Blog posts

Dragos Gruia: ‘I am extremely pleased with where the course has taken me so far’

What is your name? 

Dragos Gruia

Where are you from? 

Romania

To which class you belong to? 

MSc Translational Neuroscience, Class of 2020

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London? 

I studied Psychology with Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Essex

How did you find your Master experience at the College? 

My experience at Imperial has been a unique and enriching one. I knew I wanted to be a researcher before starting the MSc, but many aspects of neuroscience were still relatively new to me, mostly due to my background in psychology. The wide breadth of topics covered in the course allowed me to explore the field. It has also led me to an area of research that I love, but that I never considered before starting my course. More specifically, it led me to neuroimaging research and computational neuroscience, which I now hope to pursue during my PhD. In addition to this, I met many fantastic people which I now consider close friends, and whose paths I am very excited to watch unfold

Which research project did you work on? 

I worked on a computational project. I analysed fMRI data from a large sample of participants, focusing on resting-state and task-driven dynamics. I used brain connectivity estimates to explain individual differences in individual intelligence using a machine learning approach. This involved exploring different types of connectivity (functional vs effective) and different fMRI paradigms (resting-state vs task-related designs), and assessing which one is most predictive of intelligence and why.

Where are you now?  

I am at Imperial College London where I am currently  pursuing a PhD in the Department of Brain Sciences

What are you working on? 

My thesis focuses on longitudinally mapping cognitive deficits in stroke patients. The over-arching aim to is design and develop a clinical tool that can be used in the NHS acute stroke clinics, in combination with brain imaging metrics, to guide (and hopefully improve!) rehabilitation

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

The most important lesson I learnt is to work independently. Throughout the 6-month thesis, I was given a lot of freedom in choosing the analyses to run. This meant that I often needed to use my own judgement to come up with suggestions and modifications to the experiments, based on my literature review. These suggestions were often presented to my supervisors, and we all convened to a final decision in a joint meeting. This was very different from the typical dynamic where the PI tells you what to do, and you simply do it. Admittedly, it was somehow challenging at first, as I was new to computational neuroscience. But now I realise how lucky I am to have gained this skill and how key this is to become a young researcher 

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now? 

If it were not for the MSc programme, I probably would not have given computational neuroscience a try, thus missing out on an area I now find fascinating and that I rely on for my PhD heavily. Also, I would have never obtained the research position at Imperial that I currently hold. I am extremely pleased with where the course has taken me so far, and I am excited to see where it will take me next!

Ana Morello Megias: ‘This program has helped me to improve not only my curriculum but also my technical skills and my scientific thinking’

What is your name? 

Ana Morello Megias

Where are you from? 

I am originally from Panama but I lived almost all my life in Madrid

To which class do you belong? 

MRes Experimental Neuroscience, Class of 2021

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London? 

I did a Bachelors in Biomedicine at the University of Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain

 How did you find your Master experience at the College? 

Great! It allowed me to explore different fields of research within neuroscience and to try and learn new methods, which is exactly what I was looking for in a masters program

Which research project did you work on? 

I did three projects. The first one was computational, with Professor Payam Barnaghi. The aim was to develop learning models for in-home sensory data analysis in dementia care. The second one was at Dr Marco Brancaccio lab and I studied the daily expression of the astrocyte water channel AQP4 in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. I did my last project in Madrid, Spain, at the laboratory of Dr Javier DeFelipe. I studied the dendritic spine morphology in layer III pyramidal neurons from the entorhinal, transentorhinal and temporal human cortex, using imaging and 3D cell reconstruction techniques

Where are you now? 

I started a PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology at Boston University

What are you working on?

At the moment, I am studying

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

Research projects may have long-term and short-term objectives. It is important to know and focus on the priorities

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now?

I believe this program has helped me to improve not only my curriculum but also my technical skills and my scientific thinking, and, therefore, helped me become a good candidate for the PhD

Kofoworola Agunbiade: ‘Each time I completed a new challenge I felt more confident’

What is your name? 

Kofoworola ‘Kofo’ Agunbiade

Where are you from? 

I was born in Nigeria, but I currently live in Luton, England

To which class do you belong?

MSc Translational Neuroscience, Class of 2020

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London? 

I attended St George’s, University of London, where I completed a BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science

How did you find your Master experience at the College? 

Amazing. I learnt so much from the people around me and the teaching sessions. My background was mostly molecular and genetics, so it was refreshing to explore the cognitive and computational aspects of neuroscience. The unique teaching style implemented throughout the course was really exciting. Taking away exams meant that we didn’t have to focus on memorising facts, and we could engage in lectures and seminars without worrying about writing down every minute detail. It also meant that there was more time spent on developing skills that would help us as young scientists, such as creating a virtual research project (in Module 2). There were times where the course was challenging, but the experience was never stifling, and those challenges ultimately helped me improve in many ways

Which research project did you work on? 

For my project, I investigated the white matter structural abnormalities associated with alcohol dependence. I chose this specific project because I am interested in mental health and psychopharmacology, so this project seemed perfect for me

What are you working on? 

I am figuring out what my next steps will be. I’ve also been applying to some research assistant and PhD positions

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student? 

The importance of teamwork and collaboration. Everyone in the course came with a different skillset: we were able to learn from each other, develop new skills and pass on our knowledge to produce remarkable work. This is something I was reminded of during my research project, as I always found it difficult to ask for help in fear that it would make me look like I was incapable of doing certain tasks. But once I was able to overcome those fears and ask for help from people around me who had the knowledge and experience, I was able to grow and develop my project more efficiently than if I had just stumbled along on my own

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now? 

It allowed me to develop my interests further and gave me a clear idea of what I want to do in the future. I really enjoyed the challenge of research as well as the group environment, so during my research project I was set on a research career. The new skills I gained make me a competitive applicant. For example, I wasn’t the best at presentations at the start, and I had no previous knowledge of computational neuroscience. But having that practice and the opportunity to learn new topics has allowed me to grow and acquire new knowledge. I was able to tackle daunting challenges with minimal stress, and each time I completed a new challenge I felt more confident

Parnaz Sharifi: ‘I received encouragement, inclusiveness and respect from my classmates and teachers during my studies’

What is your name? 

Parnaz Sharifi

Where are you from? 

London, England

To which class do you belong? 

MSc Translational Neuroscience, Class of 2021

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London? 

I graduated from King’s College London with a BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science  

How did you find your Master experience at the College? 

I found the Master’s experience to be challenging but extremely rewarding. Being taught by internationally recognised researchers and exploring multiple neuroscientific fields at one of the powerhouses in neuroscience research, provided me with the skills and in-depth knowledge needed for a career in neuroscience. Additionally, taking part in grant proposals, editorial reviews and live debates on cutting-edge neuroscience topics was a novel and enriching experience. I’m also very lucky to say that some of my coursemates have become amazing friends of mine

Which research project did you work on? 

My MSc laboratory research project aimed to elucidate the mechanisms underpinning the region-specific degeneration observed in the midbrain of Parkinson’s disease patients. Supervised by Dr Kambiz Alavian, my thesis focused on the role of the R-Type Ca2+ Channel and the mitochondria in the preferential vulnerability of nigral neurons in Parkinson’s post-mortem and in vitro models

 Where are you now?/ What are you working on? 

I am currently preparing my MSc research paper for journal submission, which is an exciting development in my academic journey. I am also applying for positions as a research assistant at a few universities to continue my passion for neuroscientific research

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student? 

This MSc has taught me to speak up more and be brave in presenting my ideas for discussion, instead of being concerned about how my ideas would be judged. This is all due to the kind encouragement, inclusiveness and respect that I received from my classmates and teachers during my studies

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now? 

Not only did the Master’s programme equip me with an extensive understanding of the different fields within neuroscience, but working in the Alavian Lab and being trained in the experimental methodologies used to investigate the underlying mechanisms of conditions like Parkinson’s, helped me realise that this is the type of research I want to be doing during my PhD. I think the work I conducted in the lab has certainly prepared me well for this

Shivani Patel: ‘Work hard, have faith, never give up!’

What is your name?

Shivani Patel

Where are you from?

Hertfordshire, UK

To which class do you belong?

MSc Translational Neuroscience, Class of 2018

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London?

BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science, University of Hertfordshire

How did you find your Master experience at the College?

Challenging yet extremely rewarding!

Which research project did you work on?

A neuropathological project with clinical elements titled, ‘A Clinicopathological Investigation of the Locus Coeruleus in Parkinson’s Disease with Cognitive Impairment’, supervised by Dr Bension Tilley and Professor Steve Gentleman

Where are you now? 

PhD student at Imperial College London

What are you working on?

I am continuing my research from the Master’s project in Professor Steve Gentleman’s lab

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

Perseverance – work hard, have faith, never give up!

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now?

The Masters programme provided me with first-hand experience in a laboratory within academia. It enabled me to build my contacts and connections, who then helped me better understand the different options available for PhD applications, as well as the way to apply for research grants

Aisling McGarry: ‘The sense of reward was immense when presenting my findings to a room full of scientists’

What is your name?

Aisling McGarry

Where are you from?

I am originally from Derry in Northern Ireland. I have been living in London since 2017

To which class you belong to?

MRes Experimental Neuroscience, Class of 2019

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London?

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of Manchester in 2017. For my final year project, I created a simulation model of ion transport across the blood-brain barrier using MATLAB. After this, I worked as an Editorial Assistant at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for a year, working on the British National Formulary (BNF) and other pharmacy reference books

How did you find your Master experience at the College?

Even though I found studying my Master’s degree could be incredibly demanding and stressful at times, I can whole-heartedly say it was one of the best years of my life so far. From the day I started, it was a steep learning curve, but I was provided with so many brilliant opportunities to learn. Exploring different research topics and learning novel experimental techniques was not only incredibly exciting, but also invaluably useful when building a career in research. I loved the everyday experience of lab bench work, from performing experiments to statistical analysis, and the sense of reward was immense when presenting my findings to a room full of scientists. It was my Master’s experience that made me realise I want to stay in scientific research for the rest of my life! I can say that I have never worked as hard as I did during my year of Master’s study, but it was entirely worth it for the research skills I gained

Which research projects did you work on?

My Master’s programme included 3 project rotations – lasting 12 weeks each. For my first rotation, I worked with Dr Carmen Picon in the group headed by Professor Richard Reynolds, focusing on cell death of grey matter neurons in multiple sclerosis. In this project, I became accustomed to immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence and western blotting techniques for the first time. For me, it demanded a lot of practice and focus to make sure I could complete my experiments according to rigorous protocols and obtain reproducible data. I was lucky enough to have brilliant guidance and support in doing this. I worked with post-mortem human brain tissue from the Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Tissue Bank here at Imperial, so this was when I first became familiar with the various aspects of post-mortem tissue processing. My second project was with Dr Magdalena Sastre, looking to investigate the putative molecular mechanisms linking major depression with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). I used molecular biology techniques such as western blotting and qPCR to elucidate how the expression of genes and proteins linked to amyloid-beta (Aβ) production, a major pathological hallmark of AD, were altered in major depression. During this project, I gained a sense of confidence in my ability as an independent researcher. This was down to Magdalena’s support and guidance throughout this project: her dedication to students is exceptional. It was also during this project I realised my research interests were refining neuropathology. In particular, I wanted to learn more about neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. For my final project, I continued to work in Magdalena’s lab group and worked with various researchers including Dr Mazdak Ghajari, Dr Helena Watts and Dr Cornelius Donat. I studied blood-brain barrier dysfunction in an animal model of traumatic brain injury (TBI). I used immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence staining, where I showed tight junction, astrocyte end-feet loss and extravasation of blood-borne proteins proximal to an impact injury site. I also had fun learning how to section my paraffin blocks with a microtome during this time! This project gave me further insight into the world of researchers by understanding the utility of collaboration – my histology staining was conducted to supplement a computational simulation of vascular injury in a rat model, created by Dr Siamak Farajzadeh Khosroshahi from Dr Mazdak Ghajari’s lab

Where are you now? 

I was lucky enough to accept my current job at Imperial a few weeks upon completing my Master’s degree. I am working in Professor Paul Matthew’s group at the UK Dementia Research Institute as a Research Technician

What are you working on?

Broadly speaking, my role as a Research Technician is focused on using histological and transcriptomic techniques to collate data contributing to the Multi-omics Atlas Project (MAP). MAP aims to provide a comprehensive, multi-omic tissue resource that charts the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain across different brain regions. This resource will be openly accessible for the scientific community worldwide and will inform future research efforts. In this role, I am learning to use novel molecular techniques such as in situ hybridisation and single-cell RNA sequencing to characterise gene expression. I am also continually building upon my histological skills by using immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence to characterise tissue and optimise antibody use. Outside of the lab, I am learning more about imaging software to annotate and analyse microscopic images, and R packages for RNA-sequencing analysis

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

There were many lessons I learnt as a Master’s student, so it’s difficult to pick one that could have been most important. I would say that my experience taught me to be kinder to myself – or else I would have been a bundle of stress! I experienced for the first time a feeling that all scientists are accustomed to – the disappointment of when an experiment hasn’t worked. This, in fact, probably taught me more than any successful experiment could have. It forced me to pay attention to every detail of my experimental protocol and to try to understand what could go wrong – for example, understanding optimal conditions for your tissue and antibodies. I learned to adjust my expectations realistically based on this experience. It made me realise that just because an experiment didn’t produce the results I had hoped, doesn’t reflect on my potential as a scientist. In fact, what demonstrates true ability as a scientist is to be innovative, by working towards solutions or new ways of achieving your experimental goals. I still apply this practice every day in my current role and it has allowed to optimise new techniques to facilitate new means of validating our data

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now?

I can confidently say I would not be in the job I love today without the experience I gained from my Master’s programme. My research projects had already given me significant experimental and analytical skills required for my current role. I was confident with the use of histological and molecular biology techniques, microscopy and statistical analysis – all of which I use every day in my job. Beyond these skills, producing high-quality research under significant time constraints demanded agility and resilience – it was definitely a character-building experience! As well as research experience, this Master’s programme also provided numerous opportunities to present my findings in the form of posters and talks. This developed my confidence and provided me with a sense of ownership over my work which was incredibly rewarding. It was the first time I could see and experience the impact of scientific research for myself, by being a part of it. The experience of this programme was exceptional in that I got to emulate, as closely as possible, the day-to-day work as a research scientist for 12 months. This gave me enough time to grow and mature into a fully equipped, independent researcher, while giving me the flexibility and opportunity to delve into a multitude of research topics and experimental techniques. I haven’t seen another Master’s programme that I think could recreate this brilliant experience!

Panagiotis Giannos: ‘The MSc further stimulated my intellectual curiosity’

What is your name?

Panagiotis Giannos

Where are you from?

Greece

To which class you belong to?

MSc Translational Neuroscience, Class of 2020

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London?

I graduated from the University of Brighton with a BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science

How did you find your Master experience at the College?

The course was an intensive, exciting and truly enlightening experience. Intensive because of its approach to knowledge application by emphasising the ability to work independently and as part of a team. Exciting due to its interdisciplinary cohort of students and professionals, which brought a unique set of perspectives and experience in an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas. Most importantly, enlightening through its versatile structure, which provides the opportunity to explore contemporary neuroscience research transcending the boundaries of traditional disciplines

Which research project did you work on?

My project aimed at unveiling the neural circuitry underlying cortical homeostatic control of sleep-preparatory behaviour and subsequently sleep. I conducted my research project under the supervision of Professor William Wisden and Dr Kyoko Tossell at the Franks-Wisden Lab

Where are you now?

I am working towards a PhD in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London under the supervision of Professor William Wisden and Professor Nicholas Franks in the same laboratory in which I did my MSc project

What are you working on?

My PhD analyses how sleep modulation arises from a central hypothalamic hub that is subject to cortico-thalamic control in response to circadian homeostasis. It will likely challenge the notion that sleep regulation simply originates from sleep-wake nuclei in the brainstem; sleep may, instead, constitute a default state of cortico-thalamic circuits

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

By focusing on research questions across disciplinary boundaries, this course made me realise that scientific understanding is limited when appraised from the edges of a single discipline

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now?

Through the creation of an environment where expertise and technology from a diverse array of disciplines meet, the MSc further stimulated my intellectual curiosity. It allowed me to cultivate relevant research skills and a distinct research drive, to develop into a young scientist, to think independently and in a somehow ‘revolutionary’ way, integrating different approaches. Ultimately, this course equipped me adequately and appropriately to explore some of the most exciting challenges in neuroscience

Helen Lai: ‘I met some absolutely brilliant and wonderful people’

What is your name?

Helen Lai

Where are you from?

Canada

To which class you belong to?

MRes Experimental Neuroscience, Class of 2019 

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London?

BSc Major Biology, Minor Neuroscience, McGill University, Canada

How did you find your Master experience at the College?

I had a great time during my master’s, most of which I can’t quite remember—Hallmarks of a great party, really! In seriousness, it was an extremely intensive and hyper-productive ten months. I learned more than I could have imagined and met some absolutely brilliant and wonderful people 

Which research project did you work on?

I worked on three different projects during my three MRes rotations. The first one was on chronic neurodegeneration following moderate-severe TBI, supervised by Professor David Sharp. During the second rotation, I investigated Biomechanical features of head impacts in ice hockey with Dr Mazdak Ghajari. In the third one, I focused on data-driven methods to describe complex relationships between behavioural, motor, and imaging features of Parkinson’s Disease, supervised by Dr Steve Gentleman, Dr Adam Hampshire and Dr Stefano Sandrone

Where are you now? 

I am working as a research technician for the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research and Technology Centre (UK DRI CR&T) at Imperial College London

What are you working on?

Several projects within the UK DRI CR&T, broadly focused around the theme of helping vulnerable people stay independent in their homes with the aid of technology 

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

To be open-minded to learning new things—and fast!

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now?

It helped me build up the necessary skills in data analysis and visualisation. More importantly, it helped me learn the interpersonal and time-management skills to work effectively as a unit within a large, evolving group, often with diverse backgrounds and perspectives

Kety Alania: ‘My experiences during the Master program played a pivotal role in my career’

What is your name? 

Kety Alania

 

Where are you from? 

I’m from Georgia

 

To which class you belong to? 

Class of 2018

 

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London? 

I completed BSc Psychology at Royal Holloway University in Surrey

 

How did you find your Master experience at the College? 

I really enjoyed my MSc course. I loved the course content. It gave us a broad but, at the same time, detailed overview of different subfields of neuroscience. We had regular journal club assessments, which I thought were an excellent way to help us build confidence and develop presenting and public speaking skills. We had so many. By the end, it no longer felt like an assessment, and we were actually looking forward to it. Most importantly, I made some amazing friends while on the course, for which I’m very grateful

 

Which research project did you work on? 

My research project focused on using non-invasive brain stimulation methods to modulate brain activity and cognition. More specifically, I was developing methods to simultaneously monitor brain activity while delivering electrical stimulation, which is a big challenge in the field

 

Where are you now?  

I’m am completing the first year of my PhD at Imperial College

 

What are you working on? 

My research focuses on developing and translating non-invasive deep brain stimulation interventions for neuropathology and cognitive decline in early Alzheimer’s Disease

 

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

Get involved! Look for things that capture your curiosity, and then take the initiative. And while you are doing that, look for mentors. They will be the most important thing in your career

 

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now? 

My experiences during the Master program played a pivotal role in my career. The relationships I formed and mentorship I received during my time on the course, especially while working on my project, has definitely shaped me as a scientist

Paula Beltran Lobo: ‘I am delighted to see that my classmates have become colleagues and friends of mine’

What is your name?

Paula Beltran Lobo

Where are you from?

Spain

To which class you belong to?

MSc Translational Neuroscience, Class of 2018

Where and what did you study before joining Imperial College London?

I studied BSc Biomedical Sciences at the University of Barcelona

How did you find your Master experience at the College?

I found the Master experience a unique academic opportunity that offered me both professional and personal growth. The course challenged the students and motivated us to work together. I am delighted to see that my classmates have become colleagues and friends of mine

Which research project did you work on?

My MSc research project focused on understanding the role of the translocator Protein 18 kDa (TSPO) in myeloid cells as a potential strategy to modulate the innate immune response in neurodegenerative diseases

Where are you now? 

I am currently doing a PhD at King’s College London funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK)

What are you working on?

During my MSc course, I became very passionate about the role of the immune system in neurodegeneration. I decided to continue my research career with a PhD in this field. My current research project tries to unravel how inflammatory signals downstream of a purinergic receptor, known as P2X7R, contribute to tau-associated neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease

What is the most important lesson you learnt as a Master student?

Probably a valuable lesson I learnt was to persevere and to push myself

How did the Master programme help you get to where you are now?

The MSc programme gave not only the theoretical bases, but also the experimental knowledge required to enrol into the PhD programme