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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…


 

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



 

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)

 

Ticking Body Clocks: Research in Life Sciences

by YPU admin on February 4, 2016, Comments. Tags: biology, Body Clocks, Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Research, and UoM

Introduction

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.

In Depth

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 functions.

 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 area.


What do I research specifically?

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.

Going Further

·  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:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27161671

·  Some excuses to start school/work later:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PSZ76rFZS0&index=11&list=PL9uTU-SI30pTlVyigGcnvDgHpDAFo4AEP

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11851311/Staff-should-start-work-at-10am-to-avoid-torture-of-sleep-deprivation.html

·  Here are links to interviews with circadian researchers at The University of Manchester

https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/tuesday-feature-episode-17-qing-jun-meng/

https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/tuesday-feature-episode-16-andrew-loudon/