Postdoctoral Research Scientist - I look at people's brains and try to understand how they work using MRI machines
Kings College London 2006-2009; UCL 2009-2010; University of Oxford 2012-2016
BSc (Biomedical Science), MSc (Cognitive Neuroscience), PhD (Neuroscience)
UCL – research assistant,
Postdoctoral research scientist
University of Oxford
I’m a neuroscientist who explores the relationship between the brain and how we perceive the world
I am a neuroscientist based in Oxford with two big interests:
For my PhD I used Oxfords very high powered MRI machine (theres only a few in the whole of the UK) to investigate the human brain at a super detailed level. I was particularly interested in how our brain organises what we see. When we look at a picture for example, the things that we see, such as colours or shapes, each have their own special pathways to follow. We wanted to learn more about these pathways and to see them in action using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) on our mega magnet.
Now that I have finished my PhD I use fMRI to understand breathlessness, in a project called “Breathing with your Brain”. I focus on the brains of people who live with long-term breathing difficulties, such as asthma. Sometimes these people who have trouble with their breathing can feel more anxious than we would expect. I am interested in how these peoples brains differ from people who don’t live with breathlessness, and in making links between how people feel about their breathing and their brains activity. These differences might help us understand why some people feel more worried than others when they can’t breathe and allow us to develop treatments to retrain their brains.
My Typical Day
I meet my participants in the morning, scan them on the MRI machine at lunch time and analyse their brains in the afternoon.
We normally see two participants per week and on those days we are very busy! We meet them at 10am and they complete a big list of questionnaires that ask them about their breathing and generally how they feel. I leave the volunteer working on these with one of our researchers and go to work at my computer, coding and thinking about new ways to look at our data is a big part of my job.
At lunch time we MRI scan our participant, they have to be carefully checked for metal as it is very important not to take loose metal into the scanner as you can see if you click this link
After the participant has had their scan, which lasts around 1 hour, they do some more tests for their breathing and some computer games. While they do this I look at the MRI pictures to make sure it is good quality and do some basic analysis straight away.
After the participant has left at around 3pm I meet with some of our other team members to book in new participants and take some time to read any research papers that might help me to think in new ways. It is very important to know what other people are doing and to see how our work can fit in with this.
The great thing about being a researcher is that you can be very flexible with when and where you work. Sometimes I leave work early but often I have a very interesting question to answer and I find that I’m still working on it at 9pm. It never feels like work because we have so many questions and we know might be able to help people if we answer them.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do at school. I liked science but had no clue about a career so I chose to do a really broad degree and keep my options open. After my degree in Biomedical Science, which basically taught me my brain is not designed to memorise drug names, I enrolled in a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience. After 3 years of not feeling very clever I suddenly found my love of science again! I bought neuroscience textbooks and read them at night, I spent evenings in the MRI scanners and generally was a great big nerd. After I finished that course I knew I liked research but wasn’t ready for a PhD so I worked as a research scientist investigating dementia for 2 years before I applied to do a PhD at Oxford (because they had a really big MRI scanner, and I knew I liked them). The PhD was my toughest challenge and I learned a lot about what to do and not to do in science experiments. That got my to where I am now, a research scientist at Oxford and i’m loving it!
What's the best thing you've ever done in your career?
I once got to present my research in a conference in Hawaii
What or who inspired you to follow this career?
I didn’t know anything about researchers until I did an Masters in neuroscience. Then I met an AMAZING researcher called Marty Sereno who wore Hawaiian shirts and played guitar. He inspired me!
What advice would you give someone who wants to be in the same career as you?
Get some hands on experience! Read up on some interesting researchers and get in touch with them or their University to arrange a visit
What do you see as your next step in your career?
I need to write up my findings
What other sorts of jobs can you do with your qualifications?
Lots of things! You can be a consultant, a medical writer, a technology adviser, a project manager
What's the best part of your current job?
Looking at my participants brain scans for the first time, each brain is unique and you never know what you might see!
What don't you like about your current job?
I don't like that compared to a lot of jobs you don't have job security really, applying for grants is a big part of the job