I didn’t grow up believing that I would one day be conducting scientific research, let alone regarding myself as a neuroscientist. From a fairly early age I wanted to be a vet and continued to think that this was the path for me right up until my second year of Sixth Form College. However, the stark realisation that I would never be able to achieve the straight A’s at A-level soon had me considering other options.
At first I didn’t really know what to do. I just knew that I wanted to do some sort of biological science degree because biology was one of my favourite subjects. Having amassed a collection of university prospectuses, I read through the list of subjects taught as part of one of the veterinary degree programs and I came across a particular word again and again: Pharmacology. My curiosity piqued, I decided to look it up and discovered that a lot of universities offered it as a degree in its own right.
For those of you who may not know what Pharmacology is, it’s basically the study of drugs, their properties, their mechanisms of action and how they can be used therapeutically. As soon as I discovered what Pharmacology was all about I knew that I just had to do it.
It wasn’t until my second year at university (studying Pharmacology) that I first started to fall in love with Neuroscience. The brain was a complete mystery to me up until this point. At school and college I had learnt the basic structure of a neuron and the basic principles of action potentials (neuronal signaling), but the brain was left well and truly alone.
One of my favourite aspects of Neuroscience is neuroanatomy. The brain isn’t a homogenous blob with no defining features. In fact it contains many distinct regions and intricate structures – all of which have specific functions (some multiple). I was incredibly lucky in the fact that my university had a prestigious medical school and this meant that we had access to fixed (preserved) human brains. So once a week, as part of our formal neuroantomy training, we were permitted to very carefully handle these brains. The novelty never wore off and I always felt immensely privileged to hold such a fascinating organ in my hands.
Once I completed my Pharmacology degree I decided to do a Master’s degree in Toxicology, the reason being that I wanted to try and specialise in an area that would lead on to a more specific career path. The Master’s degree culminated in a 3 month full-time research project over the summer and I chose to do something that really interested me; a Neuroscience research project. I learnt a lot during that project; in particular how to work in a proper research lab – and I absolutely loved it.
After finishing my Toxicology degree I continued for a time on the work I did as part of my Master’s research project, which gave me the experience and confidence in the lab required to do a PhD in Neuropharmacology.
I chose to do a PhD for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was bitten by the bug of laboratory-based research. It played to my strengths of manual dexterity, patience and meticulous attention to detail. Secondly, having a PhD is like a stamp of approval for a scientist. By the end of it all I will have proved that I am an independent thinker and worker, with the ability to present my research in a variety of different ways. Thirdly, I hope the economic climate will have improved somewhat in the ~5 years that I’ve hidden away in academia since the beginning of the recession. There are probably more reasons, but the three I’ve already mentioned are the primary ones.
Actually, I suppose there is one more reason… I absolutely love Neuroscience and Pharmacology. More on that later.