In bittersweet news we will soon bid 4 Neuroscience Institute students farewell as they take up postgraduate positions at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh to continue their studies. All have been awarded extremely competitive scholarships, including the Rhodes Scholarship. Josh Selfe, Kaitlyn Sparks, Teresa Steyn and Christina Steyn set (aero)sail sometime between August and October of this year.
Kaitlyn and Teresa are reading for a DPhil in Neuroscience (1+3) at Oxford, which is a one-year master’s followed by a three-year doctorate programme. Josh will be doing a DPhil Pharmacology, investigating the developmental origins of sensorimotor feedback circuitry in cortex in the lab of Professor Colin Akerman, at the University of Oxford Josh and Teresa both hail from the Raimondo Lab, in the Department of Human Biology, and Kaitlyn from the Neurology Lab under the supervision of Dr Melissa Nel. Christina Steyn is the student of Dr Dorit Hockman, also of Human Biology, who is a developmental neurobiologist. Christina will be joining the Wellcome Trust Translational Neuroscience 4-year PhD at the University of Edinburgh.
When asked what he was most looking forward to Josh replied; ‘meeting all the new people, exploring all the beautiful buildings, and doing all the awesome science’. We are sure that awesome science awaits! Kaitlyn is keen to meet interesting and inspiring people who will challenge her misconceptions and push her to improve herself. And she’s headed to the right place as over half of Oxford students come from outside the UK and represent over 80% of the world’s countries – a true multicultural melting pot.
Christina intends to take advantage of her programmes opportunity to do clinical visits and meet with patients whose conditions she is interested in researching. ‘As a scientist I sometimes feel that my research is removed from the people I would like to help, so I think it will be really motivating on a research level and on a personal level to engage with patients, their caretakers, and clinicians’ says Steyn.
Teresa is excited to receive incredible training that can build her capacity to find treatments for neurological conditions. This will serve her well in the future when she hopes to be back in South Africa working on trauma and infection-induced brain injury in children, alongside lecturing and supervising students. In fact, all four students see themselves in research for the long-haul. This is admirable considering that life as a researcher can be a gruelling and uncertain path, and in South Africa doubly so.
This daunting thought has done little to discourage these young scientists who are bursting with passion and wonder about the brain. Kaitlyn calls it ‘a puzzle we haven’t unravelled yet’ and she’s excited to get stuck in. When asked what their favourite property of the brain is they had the following to say; Teresa is fascinated by consciousness. The very phenomenon that allows us to know and appreciate anything in the first place; Josh loves the fact that most of what we experience is not the information coming in through our senses, rather, we experience a prediction of what the brain thinks we should be sensing – which is known as predictive processing; Christina loves meditation, and since it has been shown to reduce functional connections between the amygdala and the rest of the brain thereby helping to reduce anxiety in the long term, sees it as a really affordable means to promote well-being to anyone interested.
One thing is for sure, these four budding scientists are eager to learn as much as possible in their quest to figuring out this lump of grey matter we call a brain. Four excellent minds looking to expand theirs further. So, off we’ll send them. Hey UK, you’re welcome!