My research is focused on how stress and alcohol (both individually and in combination) impact brain activity and cognitive performance, as prolonged stress exposure may be a potential pathway to alcohol and substance misuse. Since our brains are still developing up until the third decade of life, I am interested in how these factors can affect the developing brain and cognition in the long term, and how students in particular may be affected by stress, alcohol exposure and university lifestyle.
I think my project could really provide some insights particularly in terms of health and education. The message I really would like for people to take home is that stress is not always bad, although we may think it is initially. Hans Selye said, “stress is the spice of life” and we should not be without it. How we respond to stress is what really counts and managing it in healthy and effective ways is important. Stress is the process that allows us to rise to a challenge and overcome it – something I feel is particularly relevant for us all right now.
During my master’s degree is when I really decided I wanted to pursue a PhD. My main interests are in cognitive psychology, neuropsychology and health psychology. I had the chance to learn about neuroimaging techniques and even had the opportunity to use some! I was fascinated by the brain and these technologies and wanted to pursue these interests further with a PhD.
I was on the lookout for PhD opportunities, and found that MMU was offering a scholarship for the “Longitudinal study on the effect of alcohol and stress on prefrontal cortex activity and cognitive performance in undergraduate students.” I thought that this project sounded amazing. I got to utilise neuroimaging methods and study something I found really interesting.
After doing some research, MMU looked great; beautiful buildings, a great community and a focus on student support. I chose Manchester Met because they have a great focus on mental health and are conscious about sustainable living and the impact on our environment. I also found that the university is full of great opportunities, lots of fairs, welcome events and things to take part in.
I was beyond excited when I was offered the scholarship and, after spending most of my time studying in Liverpool, it was a chance to meet new people and time for a new experience. I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter in Manchester.
I am currently half-way through my PhD, and I feel I have gained so many new skills already. I have met great people who I enjoy working with and I have learned many valuable things from them, developing myself as a researcher and a person. Of course, I also love using the neuroimaging technology in my research – I find it so fascinating!
What is great about a PhD is the flexibility. Everyone works differently and a PhD allows more freedom with this. Mostly, you can find the hours that work best for you and tailor this to suit your working style.
If you are thinking of studying a research degree, I would say find something you are interested in and passionate about as you will be working on it for a long time. Importantly, don’t compare yourself to others – we are all on a different journey and there are many different paths to take, keep going and you will get there.
Importantly, you are human and can’t get everything done in a day. A PhD is a big project, so it helps to break this down into more manageable, smaller tasks. Even what may seem like the smallest tasks are helping to progress your PhD. If it helps, create yourself a check list with a few things you’d like to accomplish that day – it feels so good to tick them off and then at the end of the week, see that you have made progress even if you think that the week hasn’t been that great.
A PhD is a long-term project, many things will change, and many challenges will arise. It is important to remember you can tackle these changes and challenges. Communication is key, talk to your supervisors and peers as they can help provide support. It won’t always be a linear straight-forward journey, but things in life rarely are! It is also incredible how quickly things can change, and the current pandemic means that things will change not only temporarily, but will impact how everything works moving forward.
It can be difficult to adapt to these new working from home situations, but I have tried to utilise working in “new” spaces to change things up. Some days I work in my room, others the kitchen, some days the living room and, if it’s nice, working in the garden. Living with multiple family members and having a small space means I can’t set up a permanent office with a proper desk. So, I bought a fold out “lap desk” which means I can change my scenery a little and create a work area for myself.
Like many, I am restricted in progressing some aspects of my PhD, but I am in control of the things I can do at home and progress in other ways. I also think it is important to remember the situation we are under – these are not normal circumstances and it will take time to find your feet.
For me, it has really helped to limit my exposure to news, particularly social media about the pandemic. This is not to say I want to become ignorant to the situation, but just that I have control over the level of exposure for my own well-being and this is something that helps when I feel overwhelmed.
I think it’s important to maintain boundaries with email, work and personal time to relax. Mostly, reading a book I like, playing video games and walking with my dog is how I like to decompress. I have found keeping in touch with others, especially fellow students helpful in making me feel less alone. Sharing how you’re feeling with others is so important and it is likely they are feeling the same!