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The Mechanics of Language

Introduction

My name is Alina, and I am a first-year PhD student in Linguistics. The most common two questions I get asked when I say this are: “What is Linguistics?” and “How many languages do you speak?” So, I’ll begin by answering these. Linguistics is the “scientific study of language”. It is a vast discipline, but some examples of what linguists are interested in are: how grammars are constructed, how language changes, what the similarities and differences are between the languages of the world, how children and adults learn languages, how people’s use of language varies according to social factors (gender, age, context etc.), how the order of words in a sentence gives that sentence meaning, the list goes on…!

As for the second question, being a linguist does not automatically mean you speak tons of languages (though some do)! I speak French, I am learning Spanish, and I understand Reunion Creole, which is the language that my PhD research is on. Reunion Creole is spoken on the island of La Réunion, a French overseas department (next to Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean). Creole languages are relatively new languages (compared to English or French, for example) which arise when groups of speakers with different native tongues are found in a situation where they need to communicate with one another. This happened in La Réunion when French colonisers settled on the island and imported slaves from Madagascar and East Africa. Later, immigrants from India and China came to the island to work. Over the subsequent generations, the language formed through the interaction of these groups of speakers. It is now the native language of the majority of the island, spoken alongside French. Many of the words in Reunion Creole are derived from French words, so it may sound familiar to a French speaker, but the grammars of the two languages are different. 

Cap Noir, La Réunion: here’s a picture which shows you the beautiful mountainous landscape of La Reunion

In Depth…

So how did I find myself doing a PhD on this topic?! I have always had a fascination for foreign languages, and just words in general, which led me to study French at undergraduate level. During my degree, I chose modules in French Linguistics and really enjoyed them. I enjoy the discipline as it applies the scientific rigour and logic of the Sciences and Maths, to an inherently social phenomenon: language. In the third year of my degree, I got the opportunity to go on a year abroad. I chose to study in La Réunion, and it was there that I discovered Reunion Creole.  On returning, I decided I wanted to continue studying and explore the subject of Linguistics in more depth with an MA and PhD.

My PhD project investigates the syntax and focus structure of Reunion Creole. This is essentially how the word order of a sentence can be manipulated to change its emphasis and by consequence, its meaning. And what is the point in this research? Firstly, a better understanding of the mechanics of individual languages enables us to make comparisons with the languages of the world. This in turn allows us to better understand the faculty of language, which is a fundamental part of our existence. Secondly, knowledge of the technicalities of a language also enables us to better teach it in the classroom. In La Réunion, Reunion Creole is an officially recognised regional language and French is the national language. Historically, French has been more highly regarded and continues to be the language of the law, administration and schooling.  Like many creole languages, Reunion Creole has not always been highly regarded with respect to French, despite it being the native language of the majority of the island. A person’s mother tongue is a fundamental part of their identity, so I consider it very important that it be valued. Furthermore, research has suggested that bilingualism has cognitive benefits, which may reduce the likelihood of dementia, for example. It is therefore imperative that bilingualism is encouraged, so any research promoting historically undervalued languages serves this purpose.

La plage de l’Ermitage, La Réunion. 

Going Further…

If you’re interested in languages generally, there are plenty of resources that may feed your curiosity:

Grand Bénare, La Réunion: at the top of a hike in La Réunion – above the clouds! 


 

From Undergraduate to PhD and everything in between!

by YPU Admin on February 7, 2020, Comments. Tags: biology, BMH, Health, medicine, Neuroscience, pharmacology, PhD, psychology, Research, and stroke

Introduction

Hi everyone! I’m Ioana, a first year PhD student in the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, at the University of Manchester. My PhD project focuses on the therapeutic side of ischemic stroke at preclinical level. I spend a lot of time working with animal models, as they offer information highly translatable to humans.

In Depth…

I was born and raised in Romania, but I moved to Manchester to do my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology with Industrial Experience. I loved the university and the city so much, that I decided to stay. The degree offered me the chance to learn various laboratory techniques and to experience working with animals in research. However, when I started it, I had NO IDEA what I wanted to do after.

Between my first and second year, I wanted to get more experience in science as I was trying to figure out what I wanted my future career to be. It wasn’t easy to find any internships available for first years, but I emailed my CV, emphasising my willingness to learn to 46 different places that were not advertising any opportunities at that moment. I only received 6 replies, but I was lucky enough to secure 4 internships. One of those was with a research group based within the University of Manchester, where I learned several laboratory techniques that I am still using today. The other 3 were with the nearby hospital. There I had a chance to learn how to obtain ethical approvals for a cardiovascular trial, to manage patient data for a health economic analysis and to shadow a research nurse as she was administering trial treatment to patients with leukaemia. I was learning so much while working for all these places at the same time, as they accommodated a flexible schedule for me. I also did some work in the charity sector with Citywise. All these experiences gave me a broad insight into various paths my career could take.

As part of my degree, I did a placement year at Mayo Clinic in the United States, doing a neuroscience research project working with both cells and animal models. That is when I realised that I really love working in a laboratory setting, especially in Neuroscience. I liked the flexibility of thinking and applying the knowledge in experimental planning and then undertaking the study. I loved it so much that I was sure I wanted to continue with a career in neuroscience research, so I went straight from my undergraduate degree to do a PhD project. I knew it won’t be easy at all, so finding a project I liked with a very supportive group that felt like a community was really important!

So, what is my project about?

In ischemic stroke, when the blood clot is formed, a drug is used to burst the clot, trying to restore the blood flow and to limit the damage. There is increasing evidence that inflammation also plays a role in enhancing the brain damage after stroke. So, there is an anti-inflammatory drug currently in clinical trials for different types of stroke. My project aims to find the most suitable way to combine the anti-inflammatory approach with the clot busting drug in a safe and efficient manner. To do this, I need to replicate the stroke observed in humans, as closely as possible, in animal models of disease. Using these, I can observe the interaction between the two therapeutic approaches at cerebral, vascular, cellular and molecular levels. For example, I am using imaging to monitor blood flow (image attached) and running MRI scans to see the extent of brain damage.

Monitoring blood flow in a mouse brain using Laser Speckle Imaging.

The PhD experience is not all just science. I love being active and involved within the community, hence why I participate in outreach activities, teaching, learning to code, organising events as part of a doctoral society and trying to learn French. Your PhD experience can be whatever you want it to be, tailored to your preferences and interests.

Going Further…


 

How Did We Get Here?

by YPU Admin on January 31, 2020, Comments. Tags: biochemistry, biology, BMH, cell biology, lab work, manchester, PhD, proteins, and Research

Introduction

How did we get here?! A question not necessarily linked to cellular biology, but the answer is essential for all life. How do proteins (molecular machines) travel inside the cell? How can we help when it goes wrong? Can we hijack these pathways to produce revolutionary new drugs? My name is Katie Downes. I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester and my research aim is to answer those questions.

Inside the world of the cell, proteins are powerful machines performing all sorts of crazy processes where space and time are key. Knowing how they get to where they need to be is fundamental to life as we know it, as exemplified by what happens when it goes wrong. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and blindness are linked to issues with intracellular transport. Yet the relatively simple question of how did that get there is still puzzling scientists. Imagine rush hour on the metro then add 20,000 proteins and you’re still not quite imagining how much is going on.

Research in this field is highly applicable to a number of real-life scenarios. Biopharmaceuticals, biological drugs produced in cells, are increasingly being used to target difficult diseases such as cancer. Currently these therapies are super expensive, as production yields are low and development costs high. By gaining a greater understanding of what determines how a protein is produced provides a torch light in the dark for these emerging therapies.

Day to day my research involves fiddling with some high-tech microscopes, watching fluorescent proteins move around inside the cell and performing a series of complex analyses to generate of library of movement. This library can then be used to interrogate various methods of intracellular transport and ultimately create a comprehensive map of intracellular transport.

In Depth

How did I get here?

Throughout secondary school I was determined STEM wasn’t for me. However, one particularly inspirational teacher unlocked what was to become a lifelong passion for the sciences. I went on to study Biological Sciences at Durham University, with a focus on Cell Biology and Biochemistry. My lectures would frequently blow my mind at how awesomely clever biochemical systems and proteins are – defined by logic and simplicity.

As you can see, I am a true nerd. However, it wasn’t just my wonderment which drew me to Biology. Through studying Biology, I realised I could help people and make a difference. During my industrial placement year, I worked in the Research and Development Department for a biopharmaceutical company, producing therapeutic antibodies for clinical trials. From then on, I became fascinated with biopharmaceuticals and the concept that we can harness all of that awesome biochemistry I had learnt during my undergraduate and use it to tackle serious diseases. I was shocked to find how much fundamental cell biology is still unknown. It became clear to me that if true progress was to be made in global health, more research was required and I wanted to be part of it. After graduating I jumped at the chance at a PhD.

My Research:

The world of intracellular transport is a fascinating place. So much is yet to be discovered. But I can provide a little teaser for those who are interested!

Throughout school you are taught that cells are a nice sphere, with a nucleus at the centre and a few other important bits, called organelles, floating around. In reality cells are densely packed environments where everything is in motion. In-fact there is a skeleton of sorts, a cytoskeleton which supports the overall structure of the cell – imagine scaffolding running throughout the cell. Some of this scaffolding also acts as a road, providing a track for molecular motors. These motors waddle along the tracks carrying various cargo. When “long-distance” transport is required, these motors are employed to pick up and drop off their cargo. But, how do they know when they are needed? How do they know what to pick up and where to put down? How do they know what are carrying?

Going Further...

For more information on studying Biological Sciences at Durham University or the University of Manchester:

To learn more about the research that is happening in my faculty:

Interested in intracellular transport?

Want to learn more about biopharmaceuticals?


 

Wait a minute - that doesn't sound like business?!

by YPU Admin on January 24, 2020, Comments. Tags: AMBS, business, marketing, Mental Health, PhD, psychology, and university

Introduction

Hey everyone! I’m Charlotte and I’m a 1st year PhD student currently studying at Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester. My current research is focused on student mental health and help-seeking behaviours.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you say, “that doesn’t sound like business”.

And at first glance it doesn’t. I’ve had many questioning looks when I tell people I’m a marketing student studying student mental health, but that’s one of the best things about my PhD. I get to combine my passion for understanding and improving mental health with my interests in marketing and consumer behaviour.

So, sit back and I’ll tell you all.


In-depth

Before starting my PhD I studied for my undergraduate degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Marketing. At first you might think Psychology and Marketing don’t really go together, but I’ve always been interested in why we think and behave in particular ways, and that’s exactly what Marketers try to do.

After my master’s degree I worked for 2 years at a digital marketing agency just outside of Manchester managing the day-to-day marketing activities of my clients including; branding, design for digital or print promotions, advertisements, copywriting and campaign management. As much as I enjoyed working in marketing, after a couple of years I could hear university calling my name once more. So, I applied for my PhD and the rest, as they say, is history!

But what exactly do I do?

Mental health has been studied extensively, with particular focus in areas such as health, psychology and sociology. Approaching student mental health from a marketing perspective, my research aims to better understand the motivations and decision making processes that encourage individuals to seek help for their mental health problems - or indeed why certain people avoid seeking help. By understanding these decisions better, I hope that my research can have an impact in improving the provision of university support services (and the promotion of these services) to facilitate help-seeking behaviour.

As I’m only in my first year, my work mainly involves developing my research skills and reading more about the different perspectives and disciplines researching student mental health. As a qualitative researcher, with an interest in behaviour, I’ve never been convinced by statistics alone. I’m much more interested in how individual’s create meaning as part of their experiences. Qualitative research allows me to gain a richer interpretation of experiences and behaviours, and how people interpret these behaviours. One of the best things about studying for my PhD is that as I read and learn more about my topic, my research questions change and develop.

At University, for both my undergraduate and master’s degree, the biggest challenge for me was always trying to work out what I wanted to do at the end of it. Now, studying for my PhD I hope to continue researching and stay in academia to teach the marketers and researchers of the future. It hasn’t been a straight road, but then your career doesn’t have to be - find something you enjoy learning about and career ideas start to fall into place (even if you don’t realise it at first)!

A bit further...

If you’re interested in finding out more about careers in Psychology, visit: https://www.bps.org.uk

For more information on careers in Marketing, visit: https://www.cim.co.uk

If you’d like to find out more about the courses on offer at the University of Manchester, you can visit the links here:

Psychology: https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/psychology/

Business and Marketing: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/03528/bsc-management-marketing/

The book that started to bridge the gap between Psychology and Marketing for me was Robert Cialdini’s ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Influence.html?id=5dfv0HJ1TEoC

The Drum is a website dedicated to looking at the latest trends and news in the Marketing industry. You can take a look around the website here: https://www.thedrum.com

Or if you want to know more about the current research taking place across the UK focussing on Student Mental Health, King’s College London (KCL) created a research network called SMaRteN dedicated to improving understanding of student mental health in higher education. You can visit the website here:

https://www.smarten.org.uk

 

Researching Submarine ‘Rivers’ and Salt Topography

Introduction

My name is Zoë Cumberpatch and I’m half way through a PhD in Basin Studies at the Department of Earth and Environment, University of Manchester. From a young age I loved the outdoors and wanted to understand ‘why is that hill there?’, ‘why does one river flow faster than another?’ and ‘why do the rocks in Nottingham (where I’m from) look so different to the rocks in holiday destinations?’

My enjoyment and interest of Maths, Science and Geography at school led me to study Geology, Geography, Biology and Maths at A-level, before going on to study Geological Sciences at the University of Leeds. At Leeds, I preferred sedimentary rocks rather than igneous and metamorphic rocks and that fuelled my desire to study the applied side of sedimentology (with an MSc in subsurface energy at Imperial College London). 

During my MSc I was exposed to lots of different geological techniques and methods, and I wanted to integrate a number of these techniques to answer a research question. This led me to apply for multiple PhD projects and eventually I settled on my current project at the University of Manchester. My project looks at how deep marine landslides and ‘rivers’ can be controlled and re-routed by growing ‘salt diapirs’ (which are essentially hills made of salt). The properties of the rocks deposited by these flows can be very optimal for both producing hydrocarbons and storing carbon dioxide. Geologists are the experts of the earths subsurface and are vital for the ‘global energy transition’.

My PhD combines subsurface data (think of it as an ultrasound of the earth), fieldwork (travelling the world to study analogous exposed rocks), numerical modelling (creating geology using ‘ping pong balls’ and simulating geological time) and physical modelling (literally building hills in a flume tank and letting the water in).


My PhD has given me some incredible experiences; my highlights so far include:

1) Leading a field trip to my field area (northern Spain) for 10 industrial sponsors of our research group (picture of me in a hi-vis)
2) Winning best student poster at an International Conference in Salt Lake City
3) Spending my entire August 2019 doing fieldwork in Azerbaijan, after successfully winning a grant with a colleague
4) Working as a team to construct valid flume tank experiments in Utrecht
5) Being part of a NERC CDT (Centre of Doctoral training) which gives me a cohort of like-minded researchers, and 20 weeks of broad geological training (picture below shows a group of us in the Alps on a field course).

In depth (PhD Project Summary)

Layers of sedimentary rock form much of the Earth’s continental crust. These rocks are laid down in different depositional environments (e.g. terrestrial or marine). Layers of salt accumulate in regions where seawater incursions evaporate. Due to salt’s mechanical properties it becomes buoyant when sufficiently buried and can flow over geological time (much like glass), forming salt-cored ridges and domes on the ocean floor. Gravity moves sediment from the continents to the deep ocean basins, resulting in the deposition of rocks around the salt bodies. These salt bodies, which can be growing during deposition can cause deep water gravity flows to terminate completely or reroute their course. Geophysical ‘ultrasounds of the earth’ (seismic imaging) make it possible to study the subsurface, however areas around salt remain difficult to image in these data sets due to the chaotic representation of salt on seismic. Cliff sections in the Basque Country, Spain reveal ancient deep-marine rocks originally deposited next to salt-cored topography; these are used to understand sedimentary processes operating in deep-water and their effect on the sedimentary record. Fieldwork observations are combined with subsurface seismic data from the UK North Sea and numerical and physical models to appreciate the distribution of these sediments on a variety of scales and explore how this may influence potential hydrocarbon or carbon storage distribution and quality around salt bodies.

Going Further

For more information about all things geological, including resources for schools and colleges see the Geological Society: https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/

To learn more about the research happening in my department: https://www.ees.manchester.ac.uk/research/themes/

To learn more about the research happening in my research group: http://stratleeds.org.uk/

If you’re interested in sedimentology, look no further than: https://www.sepm.org/