Monday, 7 November 2016

Year one of my PhD

My name is Becky and I am about to complete the first year of my PhD here at Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience. When I first started I was unsure of what to expect from the next few years and it has definitely been a learning curve! Hopefully by writing these blog posts as I progress through my PhD, I can give you a better idea of what being a PhD student is really like.   

I started learning about neuroscience during my undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds and as a subject it immediately captured my interest. Keen to expand my knowledge in the area, I completed an MRes project at University College London focusing on neurodegeneration. I found this to be such an important area of research that I was eager to continue working within the field for my PhD.

I was lucky to be offered a PhD here at SITraN and I was also incredibly fortunate to secure a University Prize Scholarship. To be chosen to receive this scholarship out of so many outstanding applicants was a huge confidence boost. It reassured me that doing a PhD was the right thing and that I was well suited to the project I chose.

My project is based on the gene C9ORF72, which has been found to be the most common genetic cause of motor neuron disease (MND). MND is a progressive movement disorder that damages motor neurons, which are the nerves which control muscles. This damage prevents important signals between your brain and muscles, causing them to weaken and eventually stop working altogether. Usually this disease is fatal only 2-5 years after diagnosis and there is currently no cure, highlighting the importance of scientific research to better understand MND.

The normal workings of C9ORF72 in the brain are only recently coming to light and my PhD will continue to investigate this. By finding out more about its normal function, we may be able to help unravel the ways in which faults in C9ORF72 can lead to disease. The ultimate goal is that this knowledge could contribute towards finding new life-changing treatments for patients and eventually, a cure.

It has been an intense and challenging experience so far, but I feel like I've learned a lot in the past year. My MRes was a useful introduction to working in a lab, but doing a PhD is such an enormous step up. Throughout a PhD you really have to take ownership of your project and be responsible for the direction it takes – an exciting but slightly daunting prospect! I still have a lot more to learn but I'm really looking forward to seeing where my project takes me.