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Anna Sales

(class of 2015, interviewed in May 2019)

1) educational background

MSci Physics, Imperial College London 2014
MA War Studies, Kings College London, 2007
MPhys Physics, University of Oxford 2003
 

2a) why did you pick neural dynamics?

The course offered a ‘way in’ to  neuroscience for someone from a physics background – without pigeonholing students as either computational or experimental, or limiting the type of research available on the basis of past experience. I wanted to learn completely new experimental skills and to develop my ability to apply computational approaches to a broad range of problems. I felt that the programme was ideally structured to help me achieve these aims. In contrast, I don’t think I would ever have felt able to apply directly to a ‘conventional’ 3-year experimental neuroscience PhD.

I would also say that, as a mature student, the level of financial support offered by the Wellcome Trust was also important and made doing a PhD a feasible option.

2b) how do you see the programme has helped you develop personally and professionally?

I could list technical skills here but from a personal point of view, I think it’s more important that I’ve gained confidence in my ability to solve problems in general, whether it’s working out a technical challenge with a piece of lab equipment or figuring out how to design an experiment to answer a question.  I’m also a lot better at valuing and developing my ideas, which I’d probably have just written off in the past. I also don’t think twice about having to learn a new programming language, or read papers in a different field – having jumped disciplines and worked in both experimental and computational labs, I’m not phased by being outside of my comfort zone.

2c) what did you especially enjoy about the programme?

I’ve enjoyed having a foot in both the computational and experimental camps and being able to (at least sometimes) speak both languages. I’ve also valued being in a programme with such a broad range of research.

3) what project did you do, how well do you feel it went?

I’m working on a project investigating how the locus coeruleus / noradrenaline system affects behaviour, particularly in the balance between exploring and exploiting. I’m using a combination of theoretical and experimental techniques, including in-vivo silicon probe recordings and computational models of behaviour.  I haven’t finished yet but I feel it’s gone well so far. Like most PhDs, it hasn’t always gone as planned and it’s certainly been tough at times – but in many ways that’s what I wanted.

4) any publications and other outputs

Papers

Hayat H., Regev N., Matosevich N., Sales A., Paredes-Rodriguez E., Krom A.J., Bergman L., Li Y., Lavigne M., Kremer E.J., Yizhar O., Pickering A.E. & Nir Y., 2019. Locus-coeruleus norepinephrine activity gates sensory-evoked awakenings from sleep. bioRxiv p 539502. (Under review, Nature Communications)

Sales, AC, Friston, KJ, Jones, MW, Pickering, AE & Moran, RJ, 2019, ‘Locus Coeruleus tracking of prediction errors optimises cognitive flexibility: An Active Inference model’. PLoS Computational Biology, vol 15.

Dunham, J, Sales, A & Pickering, AE, 2018, ‘Ultrasound-guided, open-source microneurography: Approaches to improve recordings from peripheral nerves in man.’. Clinical Neurophysiology, vol 129., pp. 2475-2481

Posters

Multiunit Dynamics of Optogenetically Identified Locus Coeruleus Cells, FENS, Berlin, July 2018

Noradrenergic signalling of state-action prediction error under Active Inference, FENS Brain Conference: Computational Neuroscience of Prediction. March 2018

Does the P300 represent bottom-up signalling of salience by the Locus Coeruleus?, FENS Summer School on Neuromodulation, July 2017

Invited Talks

The LC, prediction errors & flexible behaviour,  Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics,  May 2019

5) Current job

I’m still finishing my PhD right now, but hoping to secure a postdoc position for the end of 2019

6) how has the combined experimental / computational aspect of the programme benefited your career?


I’ll be leaving my PhD programme with a diverse skill set, which includes in-vivo experimental techniques, histology, large scale data analysis and computational models of behaviour. This gives me a wide range of options for post-doc work, but more importantly I think it gives me a broad arsenal of skills with which to tackle scientific problems in my future research – and the confidence to try anything (within reason!).

 

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Jack Curran

(class of 2014, interviewed May 2019)

1) educational background

My undergraduate degree was in Biology at the University of Manchester, where I only undertook a few neuroscience courses.  I then had a gap where I was working, before studying a MRes in integrative biology, again at Manchester, where I did two research projects which both had neuroscience elements.

2a) why did you pick neural dynamics?

My MRes studies had furthered my interest in neuroscience, and I applied to a number of PhD programmes and individual projects in neuroscience areas. I was interested in neural dynamics for the structure of the programme and the combination of both experimental and computational approaches.

2b) how do you see the programme has helped you develop personally and professionally?

Professionally the course has given my a lot of skills that have helped me develop as a scientist and given me the opportunity to continue a career in research. Personally, the programme helped in developing my communication and management skills.

2c) what did you especially enjoy about the programme?

I think there was a good social structure and sense of belonging to the programme, especially as compared with other programmes. This was of course strengthened by the journal club and neural dynamics forum, but also by the retreats and away days.

3) what project did you do, how well do you feel it went?

I studied the effects of ageing on circadian rhythms in Drosophila. There was a number of challenges in getting electrophysiological recordings from older flies and that was a major limiting factor in the project, but also something that made it unique. There could have been more synergy between the experimental and computational sides, but part of the disconnect was a lack of experimental data to inform and neuronal model until towards the end of my project.

4) any publications and other outputs

Curran, J. A., Buhl, E., Tsaneva-Atanasova, K., & Hodge, J. J. L. (2019). Age-dependent changes in clock neuron structural plasticity and excitability are associated with a decrease in circadian output behaviour and sleep. Neurobiology of Aging77, 158–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2019.01.025

5) Current job

 
Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Northwestern University, in the Allada Lab (Department of Neurobiology), started Jan 2019

6) how has the combined experimental / computational aspect of the programme benefited your career

The combined approach has definitely helped me in gaining my current job, as one of the projects I am working on is in collaboration with computational researchers (Bill Kath here at Northwestern, and Casey Diekman at New Jersey Institute of Technology) and so the skills I developed during the programme give me a better position to bridge between the experimental and computational. 

 

Hannah Julienne

(class of 2012, interviewed June 2019)

1) educational background

 BA in Maths and Philosophy, research MSc in Mathematical Neuroscience, both from Trinity College Dublin.

 2a) why did you pick neural dynamics?

 Having come to neuroscience first from a theoretical perspective, it was a good opportunity to complement this with more hands-on experimental experience. The structure of the programme, whereby a project isn't chosen til the second year, was also ideal for me, as I simply wouldn't have been well-informed enough to choose one project from the start.
 

2b) how do you see the programme has helped you develop personally and professionally?

I think PhDs in general give you an unusual amount of independence and responsibility at an early stage in your career. This was challenging at times, but I have come out of it more confident in what I do know, and more comfortable admitting what I don't.
 

2c) what did you especially enjoy about the programme?

 The camaraderie of being part of a cohort, which was enhanced by weekly journal clubs, seminars etc.
 

3) what project did you do, how well do you feel it went?

 I studied non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease in Drosophila models. I started out looking specifically at learning and memory, but ran into problems with the experiments so branched out to also study sleep and circadian rhythms. In the end we got everything up and running again so I was able to bring both strands of my project back together into something more cohesive.

 4) any publications and other outputs

 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2017.04.014
 

5) Current job

Postdoctoral research fellow in behavioural science, at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin - using psychology/economics experiments to inform policy (https://www.esri.ie/bru)
 

6) how has the combined experimental / computational aspect of the programme benefited your career?

 Although I have now moved away from neuroscience, the ability to move between disciplines and look at a problem from different angles is definitely something that has stood to me. I also owe getting where I am now to the opportunity I had to do a science policy internship as part of the programme.

 

 

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John Grogan

(class of 2012, interviewed May 2019)

1) educational background

I had a BSc (Hons) in Psychology from the University of York.

2a) why did you pick neural dynamics?

I wanted to use more empirical modelling in research, as I was unsatisfied by the use of simple word-models that I had mainly come across is cognitive psychology. 

 2b) how do you see the programme has helped you develop personally and professionally?

It gave me a good grounding in computational and behavioural modelling, the opportunity to develop my own research interests, and got me interested in programming,

 2c) what did you especially enjoy about the programme?

The introductory year was very helpful in developing my maths and programming knowledge and skills, and the rotations let me try out a few projects and areas to decide which one I wanted to pursue. The people on the course (students and staff) were all very supportive and friendly which made the program feel very welcoming.

 3) what project did you do, how well do you feel it went?

My project was with Liz Coulthard & Rafal Bogacz, looking at how dopamine affects reward learning in Parkinson's disease patients. We found odd results which were compounded by failing to replicate a well-established finding, and this persisted the entire project. We found a few interesting things along the way which made the project interesting and enjoyable.

4) any publications and other outputs

1 during my PhD: 

Grogan, J., Bogacz, R., Tsivos, D., Whone, A., & Coulthard, E. (2015). Dopamine and Consolidation of Episodic Memory: Timing is Everything. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27 (10), 2035–2050. http://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_00840

and 1 from work done during my PhD but published after the end:

Grogan, J.P., Tsivos, D., Smith, L., Knight, B.E., Bogacz, R., Whone, A., Coulthard, E.J. (2017). Effects of dopamine on reinforcement learning and consolidation in Parkinson’s disease. eLife, 6, e26801. http://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.26801 

Plus 2 from my postdoc with Liz: 

Grogan, J.P., Isotalus, H.K., Howat, A., Irigoras Izagirre, N., Knight, L.E. & Coulthard, E.J. (2019). Levodopa does not affect expression of reinforcement learning in older adults. Scientific Reports, 9:6349. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-42904-5

Grogan, J.P., Knight, L.E., Smith, L., Irigoras Izagirre, N., Howat, A., Knight, B.E., Bickerton, A., Isotalus, H.K., & Coulthard, E.J. (2018). Effects of Parkinson’s disease and dopamine on digit span measures of working memory. Psychopharmacology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-5058-6

 5) Current job

Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Oxford with Sanjay Manohar, looking at motivation, memory and decision-making in neurological disorders.

 

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Kat Kolaric

(class of 2014, interviewed May 2019)

1) educational background

University of Nottingham,  First Class MSci (Hons) Neuroscience

2a) why did you pick neural dynamics?

I had a passion for neuroscience and wanted to develop my skills in interdisciplinary approaches to the subject, in particular computational modelling of physiological systems to answer important scientific questions.

2b) how do you see the programme has helped you develop personally and professionally?

Professionally: Confidence in my abilities to multi-task, handle complex data, engage with novel techniques and management
Personally: I have become more independent in my thinking and resilient to failure.  

2c) what did you especially enjoy about the programme?

I enjoyed:

- Being exposed to and learning how to implement a variety of scientific techniques.

- Given independence to run and direct my own project and opportunity to manage lab resources e.g. mouselike generation and maintenance

- Discussing my findings with colleagues and experts within Bristol.

3) what project did you do, how well do you feel it went?

'The role of mossy cells in regulating the local dentate gyrus circuit and pattern separation'. Supervisors: Dr Denize Atan, Professor Zafar Bashir and Dr Conor Houghton

 During my PhD project I learnt a variety of experimental and computational techniques including electrophysiology, behavioural paradigms, immunohistochemistry and computational modelling. Learning and applying these techniques to answer my scientific question was a rewarding experience and not only developed me as an independent scientific researcher but developed my interpersonal skills including multi-tasking, science communication and management. Overall my project went well, with my findings now being written into a publication we hope to publish in the near future.

4) any publications and other outputs

No papers yet, but in preparation:

 K V Kolaric et al. (2017) Mossy cells mediate pattern separation in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (In preparation).

 Other outputs include:

 ·         Kolaric, K, Woods, S, Ellis, C, Warburton, C, Bashir, Z & Atan, D, 2017, ‘The role of the dentate gyrus in visual object recognition memory’. in:  Oxford-Bristol-Cardiff-Southampton Alliance in Vision Research. (Oral presentation)

·         Kolaric, K., Woods, S., Jung, C. C., Szalai, R., McInnes, R. R., Bashir, Z. & Atan, D., 2016,
The Physiological Impact of Mossy Cells on Hippocampal Dentate Gyrus in:

FENS. (Poster presentation)

·         Kolaric, K., Ellis, C., Woods, S., Jung, C. C., McInnes, R. R., Szalai, R., Bashir, Z. & Atan, D., 2016, The role of mossy cells on hippocampal-dependent learning and memory in Society of Neuroscience. (Poster presentation)

·         Kolaric K 2017. Pint of Science Speaker: (May 2017) (oral presentation)

5) Current job

Programme Officer at The Academy of Medical Sciences

6) how has the combined experimental / computational aspect of the programme benefited your career

Exposure and use of computational methods and models helped me in my training fellowship at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit which I undertook immediately after my PhD in October 2017. In my career outside of academia, but still within the science sector,  it has taught me how to use an interdisciplinary approach to my work and allows me to rapidly understand and successfully engage with a wide range of research disciplines.  

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