So it’s the end of exams which means it is time to reflect on what I have learnt over the past few months and also look forward to what lies ahead. The sleepless nights, intense library sessions, and excruciating pain of 3am essay drives, all worth it due to the fact that there has been some absolutely fantastic seminars and research discussions in the past few months. I have also been gifted with the opportunity to get stuck into a research project, all of which has left me with some serious food for thought!
One of the most amazing aspects of my course is the Brain Mapping Seminar held every Monday lunchtime. Each week this features a different speaker and due to the stellar reputation of CUBRIC, the seminars have included some of the biggest names in neuroimaging today. Although the content of the sessions can get very technical, often the speakers are kind enough to give a short ‘primer session’ for the MSc students, introducing us to the topic and key concepts of the talk. Research presented by leading scientists in such an accessible way is absolutely fantastic as it allows people to gain a much broader understanding of both the methods and applications of neuroimaging and it is for these reasons that the seminars are often overflowing with students and post-docs alike.
Looking back on a semester’s worth of guest lectures, one seminar given by Dr Guy Williams (University of Cambridge) provides a particular stand out point. He spoke to us about a technique which allows you to look at almost instantaneous brain activity and its exciting future applications. It is possible that using real-time fMRI in conjunction with a novel mobile phone app may allow people to communicate by brain activity alone. Such research would have massive implications for individuals who are in a vegetative state and are otherwise unable to communicate. This was a truly fascinating topic as, although the work discussed was in the early stages, considerable future development may provide benefits for an often overlooked patient population. A population that would usually have no other way of communicating in everyday life, could soon have their voices heard through advancements in this field! It is inspiring lectures like this that highlight the true potential of neuroimaging and really hit home for me just how much I enjoy learning about new research and its implications for society.
Looking to the future
In addition to hearing about the research others are conducting I also get the chance to undertake some of my own. As part of my MSc I get the amazing opportunity to conduct research with some of the world-leading neuroimaging researchers based here at CUBRIC. This means I can reflect on what I have already learnt in the first two semesters and put this knowledge into practice. The researchers at CUBRIC hold a wide variety of interests but I have decided to work with a Magnetic Resonance Imaging technique that looks at neurotransmitters in the brain. I hope to understand how these neurotransmitters relate to emotion regulation and biological markers of stress and immune response as this has a variety of interesting applications for many clinical disorders. I was lucky enough to get a bit of a head-start in this field by starting scanning in March, and I now get the chance to fully immerse myself in the research which is both a daunting and an exciting prospect! I expect that there will be many highs and lows throughout the process (as I have heard there is in any research!) but I look forward to the chance to explore what it is really like to conduct neuroimaging research.