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.
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.
- Undertake your own research project by doing an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), learn how and why?
- A list of undergraduate courses that would allow you to progress into a research career after:
- Learn more about stroke here:
- StrokeCasts - podcasts made by stroke survivors about their inspirational journey to recovery:
- Read about the research done by my supervisor and my colleagues here:
- Follow us on twitter:
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.
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!
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/
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
learn more about your mental health? This website has videos and articles on
different topics: https://teenmentalhealth.org/learn/
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
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 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 Charlotte Pelekanou and I am a PhD student at the
University of Manchester studying Circadian Biology (body clocks). Body clocks
are found in all body organs and gives time of day messages to lots of body
processes. Altering these clocks can lead to the development of obesity and
type 2 diabetes (when your body does not regulate your blood sugar properly).
Before starting my PhD, I did my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences
and masters in Neuroscience research, both at the University of Manchester.
Why am I interested
in body clocks?
When I tell people I research body clocks they always think
of sleep. However, over the last 50 years circadian biology has expanded
massively as more and more is found out about how the clock affects our body
I became interested
in the body clock because a family member had an illness that made them have
problems with their sleeping. I then found out in my undergraduate degree that
the body clock does more than regulate sleep; it also has effects on most
bodily functions including processing the food you eat, how your immune system
protects you and how you store memories.
I then chose to do a PhD on the effects of the clock on
obesity and diabetes as obesity is a growing issue in current society and it
costs the NHS a lot of money to treat patients who have health problems as a
result. I am also really interested in circadian biology itself as I like the
concept of ‘social jetlag’, where people are living in a different time to
their body clock, and how increased use of technology such as mobiles and iPads
in the evenings can lead to negative health effects and contribute to this rise
in obesity. I am also interested in the concept of chronotherapy which is looking
at how taking drugs at different times of day can have an effect on how well
the drug works. All of these make circadian biology a really exciting research
What do I research
During my PhD, I am looking at the clocks involved in metabolism
(how food is used to get energy) and the immune system and how altering them
can lead to negative effects on your body. Particularly, I’m looking at
inflammation in fat tissue caused by obesity and how it leads to the
development of type 2 diabetes. It has
already been found that people who work shifts, like doctors and nurses, can
have an increased risk of becoming obese and getting diabetes. This happens
because your internal timing is set to a different time to when you are
working, such as being awake and eating meals during the time your body wants
to be asleep. As we have already found that the body clock is linked to
metabolism and the immune system, we are looking for the specific pathways in
metabolism and the immune system that are linked to the body clock and how they
are changed with alterations in the body clock. We then want to see if we can
modulate the pathway to remove these effects of inflammation in obesity so that
fewer people would get diabetes from being obese.
You can test when is the best times for
you to go to sleep and wake up: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/crt/
You can look
up when is the best time to sleep, eat and exercise:
to start school/work later:
Here are links to interviews with circadian researchers
at The University of Manchester