Every July, the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (MRC CNGG) at Cardiff University holds a summer school aimed at students, scientists and medical doctors interested in pursuing a career in mental health and neuroscience.
Much of what we do at the MRC CNGG involves understanding the causes of common but debilitating mental health problems such as schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. We do this because of the enormous impact that mental health problems and dementia have on individuals, their families and society as a whole. For instance, clinical depression is one of the leading causes of lifetime disability.
A key part of our role as a research centre funded by the Medical Research Council is to contribute to building, training and mentoring a new generation of scientists and clinicians in this area. Science and academia is competitive and international and, for that reason, it’s often tough. Through the Summer School, we give new scientists a grounding in brain disorders research, as well as the opportunity to speak with more experienced scientists who can support and guide them through the process of applying for training fellowships and post-doctoral positions.
Understanding the causes of disorders that are common but result in immense personal and societal suffering is incredibly challenging. It is widely acknowledged that conditions such as depression and schizophrenia have multiple causes working together in complex ways that involve both genes and environment. Because of this complexity, we must work hard to try and attract the best and most motivated individuals to work in this area.
Working to try and answer ‘big questions’ such as identifying the causes of mental illness requires individuals with different skill sets working coherently as a team. Our centre exemplifies this view of ‘team science’ and includes researchers with backgrounds in epidemiology, psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry and biosciences. Indeed, much of the success of the research we do in the MRC CNGG has come about through setting up large-scale collaborations to combine information from research groups across the globe. Our role in the Summer School is therefore to engage, encourage and inspire individuals from a range of disciplines to consider a career in this area.
My own research focuses on understanding the precursors of depression in young people in order to try and improve recognition, early detection and develop effective methods to prevent these problems. I have recently returned to Cardiff University after a spell working at a London university.
My experience of the MRC CNGG has been of a unique collaborative environment where researchers from very varied scientific disciplines work together to try and understand mental health problems. I hope that the new cohort of students attending next week’s Summer School will experience, and be encouraged by, this inter-disciplinary environment and perhaps be inspired to work in this area.
Dr Fran Rice has received funding from the Medical Research Council and the Nuffield Foundation