My In2ScienceUK Work Experience at UCL

I completed my In2ScienceUK work experience, placement at the UCL Experimental Psychology labs. The experience was incredibly insightful and just what I needed for me to confirm and strengthen my interest in Psychology. It introduced me to the heavily scientific and research aspect of psychology outside of what I had learnt from the AS curriculum.

I was incredibly lucky to have observed Lucia Magis Weinberg and her supervisor Dr Iroise Dumotheil and Dr Ruud Custers on one of their busiest study days which continued into the week. Lucia is investigating executive functions (which are the mental resources needed to control behaviour and achieve a goal and how they related to activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain throughout adolescence. To achieve this, she is running self-programmed computer based tasks that participants do inside a ) scanner. Whilst in the scanner, structural and functional images of the participants’ brain are obtained to show brain activity whilst participants are doing the tasks.

During my time at UCL I have really felt part of the research . On experiment days I greeted participants and helped them fill out two essential forms. The first one is a metal pre-screening form, which is especially important for studies that involve the use of an MRI scanner. Whilst the MRI scanner is mostly safe, precautions must be taken with metal materials as the scanner is a gigantic magnet! No metal materials can be on a participant and/ or in their bodies. Therefore it is necessary that participants are screened before the experiment begins. Another very important form that a participant must fill out is the informed consent form. The researcher must thoroughly explain what the participant will be doing throughout the experiment, before they can sign the consent form. Once the forms are filled out the participants get to practice the tasks that they will carry out inside the scanner. I got to sit in on these and even got to do the experiment tasks myself! During the experiment I got to see how the researchers operated the MRI scanner from the consultant room and saw how the images were being developed as the scanner produced them. Whilst they were being processed, the researchers explained to me how the images are used to observe brain activity.

I have been introduced to many different types of software that makes the tasks, data collection and data analysis possible. Matlab is a software that allows you to program the experimental tasks that the participants do in the scanner, it is also programmed to collect all the data from how they performed on the tasks such as accuracy and reaction time.

The researcher has to input some of the data, such as the data obtained from questionnaires or non-computer based tasks, into the programmes, which is the part of data collection that is most susceptible to human error. When I was inputting participant questionnaire data into excel I had to recheck multiple times to ensure the data is accurate.

I gained many computing skills which include using formulas and making pivot tables in Excel and using SPSS software for data analysis. SPSS creates graphs and performs a T-test which uses the mean and the standard deviation of the data to calculate t and p values. These values indicate whether there are statistical differences between two groups of data. Another programme used for data analysis that I encountered was MRIcron which converts the scanner image data into 3D images that you can work with. I used this programme to obtain structural images that we could send to the participants.


Lucia has been extremely helpful in discussing university options with me and career options after a psychology BSc.  I created a poster with all the options and it allowed me to focus on the future and consider what I would like to pursue after an undergraduate degree, Lucia has allowed me to develop skills which will not only be helpful at undergraduate level but also in my work at A2. An example of this is source analysis. I used the ‘CARS’ checklist for to analyse five different articles on ‘The Teenage Brain’. I had to evaluate the credibility, accuracy and reliability of the sources and comment on what made each source different to and better or worse than another.

Working in a research environment exposed me to experiences that I would not have had otherwise. As well as working alongside Lucia, I worked with a Birkbeck psychology undergraduate student who I was able to talk to about what to expect from a psychology degree and I worked with her during data collection and analysis. I was also able to sit in on a meeting between research colleagues. One PhD student shared his preparation for a presentation on his own experiment that he was to deliver at a conference. His colleagues gave him feedback and I was able to witness first-hand how research presentations develop and how the format and style in which they are presented.

My experience at the iDCNlab and the MoBeLab has been a perfect introduction into psychological research and has inspired me to start building skills that are not only helpful in psychology but in all aspects of study. These skills include scientific writing, mathematics, source analysis and programme coding.  I will now be able to transfer these skills into my work during my sixth form year and carry them through to university and beyond. This remarkable opportunity has challenged me to improve myself in all academic areas and has motivated me to push myself in order to achieve academic success.

Find out more about the labs and the research that I have been involved in on their websites.



Scientist for a summer

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Guest author: Alliah Adeola

Everybody knows that the key to making your UCAS application stand out is having unique, relevant, impressive work experience. And what could be more impressive for a prospective psychology student to have experienced than a psychology research office at UCL? After applying through the in2scienceUK scheme (which I thoroughly reccommend) I was delighted to discover that I would spend two weeks shadowing a pHD student, who researches motivated behaviour in adolescents. This was clearly a very interesting and relevant topic to me, so I commuted to the university with high expectations and enthusiasm.

Within a very short time, I felt comfortable and settled, which can be attributed to the welcoming attitute of everybody I spoke to in the office and around the building. My supervisor Lucia accompanied me on a tour around the main university campus, showing me the Quad and the science library. This gave me an insight into the generally relaxed atmosphere of UCL, and as a result I have decided to apply there in the autumn. I was also impressed to hear that UCL was the first university to accept women and foreign students – it was great to be in a place that had pioneered such notions that we take for granted today. Throughout the course of my time in the office I was able to speak to an array of academics, and was encouraged to ask them questions as frequently as possible. This has provided me with a newfound appreciation of the different paths into psychological research, and has reassured me that research is an attainable career for me.

Along with giving me a general feel of what psychological research is like, I was also fortunate enough to engage in activities that would otherwise be inaccessible to me. For example, I spent a day at the Science museum, learning about how scientists engage with the public and how psychologists recruit participants for experiments. Similarly, I myself particpated in an experiment , which involved looking at two cartoon people, and judging which held their gaze for the longest. I was also set the task of creating, distributing and analysing my own online survey, focusing on the importance of goals. Doing all these things taught me several methods psychologists use to learn more about the way the brain works. Furthermore, it highlighted the significance of ethics, cost and collaboration with other scientists when conducting research.

Another aspect of research I enjoyed learning about was the different types of equipment used to investigate the structure and function of the brain. I was shown how TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) uses an electromagnet to stimulate electrical activity in certain parts of the brain, to see if it disrupts the subjects ability to complete a task. This allows psychologists to discover causal links between certain areas of the brain and a particular cognitive function. This showed me just how vital psychological research is to understanding ourselves and the things around us. Similarly, witnessing the use of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner demonstrated how scientists are able to link the structure of the brain with function.

Overall, I foundmy time shadowing Lucia deeply enjoyable and inspiring. I was able to experience first hand the ins and outs of research, and was given invaluable advice in terms of my UCAS application. I can now pursue a career in psychology in the knowledge that it is not only an interesting subject, but important and rewarding. Lucias’ welcoming attitude and continued hospitality meant that my two week placement by far exceeded my expectations. I can only hope that I will one day be back there as a qualified researcher myself!

Image: Eric Wasserman

Cátedras Conacyt para Jóvenes Investigadores

experiment-220023_640En el marco del XII Simposio de Estudios y Estudiantes Mexicanos de la Mex Soc UK, realizado en la Universidad de Leeds del 4 al 6 de agosto de 2014, la Dra. Julia Tagüeña Parga dio una interesante plática sobre las Cátedras Conacyt para Jóvenes Investigadores. Estoy segura de que toda la información detallada podrá encontrarse en la página de Conacyt. Sin embargo, me pareció interesante compartir algunas primeras impresiones sobre el programa.

Las cátedras surgen en respuesta a la baja oferta de plazas en universidades e instituciones mexicanas para investigadores recién salidos del horno. La idea, inspirada por programas en otras partes del mundo, es que l@s investigador@s sean contratad@s directamente por Conacyt, y asignad@s a alguna de las instituciones de adscripción (universidades e institutos de investigación). De esta forma, Conacyt pretende contribuir a la repatriación de l@s investigador@s formad@s en el extranjero.

En los próximos meses, 574 mexican@s o extranjer@s residentes en México, se incorporarán a una de las 91 instituciones mexicanas seleccionadas para empezar a desarrollar sus líneas de investigación. De acuerdo con el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, estas personas se involucrarán en proyectos relacionados con 7 áreas prioritarias:

  • Desarrollo tecnológico
  • Salud
  • Ambiente
  • Desarrollo sustentable
  • Energía
  • Conocimiento del universo
  • Sociedad

El programa opera de la siguiente forma. L@s investigador@s jóvenes (menores de 40 en el caso de los hombres y 43 en el de las mujeres) que recientemente hayan terminado doctorados o postdoctorados deben registrar su nombre y área de experiencia en un padrón del Conacyt. Al mismo tiempo, las instituciones que deseen recibir investigadores deberán formular una solicitud y plan de trabajo y someterlo a consideración de l@s evaluador@s del Conacyt. Las instituciones que obtengan las plazas tendrán acceso al padrón (relacionado con su área) del cual podrán escoger 3 candidat@s para hacerles una oferta laboral.

En esta primera convocatoria, se decidió darle prioridad a instituciones que cuenten con menor infraestructura y desarrollo (Chiapas, Oaxaca, Baja California Sur, Durango, Tlaxcala, Guerrero, Zacatecas, Colima, Quintana Roo y Campeche). De esta forma, estos estados se quedaron con 135 plazas (haciendo notar que tuvieron una tasa de éxito de sus solicitudes del 87%).

En cuestiones de género, 41% de las plazas serán otorgadas a mujeres. De acuerdo con tendencias a nivel nacional, el único caso en el que hay más mujeres que hombres es el área de Salud. En el caso de Desarrollo Sustentable hay igual número de hombres y mujeres. En todas las demás, el número de hombres es mayor.

Cabe mencionar que las plazas, en principio, no vencen, por lo que potencialmente la persona podría quedarse en ella durante toda su vida laboral. Sin embargo, l@s investigador@s estarán sujetos a rigurosas evaluaciones y deberán cumplir con ciertos lineamientos, como la inscripción al Sistema Nacional de Investigadores.

Como estudiante de doctorado en mi primer año celebro este tipo de iniciativas que me dan mayor confianza en que, al terminar mis estudios de posgrado, podré regresar a reincorporarme al trabajo de investigación en México, para poder retribuir así la generosidad con la que mi país me mandó, con una beca Conacyt, a formarme y maravillarme en el extranjero.


Rlij rihaan: con ojos muy abiertos

DSC_0656 (1)

El hecho de visitar el Science Museum (Museo de Ciencias) de Londres cuando tenía 12 años fue clave en mi decisión de dedicarme profesionalmente a la ciencia, actividad para la que me estoy formando actualmente, ya que curso un doctorado en UCL desde hace un año. Siempre consciente del papel crucial que cumple la divulgación en el acercamiento del público al quehacer y al conocimiento científico, complemento mi investigación sobre el desarrollo del cerebro adolescente con actividades paralelas de divulgación para adolescentes y adultos.

Desde hace dos años me incorporé al Science Museum como guía voluntaria. Esta actividad me permite seguir asistiendo al museo regularmente  e interactuar con una gran diversidad de visitantes de todas partes del mundo. El día de hoy fue particularmente importante en mi desarrollo como divulgadora: en el marco de la visita del equipo de basquetbol de niños del pueblo triqui de Oaxaca, tuve el privilegio de compartir mi pasión con  Bernabé, Tobías, Daisy, Abi, Melquíades, Dylan, Fernando, Efrén, Néstor y Max con quienes visité el Science Museum y el Natural History Museum (Museo de Historia Natural).

Juntos viajamos en el tiempo explorando el desarrollo tecnológico desde el tren hasta las cápsulas espaciales. Vimos los aparatos que nos permiten hacer neuroimagen y comparamos el cerebro de un ser humano con el de un chimpancé. Aprendimos cómo se ha desarrollado la aviación en estos últimos cien años y luego nos subimos a un simulador de acrobacias aéreas. Usamos la doble hélice de Watson y Crick para discutir el futuro de la clonación. Cazamos antibióticos (no microbios) y vimos una de las muestras originales de Penicillium que usó Flemming. Los más valientes cruzaron el museo por un puente hecho enteramente de vidrio. Y gracias al péndulo de Foucault que cuelga desde el sexto piso del museo pudimos ver la prueba científica de la rotación de la tierra.

Después exploramos nuestro pasado natural y fuimos a ver fósiles de dinosaurios. Nos aproximamos a las técnicas que usan los paleontólogos en su investigación, y nos enteramos de las posibles causas de la extinción de los dinosaurios con sentimientos encontrados sobre la mención de Yucatán en medio del museo.

Pasear con la selección triqui de básquetbol me permitió volver a asomarme al museo con los ojos que yo tenía a la edad de doce años, y redescubrir y compartir con este admirable grupo de campeones atléticos y académicos la chispa y la pasión de la expedición científica. Nago’ se luj. Gracias.