Category: Department of Brain Sciences

The trials and tribulations of applying for a PhD

Finding the right PhD programme can often be a time-consuming and lengthy exercise. Emre Yavuz, Translational Neuroscience Master’s student, shares his experience of applying for a PhD programme and the many challenges he faced along the way.


This September I’m going to be starting my PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, supervised by Professor Hugo Spiers. Excited as I am about moving onto the next chapter of my career, choosing the right PhD for me was no easy process.

Choosing the right PhD programme comes down to many variables. When I had initially applied for several programmes in early December, I was excited by the possibility of travelling and living abroad after two years of lockdown. I had received interviews from places including Toronto, Montreal, Zurich, Lausanne and London. Although studying abroad seemed highly tempting at first, there were many other factors I had to take into account. (more…)

Alzheimer’s disease: why your genes aren’t always your destiny

For Dementia Action Week, Kitty Murphy, second year PhD student at the UK DRI Centre at Imperial, shares the complex nature of Alzheimer’s disease and why there’s more to it than just our genes.


Dementia diagnosis rates are dropping for the first time ever. I wish I could tell you that this is due to less people developing dementia, and not because more people are living with it undiagnosed. According to research carried out by Alzheimer’s Society, many people are not being diagnosed due to the misconception that memory loss is a normal part of aging. However, memory loss is often an early sign of dementia, particularly in the most common cause known as Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Action Week, an annual awareness campaign, has made diagnosis their featured theme.

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Our Entrepreneurial Journey — a gait to better care?

Master’s student Emre Yavuz reflects on the highs and lows of taking part in a virtual hackathon – from designing an app to predict the risk of Dementia to pitching to 16 judges!


During lockdown I came across a post about a virtual hackathon called ‘Code to Care’, focusing on finding sustainable healthtech solutions which was run by Imperial College Business School. Having worked with Virtual Reality for my undergraduate dissertation, I knew there was something I could bring to this event! Through a Zoom speed-dating event during the hackathon, I connected with three other like-minded individuals who were all interested in using mobile technology to help lessen the burden of the lives of those stricken by Dementia.

We had decided to focus creating an app to help predict one’s risk of Dementia and monitor their disease progression, and had just three days to make our final pitch as convincing as possible in just two minutes. Based on the research suggesting a potential correlation between gait patterns and cognitive decline, we felt that focusing our app on the use of gait analysis would be a fruitful venture. (more…)

A letter to our taught students and their loved ones

This is an open letter from Mr Martin Lupton, Vice-Dean of Education to taught students in the Faculty of Medicine and their loved-ones.


Dear Students and their friends and families,

My eldest son has recently returned to University in the UK and, even though I work in both the health and education sector, I have to acknowledge that I have a certain level of anxiety about him. It is very difficult to read the news about all that has happened during this time of COVID and not to worry.

I am telling you this because I want you to understand that I have some inkling of what you may be feeling right now, particularly if you come from overseas or your daughter, son or relation, has just started their university life. The first thing I want to say is “Welcome to the Faculty of Medicine”. We are very proud of what we have achieved during this global pandemic; the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College has been a key player contributing to the world’s understanding of the virus, the mapping of the virus, teaching people about the virus and developing a new vaccine. However, that is not all that we have been doing. (more…)

Lockdown Hangover: The impact of COVID-19 on alcohol consumption

With reports of a spike in alcohol sales suggesting that many are turning to alcohol during these unprecedented times, PhD student Emily Palmer is conducting a survey to find out more about alcohol consumption and the potential public health consequences.


I blink my eyes open. Head is throbbing, suddenly I realise how thirsty I am and reach for the glass of water on my bedside table. Blissful saviour. Then slowly, the blurry memory of uncorking yet another bottle of wine swims to the forefront of my mind. This is my experience of being hungover.

Throughout my teenage years, hangovers were a ritualistic reprimand for a failure in self-control. However, throughout my studies – first in biomedical science and then neuroscience – I began to learn more about the science of the hangover phenomenon. My interest started with a project in my undergrad degree focusing on alcohol. Alcohol in the context of intoxication and addiction is widely researched, and there is no shortage of published papers. I was fascinated to learn how this widely used, socially acceptable drug ravages the brain and body. (more…)

Eating disorders: why are they so important to study?

Around 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder. Eating disorder psychiatrist, Dr Dasha Nicholls, provides an insight into this group of complex disorders and the factors that influence them.


It’s common for people to be dismissive when I tell them I work in the eating disorders field. Unless you have suffered from or know someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, the public perception, and indeed the scientific and clinical one often too, is that eating disorders are not serious. Of course, everyone knows of a few high profile people who have suffered or died from an eating disorder, but they may be seen as rare casualties of a celebrity lifestyle.

What many people don’t know is that most people with an eating disorder are of normal or even higher weight, that boys and men are affected too and that eating disorders don’t discriminate by ethnicity or social class. For most people, eating disorders start in the teenage years or young adulthood, but children as young as seven and adults as old as 90 can suffer too. The incidence in children has increased significantly in the past 15 years, for reasons I will speculate on more below. (more…)

How research is helping to understand and break the self-harm cycle

Rachel Rodrigues sheds light on her research on understanding the brain mechanisms that motivate people to self-harm – can we untangle the circuits to break the cycle?


Many of us will know someone who has self-harmed or may even have personal experience of it. This isn’t surprising considering how common it is, particularly in adolescence and young adulthood. Unfortunately though, only about 20% of young people receive help from clinical services for their self-harm, and as much as 50% aren’t receiving any help, even from people close to them, meaning that they are having to cope with it on their own.

For some people self-harm could become more frequent and intense over time and coupled with it also being the strongest predictor of future suicide attempts, this lack of intervention for self-harm is concerning. The aim of my PhD research within Imperial’s Mood Instability Research Group is to find out why young people continue to self-harm. We hope to translate our findings to improve interventions for self-harm. (more…)

How does coparenting influence children’s behaviour?

Ellen Grimas draws on her PhD research investigating the role of coparenting in children’s development and behaviour.


I remember a child psychiatrist saying during a keynote at a conference that the only mental health that mattered was child mental health. This made me think back to working at a mental health crisis house, where I was often struck by how many people said their symptoms first emerged in childhood or adolescence. Research tells a similar story, with recent figures suggesting that 75% of mental health problems emerge before the age of 18, and yet only 30% of people reported receiving proper and timely support.

This is worrying as there is a wealth of research suggesting that early intervention is not only beneficial for the individual and their family, but also for society as a whole. Childhood is clearly a key period in the development of our mental health, and also offers a unique opportunity to intervene. So, although it may not be the only mental health that matters, it is evidently an incredibly important component. In the context of an over-stretched NHS, the idea of low-level interventions in childhood that could help avoid the need for services in later life is a powerful one. (more…)

Back down to earth: From astrophysicist to desk-bound medical scientist

In this post, Dr Sujata Sridharan shares her career path, from graduating with an astrophysics degree to being a postdoc in brain imaging.


I’m not a scientist, not really. At least, that’s what I’ve heard countless times from my non-academic friends, and sometimes even colleagues. I’ve deduced that this belief dates back to my decision to take an MPhys in Physics with Astrophysics as my undergraduate degree.

Physics first

As a (comparatively) fresh-faced 18-year-old, I undertook my first degree at the University of Manchester, (somewhat naively) under the impression that astrophysics involved a lot of actual stargazing. My first year was a pleasant 60:40 split of lectures and laboratory-based work. Albeit the latter was rather generalised; at one point I remember making a hologram of a bronze Buddha statue for no apparent scientific reason. My main concern at that point was that I hadn’t yet bumped into Brian Cox, who had recently taken up teaching duties at the university in between – what we physicists considered – glamorous filming of the ‘Wonders of the Universe’ documentary series. (more…)

Challenges in motor neurone disease: from ice buckets to new therapeutic targets

Challenges in Motor Neurone Disease: from ice buckets to new therapeutic targets

On MND Global Awareness Day, Professor Jackie de Belleroche looks at how increased awareness and collaboration, alongside advances in genetic and molecular research, offers hope for the future.


Without doubt, the last few years have seen phenomenal developments not only in research, but also in public awareness of just how devastating a condition motor neurone disease (MND) is. There is hardly anyone who has not heard of MND thanks to Professor Stephen Hawking, well-known to the public as an outstanding scientist who was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 21. The ALS “ice bucket challenge” certainly caught the imagination of the international community too, as well as raising £88m in a single month for MND research across the world (it’s important to note here that MND is usually referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] outside the UK). (more…)