices and helping to create something which would improve the life of an individual and the medical field in that area, seemed almost like a calling! After graduating from my Biology degree, I immediately began my Masters. I completed a research project on the nano-delivery of growth factors to a model central nervous system, which only served to fuel my interest in the bio-responses of cells to materials on the micro and nano scale. 

After the completion of my Master’s degree, though knowing I wanted to do a PhD, I decided it was time to take a year out, gather some industrial experience and take the time to find a project that aligned with my interests. During this year, I was selected for an assistant position at TATA Steel where I performed both regular sampling analysis and novel research in analytical chemistry. I chose the ACL project at Manchester as it sounded fascinating and combined all the areas I find interesting; fast forward a year and I still absolutely love it! The project itself focuses on producing materials that will encourage cells taken from the ACL to produce a protein scaffold that matches as closely as possible the protein scaffold present in the native ACL. This means that the cells will start laying down the protein building blocks that are integral to building a native ACL, replacing the one that has already been irreparably damaged. We are aiming to achieve this through manipulating the cells at the surface of the materials with both physical cues and proteins.

(A picture of ACL cells from a light microscope!)

For the most part, my days usually consist of lab work, planning experiments, data analysis and reading and writing.

Due to the nature of the field, our group is highly interdisciplinary. We have members from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds spanning biological sciences, chemistry and all types of engineering. This in itself makes for a very interesting working environment where minds from very different backgrounds can come together and work to build materials/technologies.

 

Going Further...

If you are interested in perusing Materials sciences, the University of Manchester School of Materials webpage is here > http://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/

Interested in the Biomaterials work in my group? Find out more here > http://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/j.gough/ and here > http://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-groupings/biomaterials/

We also have a school blog which details life as a materials student and interviews a range of students and lecturers > http://www.mub.eps.manchester.ac.uk/uommaterialsblog/  

If you are interested in the societies associated with biomaterials research, take a look here > https://www.uksb.org.uk/