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Profiles from our health research theme – University of Reading

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  • Research that makes a differnce

    Tackling the demands of complex and chronic health conditions

Profiles from our health research theme

Hear from our postgraduate researchers whose work comes under our Health research theme.

Faith Orchard

Department of Psychology

Title of PhD: The Clinical Characteristics and Cognitive Biases Associated with Adolescent Depression

Briefly describe your area of research

My area of research is adolescent depression. Adolescence is a distinct phase of development, with a high incidence of depression. Despite this, adolescent depression has been neglected by researchers and treatment is largely based on adult research.

The aim of the five papers in my thesis is to describe and understand characteristics of depressed adolescents that could be addressed in psychological treatment. These specifically relate to clinical presentation and cognitive biases. The papers include a report of the clinical characteristics of adolescent depression, followed by a review paper and three experimental papers testing the cognitive model of depression in adolescents.

Why did you select Reading?

I was fortunate to complete my undergraduate degree at Reading, and I went on to work as a research assistant in the Berkshire Child Anxiety Clinic. The clinic has since merged with an NHS clinic for child and adolescent anxiety and depression. It is the only clinic of its kind in the UK and, given my research interests, this made it the perfect place to complete my PhD.

Having experienced life as a student and staff member at Reading, I was also aware of the direct emphasis on the quality of teaching and student experience, and the quality of research and its impact.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

One of the main reasons that I have remained at the University of Reading is the wonderful group of staff and students. The work that is carried out at Reading is outstanding, and I find the members of staff incredibly knowledgeable, approachable and willing to help. The students are always polite and keen to learn, making them not only a pleasure to work with, but also worth the time I invest in them. Being part of the Anxiety and Depression in Young People team has given me experience working with a wide range of individuals from across the University and the NHS.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

Recruiting from the NHS has been my biggest challenge. The Anxiety and Depression in Young People NHS service was new when I started my PhD, and I was the first researcher to conduct a project with adolescents with depression. My recruitment took 18 months longer than planned, as a result of setting up the research process from scratch and having to manage any bumps in the road. It was a good learning experience to balance the priorities of a research team and an NHS team, and I have developed a number of skills as a result of this.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

Firstly, a PhD takes perseverance, commitment and resilience. Research is incredibly competitive, and you have to work hard to be successful. But the hard work pays off, I feel incredibly lucky to do what I do.

Secondly, be a "yes" person – I take up every opportunity passed my way. This pays off and I have been incredibly fortunate to have been involved in so many opportunities out of the realm of my PhD. This has led to many doors being opened for me.

Finally, I recommend publishing as early as possible, and learning to accept rejection!

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

I have recently applied for an National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Post Doctoral Fellowship grant, which I will find out about in the summer. I am invested in a career in research and will be aiming to be in a faculty position as a lecturer in five years' time, with hopefully many more research grants on the horizon.

The University has supported me right from the beginning, and they have continued to provide me with the opportunities and training necessary to get to where I am today, and hopefully further.

Ines da Silva Serra

Department of Psychology (Pharmacy)

Title of PhD: Effects of Phytocannabinoids in the Treatment of Tuberous Sclerosis

Briefly describe your area of research

Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a genetic disease caused by a mutation in tumour suppressor genes involved in cell growth and protein synthesis. As a result, patients have benign tumours in several organs and a very high incidence of therapy-resistant epilepsy. Our group has been working with cannabinoids (compounds from Cannabis) for several years and has showed that some of them decrease seizure frequency and severity. Additionally, other groups demonstrated that cannabinoids can also modify tumour progression. Therefore, cannabinoids could be a potential treatment for TSC, and that is what I will be studying in the next three years.

Why did you select Reading?

Finding the right PhD was not easy. Faced with a three-year commitment (at least), I really wanted to make sure I would choose the best option for me. At Reading, I found everything I was looking for: experienced researchers, great facilities and generous funding. My project combines all my favourite subjects, complementing my previous lab experience in pharmacology and molecular biology, with new and exciting in vivo behavioural analysis.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

The Whiteknights campus is definitely one of the most beautiful places in town. Especially for me, as I spend a lot of time in the lab or in the dark and silent microscope room, it always relaxes me to come outside and walk around the lake. It is amazing how easily you can leave your busy day and schedule behind and step into stunning paths with dozens of different trees, and birds, and flowers (even when the weather is not that great!).

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

Designing the experimental plan for my project has definitely been the most difficult task so far. When I started, I thought I would just read a couple of papers, follow their protocols and replicate their findings, simply adding new variables. However, the more I read and became aware of other people's work limitations, the more I changed the initial experiments. Before I knew it, even though I started with an established and working protocol, I ended up with a completely new set up and a lot more testing to do before collecting real data.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

Read! Read everything you can on the subject you are studying! This is your project and not anyone else's, and although you can always count on your supervisors and colleagues to help you out, ultimately you will be the one responsible for the planning, experiments and data collection. Everyone will think of you as a kind of expert in your topic, so it is really important to be up to date with the new papers and studies that come out.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

Becoming part of a university's academic staff is definitely one of my main professional goals. For that reason, in five years' time, I imagine myself as a postdoc following up on my (hopefully positive) PhD findings. There will also be some time for teaching, particularly neurosciences or pharmacology, if I could be really picky about it.

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