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Can we cure back pain in the future?

by YPU Admin on September 21, 2017, Comments. Tags: Engineering, masters, medicine, and STEM

Introduction

Hey, my name is Farah Farzana and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. Last year after I completed my third year, I decided to take a year out of medicine to do a Masters in Research degree in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.  This is known as an intercalated degree, that many medics opt to do if they have further interests in research or any subject in general.  After completing this Masters, I will go back to medical school to complete my final remaining two years and hopefully graduate and become a doctor.

I never imagined or really anticipated during the first few years of Medicine, that I have any interest in research. To be honest, I was always scared by the prospect of going into research and imagined it to be pretty intense and hard. However during my third year I started becoming more interested in regenerative medicine, especially cell based therapies and the potential of regenerating tissues. The growing area of research that focuses of regenerating damaged organs or tissues, so in effect you are giving them a new life every time they are damaged intrigued me. So I decided to look into regenerating the structures within our spines known as the intervertebral discs.



In Depth

What is the intervertebral disc and how does it cause back pain?

The intervertebral discs are structures that make up our spine, and helps in overall mobility. With progressive age the spine goes through trauma and increase pressure due to many factors such as obesity, because of which these discs slowly starts to breakdown gradually. This causes severe pain and discomfort for suffers and is known to be one of the major causes of back pain. The pain occurs mainly because the discs are no longer mobile enough to support our range of movements, such as twisting and turning or even sitting which puts pressure on our spine. It is estimated that approximately 60-80% of people will at some point in their lifetime experience back pain. Despite the condition not being life threatening, it imposes a huge economic burden on our health care system, as well as being one of the foremost causes of disability due to chronic pain between the ages of 45 and 65 worldwide. Current treatments are costly and only offers symptomatic relief for the patients and most treatment available are a temporary fix to the underlying problem. Therefore research is now focussing on understanding the disease process itself of why the breakdown of the discs occurs and what cells are involved in such disease. Identifying the exact cells involved in the process that leads to breakdown of the discs will allow researchers to target such cells and stop them from causing the breakdown.

What does my research focus on?

Researchers have discovered that some cells act to maintain the discs health, which can be also targeted to restore the damaged disc. My research is looking to find out more about the types of cells present within the innermost layer of the disc. Some cells within this layer of the disc have the ability to stimulate rejuvenation of the damaged disc, when given signals. These findings of how these cells function and what signals they need to remodel the damaged disc will further guide upcoming research that will look at developing treatments by manipulating such cells to regenerate the discs. Such treatments will target the underlying disease itself in order to give patients suffering from back pain a permanent cure to back pain caused with progressive age. Such discovery in the future can even lead to developing treatments that can potentially cure back pain forever and change millions of lives.

Going Further

I made a video on studying medicine and how it is like to be a medical student, if you would like to have a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LgGrc6182g

This research is a hot topic now and we even managed to somehow feature on the daily mail a few years back!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1267326/Growing-new-disc-help-relieve-pain.html

Feature on medical news today about future and techniques of regenerating the spine:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263496.php

Interested in studying medicine here is a good website to look at:

https://www.bma.org.uk/advice/career/studying-medicine/becoming-a-doctor/introduction

Interested in becoming a scientist? Look at this website for a step by step explanation:

http://study.com/articles/How_to_Become_a_Biological_Scientist_Education_and_Career_Roadmap.html

A detailed scientific paper explaining disc degeneration and processes of regeneration:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3008962/


 

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!

 

Researching Adult Learning at Manchester Art Gallery

by YPU Admin on January 7, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanities, learning, manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, masters, Museums, Research, and UoM

Introduction

Hello, my name is Ed Trotman and I’m employed as a graduate intern with the University of Manchester, working specifically on the Schools-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI). I’ve recently graduated from the University with an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. Prior to this I completed an undergraduate degree in History at the University of Bristol.

You might not have heard of Museum Studies as a degree option - it involves the study of the role of museums and galleries in society as well as how museum professionals (e.g. curators, conservators, educationalists) go about putting on displays and exhibitions. The idea is that it provides a basic training to enter the museum sector. As a Master’s degree it took place over the duration of a year (although some Masters take longer!). In this time I learnt about a variety of aspects of museum work. I also did a lot of volunteering with staff at the Manchester Museum, the Manchester Central Library, the Museum of Science and Industry and Manchester Art Gallery. The course culminated in a research project assignment. This could be on any topic related to Art Gallery and Museum Studies. 

Thinking about my experiences of learning about and working in museums and art galleries I decided that I wanted to investigate the educational role of these institutions. I discovered that cultural organisations play a bigger role in society than I was aware of. It is common, for instance, to find that museums carry out community outreach projects in poorer socio-economic areas, host workshop classes for the very elderly and those with dementia and provide educational activities for people of all ages and backgrounds struggling with disability.

Despite their social good however, factors including transport costs, limited free time and a lack of familiarity with cultural institutions often prevent many adults from accessing the museum’s educational resources. I was interested to know how museums and galleries could seek to attract more adult visitors to talks and workshops, how best to engage with them whilst they were there and how to encourage them to come again. 


In Depth

After doing some reading I found that not that much research had been done by academics within the field of Museum Studies into adult education in cultural institutions (which was actually pretty shocking!). In order to understand more about the best ways of going about adult education in museums/galleries I looked at Adult Learning theory. In particular, I read about the Theory of Andragogy by Malcolm S. Knowles. This is a foundational theory of adult learning which states that adults learn differently to children. Knowles defines six key principles which explain how adults learn differently. These include the ideas that adults rely heavily on lived experience to learn, that they always need to know why they need to learn something before learning it and that they prefer to be self-directed when learning. When these ideas were published in the sixties they were fairly controversial but have now become more accepted. Knowles argues that these principles can be applied to almost any situation in which adults are being encouraged to learn.

The focus of my research was to understand if Knowles’ principles had broader application within cultural institutions. I assessed two educational sessions for adults at Manchester Art Gallery including a gallery tour and a workshop, carrying out focus group interviews with participants in both. I found that, in the workshop class, many of these ideas were already being used by gallery staff to great effect and could be seen to have application. In the tour session meanwhile it was clear that teaching staff were contravening several of Knowles’s principles and consequently adults reported feeling frustrated with their experiences. As a result I concluded that the principles of Andragogy had practical use here. The process of carrying out this research and writing it up was really interesting, especially as I felt like I was contributing something new to the field of Museum Studies. I got to speak to members of the public about art and art galleries and practice my interview skills. 


Going Further

If you want to find out more about my MA, the Theory of Andragogy or the sessions I attended at Manchester Art Gallery follow the links below:

Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/01100/art-gallery-and-museum-studies-ma/

Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy

Manchester Art Gallery, Exhibitions and Events: http://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/

Museums Association http://www.museumsassociation.org/home


 

My Journey to a Masters in Italy

From High School I knew I really wanted to study languages and hopefully pursue a career in translation or interpreting. So I chose French and Italian at Manchester because I wanted to continue studying French after taking it at A Level; but I also wanted the opportunity to start a new language from scratch. Manchester offered several ab-initio languages and I decided I really wanted to study Italian.

During my time at Manchester I particularly enjoyed the modules which focused on core language and also linguistics, such as Structures of French Language, French Syntax & Morphology and The Structures of Modern Italian. They allowed me to gain a greater and more in-depth knowledge of both languages whilst benefitting my spoken language and understanding of where modern day French and Italian both stem from.

After graduating, I planned to work for one year, and now, having gained this experience, I will go to Italy and study for a Masters in Language, Society and Communication at The University of Bologna.