Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences
Tell us a bit About your role
I’ve always been interested in understanding why we do what we do, which led me to studying an undergraduate degree in psychology. Over time, this ‘why’ transitioned into a ‘how’ – specifically, how does the brain relate to behaviour? Neural circuits are incredibly complex and finely balanced, both flexible and robust, and somehow enable us to do everything we do. Even the simplest behaviour may require incredibly complex interactions within or between neural circuits. For example, picking up a glass of water is something most of us can do without any conscious thought, but it relies on multiple brain circuits, thousands of neurons, working in tandem.
This curiosity led to me studying an MSc in Neuroscience at Oxford and then applying for a PhD position in a lab focused mainly on Parkinson’s Disease, which is characterised by malfunction of an important motor circuit in the brain. While others in my lab directly investigate the pathology of Parkinson’s Disease to understand how this circuit malfunctions, my research focuses on the healthy brain. If we can understand how these circuits function prior to neurodegeneration, we may gain a better understanding of what goes wrong in Parkinson’s Disease.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
Like much of medical science, my field is a puzzle that many people across many labs are trying to solve. As a PhD student, you pick one very small piece of that puzzle that you’re passionate about and find out everything you can about it. The idea that my specific puzzle piece will one day fit with others into a completed puzzle, and that one day I might be able to see the picture all these pieces make, is something I find incredibly exciting.
Can you tell us about something you’ve done, contributed to that you’re most proud of?
My colleague and I introduced a new measurement technique to the lab, which allows us to optically measure dopamine levels in the brain. While this was already possible, alternative methods have various drawbacks which make answering certain questions difficult. Any new technique requires a lot of pilot testing and troubleshooting to make sure it’s working, which is what my colleague and I worked on. Now that it is up and running, this new method has greatly facilitated my project and has already provided some very interesting data, which I can build upon going forward.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
Although the Medical Sciences have become much more diverse over the past few decades, there is still room for improvement. In my Master’s, we had a roughly equal gender balance and a decent mix of people from different cultural backgrounds. But the further up the academic chain you go, the less diversity there seems to be. I am not just advocating diversity for diversity’s sake: we need representative voices at the higher levels of the Medical Sciences to ensure that we as a field are asking the right questions and finding solutions that apply to everyone, not just the most represented groups. This kind of change is always slow, but with 100 years of social progress and concerted efforts to make science accessible to a wide range of people, I would hope to see a workforce in the Medical Sciences which at all levels reflects the population it intends to serve.