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My journey so far........
July 18, 2017
my journey not life as a neuroscientist
I first became interested in neuroscience around six years ago when I lost my vision and was told by my doctor that it would never return. I began to wonder, is there a scientific explanation to the general belief that the blind progressively show greater acuity in the remaining senses once vision is lost? Luckily a friend was studying psychology at St Andrews University at the time and was kind enough to read me articles over the phone on relevant subjects such as the reallocation of the visual cortex in blind people to process spatial information.
As I soon discovered, the explanation was far more complex then I had first anticipated. Our phone calls became the highlight of my day, so I decided that when I was well enough I would return to education to explore scientifically the brain mechanisms that I had been discussing during the past weeks. I enrolled in the local college and studied Access to Science, where I was the only student to pass all modules with distinction.
After this I was fortunate enough to gain a place to study psychology at City University London, where I showed that I can achieve academic success at the highest level despite the huge obstacles that my disability presents. For example, for six months in my second year I completely lost vision in both my eyes. During the recovery period post-operation I was told that returning to university was improbable for the foreseeable future. However, this to me was not an option and I was determined to complete my studies. On my return, I worked as hard as I possibly could, often in considerable pain. I sat seven exams in ten days so that I could continue with my academic career and passed each exam with no less than an upper 2.1. This is not only an indication of my determination to succeed but also how much I have loved returning to education.
In many ways losing my sight has become the most positive event in my life. I am contributing as a neuroscientist with a recent publication which is important for my academic career but also has helped me to regain myself identity after becoming disabled. My first-class undergraduate dissertation and follow up study, examining whether multi- sensory cue integration is statistically optimal for estimates of temporal duration, was presented at the 3rd European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP), Barcelona, Spain 2016. This project and subsequent article has been recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and I am the lead author. Receiving theâ€¨acceptance email from the editor was one of the proudest moments in my life.
I was awarded a full scholarship for my MSc in Neuroscience, plus a 1000-pound cash prize. To my disappointment I was told I required a further operation to save my remaining sight, with again the recovery period and rehabilitation taking six months. My desire for academic success was never shaken, and I will always be grateful for the extension on my scholarship to allow me to finish my MSc course with great results. My MSc project was presented at the Synaesthesia and Cross-modal Perception conference held at Trinity College Dublin last year.
Now that my vision has stabilised I hope to carry this success into my PhD position, and it is for this project that I seek funding. I have been accepted onto a prestigious PhD programme in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at University College London, which is ranked as one of the top course in Europe. I have attended PhD workshops in stimulation techniques that will be invaluable in preparation for my proposed research, I have also used an online programming course to supplement taught modules in programming and am now writing the script for an experiment that is to begin in the summer this year. I am involved in ongoing research at City University of London and I hope to have further publications in the near future.
I have described the details of my project below. I sincerely hope that this work may help others avoid the problems with sight loss I have experienced. It has also given me the chance to speak with others suffering with visual impairment about their experience. What is mentioned to me time an time again is the anxiety of navigating their environment safely and independently. While I was researching this problem it soon became apparent that there is a deficit in what we know neuroscientifically about the brain after sight loss, and also a deficit in the development of accessibility technologies for blind people and the design of the urban environment to help blind individuals navigate. I aim to address these two deficits in my research. This is a little-researched area where such issues must be
resolved so that important social spaces may be enjoyed by all. This returns me to my original motivation to research and study brain plasticity and spatial processing in blind people, and with regards to answering my original question, I feel I am at least starting to know where to look. To achieve this goal there is only one place to be and that is at University College London (UCL), probably the greatest university in the world for investigating spatial processing in both animals and humans.
Can I do this?
I believe I can. I am very ambitious and determined. Recently, I have been working at City University of London as an ambassador for the neuroscience masterâ€™s program, helping with recruitment and convincing new students to embark on a life in research. I gave short presentations to the 3rd year undergraduates at the end of lectures (sometimes to as many as 120 students) and I gave a lecture at the City University Psychology Society on how lucky we are to study the human brain. As part of this promotion my photograph was published in the Cognitive Neuroscience research unit, City University London promotional magazine. I have continued this passion for the public understanding of scientific ideas and the importance I place on education by starting a free after school GCSE work shop where local under privileged youths can receive help with homework in maths science and English and I am currently considering how I can extend this to a wider audience online. In my personal life I have worked hard to ensure that others do not lose their sight unnecessarily. I work with the eye department at St Thomasâ€™s hospital. On the request of the head consultant I wrote an open letter to young male patients relaying the importance of attending regular eye appointments if you are susceptible to degenerative eye disease, which was published with my story in the quarterly trust newsletter and distributed to hospitals across London.. My story was turned into an award, and St Thomasâ€™s trust, members of their behavioural insight unit and members of the institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London on possible experimental designs to examine decision making behaviour and possible interventions in this group.
I have already been integrating myself into life at UCL: I regularly attend seminars at the Institute of cognitive neuroscience and have made friends with other PhD students already working in the department of experimental psychology. I have in
the past worked in some of the largest organisations in the world including the C and Grosvenor estate. I have shown success in multiple roles as part of a large team and have led my own projects and responsible for my own team. I would be an asset to any department, and especially one investigating spatial processing. I am in a unique position to research spatial processing in blind individuals as I have expertise in neuroscience theory and methodology, I have practical lab experience and have already authored a paper accepted for publication in the journal of experimental psychology. My ongoing work hopefully will produce two more publications before the start of my PhD project. It would be a great honour and personal achievement if I could continue my research career at UCL and have direct access to academic staff that have in influenced my intellectual thinking. Finally, I have the experience of being blind myself, this gives me a direct insight into interesting and important areas to scientifically investigate, more importantly how to use my research to practically improve the lives of the visually impaired. I do not have financial support and I am relying on organisations such as yours to help me, and in the process, help other disabled individuals. In brief, you will not find a more dedicated and ambitious person that every day is grateful for the chance to study my passion, the human brain.