Visiting the University of California, Davis

Eleanor Palser

Eleanor Palser (PhD, UCL Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology)

I am a fourth and final year multidisciplinary PhD student, studying Clinical Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. I am interested in how signals from the body are used by the brain to help us think and feel.
There are theories that suggest that these signals are affected by conditions like autism and anxiety, and this might explain some of their symptoms. So far, I have been using behavioural methods to research this. However, I also want to develop skills in neuroimaging methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A combination of both methods might better enable me to answer this question.

As such, I chose to visit an institution that had a strong track record in conducting neuroimaging research with younger populations, particularly with individuals diagnosed with developmental conditions like autism. There isn’t much of this kind of research happening in the UK, so I decided to travel further afield. I spent six months (three of which were funded by the DTP) in Professor Susan M. Rivera’s Neurocognitive Development lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute . There, they specialise in conducting research on the brain basis of developmental disorders, such as autism.

MIND Institute building at University of California, Davis

MIND Institute building at University of California, Davis

Going in the MRI scanner can be challenging – it is noisy, claustrophobic and you have to stay still. I wanted to learn about what procedures can be put in place to help young children, especially those diagnosed with autism, take part in these kinds of experiments. It turns out there are lots of ways to help participants stay calm, including familiarisation training in a pretend scanner.

While at UC Davis, I worked on a project investigating brain and behavioural differences in how gesture is used and understood by autistic children and adolescents. We found out that gestures are processed differently in the brains of autistic people, and they sometimes struggle to produce the hand posture necessary for others to understand their gestures. This may explain some of difficulties autistic and non-autistic people face when communicating with each other.

I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to travel to another institution during my PhD. It is hoped that I learnt will help me bridge the gap between my two disciplines, and conduct more powerful research in my population of interest.

Researching the EU referendum through web archive and ephemera collections – British Library PhD Placement

Alexandra Bulat

Alexandra Bulat (PhD, UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies)
A call for applications circulated through the UCL ESRC mailing list in February. The British Library invited research students to develop their skills outside academia through placements. As my PhD focuses on attitudes towards EU migrants in the UK, I was intrigued by a three-month placement researching the EU referendum. I filled in the written application form, was invited to an interview, and found out I was selected in March.

During the summer, I explored two collections while in the British Library offices –  the UK Web Archive’s EU referendum special collection and the LSE Brexit Collection. I also worked with the EU referendum collection at the University of Cambridge Library. I used those three collections to see how immigration was presented in the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

The placement outputs include two blog posts, one for the British Library, and the other for the LSE Brexit Blog. I organised a roundtable at the British Library with curators from different EU referendum collections, research development staff, and academics, to discuss how can researchers make best use of library collections. I also delivered a report on my user experience with the web archive.

Alexandra presenting at the roundtable event, British Library

Alexandra presenting at the roundtable event, British Library

This autumn I will talk about this summer’s placement results to different audiences at the British Library, at academic events, and during the Bloomsbury Festival at Conway Hall. An academic article situating this research project into the emerging literature on Brexit, and providing detail on the findings, will also be available in due course.

As a qualitative researcher mainly working with interviews and observations, I would have never thought that I would explore political campaign leaflets and archived websites in such detail. My placement with the British Library helped not only to inform my doctoral research, but also to develop my transferable skills, in particular presenting to and writing for non-academic audiences, which are essential for public engagement.

Postdoctoral Fellowship Applications

Professor Andy Tolmie, UBEL DTP Director, hosted an information session last Thursday (1 February) where he provided guidance to applicants for our Postdoctoral Fellowships. The slides from this session are available to download and you can watch the presentation on UCL MediaCentral.

The deadline for applications is 16.00 on 23 March 2018. For further information, please view the slides or see the ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowships page on the UBEL DTP site.

Webinar and Q&A with DTP Director Andy Tolmie

Thursday 1 December 2016

Professor Andy Tolmie, UBEL DTP Director, hosted a webinar where he discussed the DTP’s PhD funding opportunities and the application process. This was followed by a live Q&A session: View the slides and listen to the webinar.

Competition for ESRC-funded studentships beginning in October 2017 is now closed. Please check back next year for studentships beginning in October 2018.