I sit here now, trying to go through the last 10 years in my head and process how I got here – a 2nd year PhD student researching Alzheimer’s disease. It’s safe to say that my 15-year-old self would certainly not recognise the person I am today.
I find it difficult to pin point when I realised I wanted a career in science, at school no one really talked about what a ‘career’ in science would look like – but I do remember that I always loved science, I remember in y9 being the only person in my class to be awarded the gold biology Olympiad award (which everyone, including myself was quite shocked at). I’ve always enjoyed thinking about how things work – especially our bodies and brains. At school I was intrigued by human behaviour and how the brain affects behaviour, so I took psychology at both GCSE and A-level. At sixth form I wanted to study medicine, but I didn’t get the A in chemistry I needed to apply so I decided to apply for psychology instead – which I already knew I loved. At this point in time I had no idea that I could have a job as an actual scientist.
I went to the university of Leeds, where I got study abroad in Australia for a year. My time at Leeds gave me a fantastic overview of many different aspects of psychology – but my favourite was anything with a neuroscience spin on it. By the end of my degree I didn’t really know what I wanted to do – psychology is such a broad subject so my interests at this point were quite varied! All I knew is that I loved studying and learning about how the brain works. Instead of rushing into something, I took a year out of education, I worked as a boating instructor at a camp in America (would definitely recommend) and then as a teaching assistant, working with young people with special educational needs. I loved the job but I really missed studying and learning about the brain.
I decided it was time to go back to university. I found an amazing masters at the University of Sheffield (cognitive neuroscience and human neuroimaging). During my masters I got to complete a brain dissection module, getting to hold a human brain in my hands really solidified that I wanted a job where I got to work and research the brain. The MSc was hard, but so rewarding. The experience gave me confidence and helped me realise that I wanted a career in academia, so I started applying for PhDs, specifically ones which involved neurodegeneration. I decided I wanted to complete a PhD related to neurodegeneration because since finishing up my undergraduate degree I’d watched a family member change. It started with repeating questions, forgetting names, confusion – overtime these symptoms got worse and new ones developed. Unfortunately, this family member had Alzheimer’s disease.
The first couple of PhDs I applied for I didn’t make it to interview, but an amazing position came up at Sheffield investigating neurovascular function in Alzheimer’s disease. I applied, got an interview and was awarded the position. Two years later here I am, a second year PhD student.
My research investigates neurovascular coupling – the relationship between a neuron firing and increased blood flow to that same brain region, in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurovascular coupling is known to be impaired in Alzheimer’s disease; it could be a potential biomarker for the disease so it’s important that we learn more about it. To investigate this, I look at how amyloid beta plaques may affect neural activity and blood oxygenation within the brain. During my PhD I’m also planning to investigate how Alzheimer’s pathology may be impacted by cardiovascular disease due to atherosclerosis, as many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also possess vascular risk factors and/or vascular disorders.
I think it’s really important that scientists communicate their research to people – science can be a bubble and it’s important for us all to get out of our bubble and explain how our research affects wider society. Luckily, I’ve always loved chatting to people and telling them about science so one thing I’m hoping to do throughout my PhD is communicate my research to the general public and other scientists. During lockdown I created an Instagram account (@bethsbrainbites) where I share posts about my day to day life as a PhD student, information about the brain and tips about PhD study. And now I’m hoping to communicate more about me and my research through this blog.
But what do I do in my non-academic life? I’m really passionate about showing people that you can have a good work life balance when doing a PhD so I’m really strict with when I do and don’t work. I try my best not to work in the evenings or on weekends, I try and keep this time for me and my hobbies. I’ve recently started going to pole classes, it’s so great to learn a new skill and it’s a fun way to get fit and take my mind off my PhD. I also love hiking in the peak district and going to fitness classes.
What’s next for me? As I’m in my second year of my PhD it’s quite difficult to think about my next step, as all I can really think about right now are my experiments. BUT I’ve not been put off academia yet, I would love to stay in the dementia field and apply for a post doc and then hopefully a fellowship. It’s definitely a field I could see myself in for a long time. Being a dementia researcher right now is exciting – as there are so many new discoveries, I am really hopeful that in my lifetime we will see some successful therapies and we will help stop the diseases that cause dementia in their tracks.
Beth Eyre is a 2nd year PhD Student at The University of Sheffield, researching Neurovascular and cognitive function in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease and in a mixed model of Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis. Beth has a background in psychology, where she gained her degree from the University of Leeds. However, is was in undertaking her MSc in cognitive neuroscience and human neuroimaging at the University of Sheffield, and first hand experience of dementia that brought her to dementia. Inside and outside the lab, Beth loves sharing her science and we are delighted to have her contributing as a regular blogger with Dementia Researcher, sharing her work and discussing her career.
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