University of Bristol (2005) University of Bristol (2010)
On graduation, I spent a year working in Charity Fundraising. I returned to Bristol for a Ph.D, on completion of which I resolved to move wherever I could best continue my career. This worldwide search ultimately resulted in a move to Exeter – nearly 70 miles away.
Lecturer, University of Exeter Medical School
University of Exeter
Me and my work
I’m a neuroscientist interested in the neural basis of behaviour, especially how this relates to drug and alcohol addiction. Of course, education is a big factor in shaping subsequent behaviour too…..
Ultimately, solving challenges like addiction will require getting more people interested in doing science. For this to happen, we need to show people that science is a dynamic mechanism for discovery, not just a set of facts.
A large part of my job is teaching medical and science students. This means lots of face-to-face teaching, and quite a lot of behind-the-scenes organisational work. At the moment, participating in this project is a welcome break from marking!
More generally, I try to fit in bits of research between my teaching commitments. This might be as simple as looking to see if a computer has finished crunching a particular set of calculations – or discussing what these results mean with my team and collaborators.
Alongside this, I organise much of the work the Medical School does with schools. So, on a good day I get to design new hands-on activities. In the evenings, I try to make sure I am up-to-date with my reading…
What topics do you work on?
My primary interest is the neural basis of addiction, which I study in humans. The most substantial part of this work has looked at the role of emotion in the relapse to opiate and psychostimulant use, particularly the importance of “craving” experiences.
Most recently, I have started to explore the risk-factors for subsequent addiction, focussing of alcohol. This is really important for undergraduate students: do the behavioural patterns developed at university leave some of them at risk of addiction in later life? This work is also leading us to look at child mental health too, but that hasn’t begun yet!
In addition to this, I am involved in a project looking at neural basis of visual imagination, and how this relates to art. For me, this project in particular has been a wonderful example of how a career in science can move quickly in exciting new directions.
What methods do you use?
In recent years, my main method has been the mathematical modelling of neuroimaging data. Most recently, my students have started to use neuropsychological tests to try and identify sub-groups of substance-misusers.
In the longer past, I used electrophysiological techniques to measure the activity of individual nerve cells.
Who was your favourite teacher?
At school, a science teacher called Mr Morrison: an ex-engineer in the Royal Navy that made me feel it was OK to be interested in science.
Later in life, Dr Harry Withcel set the standard that I aspire to the delivery of inspirational teaching – you would be so busy laughing, you would only later realise how much you had learnt and understood.
Finally, Prof. Alan Roberts will always be a favourite for having demonstrated the power of clear and precise thought. I cannot claim to have acquired these skills – but it was formative to at least see their utility!