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Brain Zone

Meet the scientists!

My CV

School:

I grew up in Buckinghamshire, and went to Dr Challoner’s High School from 1995 to 2001.

University:

I went to University College London (UCL) for 4 years, where I did a BSc Psychology degree, 2001-2004; and an MSc Cognitive Neuropsychology degree, 2004-2005.

Work History:

When I finished my degree I worked for 4 years (2006-2010) as a Research Assistant in the department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol. Over the years there I did language research, alcohol and tobacco research, memory research, and tried to work out how people use google maps.

Employer:

At the moment I’m doing a PhD in the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol. A PhD means 4 years as a student, but working on one project, with help from supervisors. I’ll write it up at the end, as a thesis, and if it’s good enough I’ll be a doctor at the end of it.

Current Job:

For the next three years I will be doing my PhD. I am trying to find out whether there is a link between smoking cannabis and problems like psychosis and depression. There’s a group of children in Bristol who have been followed by scientists since they were born, and I’m using the information collected about them to try and find out whether cannabis and psychosis are linked or not.

Photo:

Suzi Gage

Thank-you so much everyone! I am really really happy to have won, and I can't wait to make my podcasts now :)

Favourite Thing: Turning a database full of confusing numbers into a beautiful graph so you can see what the data means.

Me and my work

I use data already collected by other scientists to see if there’s a link between smoking cannabis and illnesses like psychosis and depression.

I am an Epidemiologist, which is a complicated way of saying I look at large groups of people (like populations) to work out what things can affect different illnesses or people’s general health. Work by Epidemiologists is often in newspapers, as the results apply to us all.

In Bristol where I work, there is a large group of mothers and children who have been followed by scientists since the mothers were pregnant. It’s called Children of the 90s (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac/) or ALSPAC, and the information collected from it is being used by hundreds of scientists to look at lots of different things, from how much exercise keeps you healthy, to how much weight it is good to put on when you’re pregnant.

I will be using information collected when the children were about your age (between 10 and 20 years old) to try and work out whether those who use cannabis are also more likely to be depressed, or get psychosis, an illness where your mind loses contact with reality. I will also be able to use information stored in a person’s cells (called DNA) which contain a person’s building blocks (called genes) that make them who they are. If people with slightly different DNA have different reactions to smoking cannabis, then genes may also be important.

My Typical Day

A typical day is hard to describe, but it would definitely involve statistics, discussing ideas with other students, and probably bagels and salad on the balcony at lunchtime!

As I’m a PhD student, I do a lot of work by myself. I share a lovely office with a couple of other PhD students, so we often talk about what we’re up to together, over a cup of tea, or lunch. Because I don’t collect the data I use myself, I do a lot of statistics, so most days I am sat at a computer writing computer code to look at my data. I am proof you don’t need entirely science A-levels to be a scientist. Mathematics is important too, I didn’t do Chemistry or Physics A-Level (in fact I did English!).

I often get to go on training courses. They are a perk of being a student – they’re really useful for my studies, and quite often really fun too, plus you get to meet lots of people. Some are run in the department where I work, and some mean a trip which is always good!

I also have regular meetings (about once a week) with my supervisors. They are professors or doctors who oversee my work, making sure I’m not struggling and that I’m happy and getting on well. These normally involve cups of tea and chats, so they’re not too scary! If I have questions about how to do the research they are really helpful.

Finally, on a really good day I’ll be at a conference! These can see me going all over the country, and the world, and meeting other scientists working on similar things to me. Often they are the highlight of a scientist’s calendar!

When I get home from work it’s usually time to meet up with my band and play some music, or sometimes play a gig. If not I’ll go for a run (except I’ve hurt my shins at the moment) or to a dance class, read a book, and maybe play Mario on my Wii!

What I'd do with the money

I’ve got some ideas – but I’d like your advice!

I would like to buy the stuff I’d need to make podcasts about the effects that different drugs can have on you (including smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol). Once I’d got the microphone I could use the rest of the money to go and interview experts about each drug, and maybe get kids to talk about their experiences with drugs. I think it would be good for kids to be able to find out about drugs from the scientists who are researching them.

What do you think of this idea? I’d love to hear your ideas too, this is just to get the ball rolling!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Inquisitive, geeky, musical

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I can’t say my own band can I?! There are a lot of local bands in Bristol that I love, but I struggle to pick a favourite, I love so much music (sorry that’s a cop out!)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

A band that I am in played at the Big Chill festival last year, that was really really fun!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I would wish for good health for my family and me, for good friends to have fun with, and to always be able to do a job (like being a scientist) that I love. (very cheesy!)

What did you want to be after you left school?

By the time I left school, I wanted to be a scientist (and a rock star), but whilst at school I went through stages of wanting to be: an astronaut, a journalist, a physiotherapist, an actress and a horserider.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I once got a detention in a Chemistry class for playing air guitar! But most often I was a little bit cheeky but fairly well behaved.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I was lucky enough to get to travel to Florida to present some of my work at a conference. While we were there we took a trip to the Everglades and saw dolphins and alligators in the wild! (the conference was good too)!

Tell us a joke.

I should warn you – I like really bad jokes! Here goes: Why did the scarecrow win an award? He was outstanding in his field!

Ask me a question!

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