Information for A Level Students

What does a neuroscientist do?

How do I get into a research career?

What’s the best thing about being a researcher?

What are some of the unseen challenges of being a researcher?

Join Women of the Wohl for our month of weekly online seminar series showcasing the work of Black neuroscientists to find out!

Come and get an inside sneak-peek of cutting edge research and experience how researchers share and discuss their work and discoveries with each other, as well as an opportunity to chat to the speakers and ask all your burning questions about what it’s like being a researcher.

Each week we host 2 speakers who identify as Black researchers in neuroscience and neuro-related research areas. They will share their work with the King’s College London neuroscience community and YOU, in a 1 hour seminar. The seminar is then followed by a 1 hour informal Q&A discussion for you and King’s College research students (undergraduate, masters, PhD) to ask the speakers anything about their career journey and their individual lived experience working in research.

The friendly Women of the Wohl team will be chairing the sessions, making sure everyone feels welcome, safe, & comfortable and that everyone gets to speak and ask their questions. You will be able to ask your questions using audio or the chat function in Microsoft Teams. We understand that not everyone finds it easy to ask questions in front of an audience (especially one you’ve only just met!) which is why we’ve also created the option for you to anonymously submit your questions for our neuroscientist speakers in advance here. There is also an option for you to submit questions in advance for the speakers in the student/teacher registration form (you should have received the link to this form to register your interest in the seminars from your teacher/science coordinator/King’s College London outreach group contact!)

How do I register to attend?

Your teacher or King’s College outreach programme coordinator should have received information about the seminar series, including a link to a registration form where you can sign up to receive the links to the events.

If you have any questions (students or teachers!) please reach out and contact our outreach liaison coordinator: leigh.wilson@kcl.ac.uk

Speaker Programme

This will be regularly updated with talk and speaker information as we continue to confirm our programme of excellent speakers. Please check back regularly for the most up-to-date information as it becomes available!

Session 1 – Thurs 8 Oct

Rebekah Smikle
Masters Student, King’s College London

Speaker Bio
I’m Rebekah, a Jamaican Neuroscience graduate with interests in neurodegeneration and dementia research, specifically frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FTD/ALS). I previously studied BSc Neuroscience at University College London (UCL), where I conducted research with Prof Stephanie Schorge and Dr Emma Clayton at the UCL Institute of Neurology. My work investigated synaptic dysfunction in frontotemporal dementia caused by a rare mutation in the gene, CHMP2B. I have recently completed the MSc Neuroscience in Neurodegeneration at King’s College London, working in the lab of Dr Sarah Mizielinska at the UK Dementia Research Institute. There, I investigated disease mechanisms in FTD/ALS caused by C9orf72 mutation and I hope to pursue a PhD in this area. I love all things science communication, widening participation and Jamaican culture (of course!). I am the Miss Jamaica UK 2019-2020 titleholder, an ambassadorial role which allows me to connect with the global Jamaican diaspora.
Twitter @rcsmikle | LinkedIn @rebekahsmikle

Characterising presynaptic dysfunction of mutant CHMP2B
Neurodegeneration involves dysfunction and death of neurons over time. This includes disruption of synapses, the connections between neurons, denoting many neurodegenerative diseases as ‘synaptopathies’. Frontotemporal dementia is an early-onset neurodegenerative disease characterised by changes in personality, behaviour and language. One rare subtype is caused by a mutation in the gene CHMP2B. CHMP2B protein is a subunit of the ‘ESCRT’, a complex of proteins involved in degradation of synaptic vesicle proteins. Preliminary data shows that synaptic vesicle proteins accumulate in a mutant CHMP2B mouse model, which might contribute to synaptic dysfunction in frontotemporal dementia. This project aimed to investigate whether mutant CHMP2B protein is found at the presynaptic terminal and affects degradation of synaptic vesicle proteins. Using immunofluorescence microscopy in neurons containing mutant CHMP2B, we found that mutant CHMP2B is indeed found at the presynaptic terminal, similar to normal CHMP2B, but forms unusual aggregates called puncta. We then investigated whether this localisation causes synaptic vesicle proteins to accumulate using Western blot, a technique used to identify specific proteins in a sample. While no significant difference was found between mutant samples and wildtype samples, a surprising trend of increased protein accumulation in wildtype and decreased protein accumulation in mutant samples was observed. We also observed specific protein isoforms in our mutant sample not detected in wildtype samples. These findings provide evidence for a possible role of mutant CHMP2B at the presynaptic terminal, but must be further investigated to understand its mechanism of action. Understanding the disease-causing role of mutant CHMP2B at the synapse will be useful for identifying therapeutic targets in CHMP2B-frontotemporal dementia.

Connor Scott
Senior Research Assistant & PhD Student, University of Oxford

Speaker Bio
Connor Scott is a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, working in the Ansorge Lab in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. In his lab, he works both as a senior research assistant while completing his studies as a PhD student. His research topics include glioblastoma, neurodegeneration, and LCM proteomics. In 2012, he graduated with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Greenwich. After his undergraduate studies, he volunteered in several laboratories before receiving a job offer from the University of Oxford in 2013. After working as a scientist for 3 years, he started his PhD project and is aiming to complete it in the next few months.
During his studies, Connor was the Middle Common Room President of his Oxford college, and has a keen interest in public engagement, science communication, and education.
Twitter: @ConnorScott_OX | Website: connorscott.info

The Betz cell is a motor neuron found in the brains of most animals, including humans. As a motor neuron this cell is responsible for generating movement. The Betz cell is the largest cell in the human brain, with axons being as long as 1 meter and a cell body 20 times larger than other neurons! Not much is known about the Betz cell since it was discovered in 1874. It is one of the first neurons to be destroyed in ALS (a motor neuron disease that affected the late Stephen Hawking). My research is to try to find out more about this neuron and how it is affected in ALS. To do this, I use a laser to cut out cells from human brains so that their protein, RNA, and DNA can be compared and analysed.

Session 2 – Wed 14 Oct

Erin C. Hanlon, PhD
University of Chicago

Speaker Bio
Erin C. Hanlon, Ph.D. is a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, Section of Adult and Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, at the University of Chicago. She received her undergraduate degree at Duke University and her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a behavioral neuroscientist, her primary research interests have included the effects of sleep loss and how sleep benefits health, with particular focus on the links between sleep deficiency, obesity, and diabetes. Specifically, she has focused on the effect of sleep restriction on brain reward and feeding systems as well as metabolic systems in both rodent and human models.

Sleep Deficiency: A Pathway to Obesity
Dr. Hanlon’s most recent studies have identified a 24hr rhythm in circulating endocannabinoid (eCB) levels, a system that has garnered much attention in recent years for its involvement in the regulation of food intake. Dr. Hanlon has shown that this rhythm is altered by sleep loss suggesting the involvement of the eCB system in the excess food intake observed following sleep restriction. Further, she demonstrated that obese individuals have a misaligned endocannabinoid rhythm, suggesting that rhythm disruption to the eCB system may contribute to the underlying pathophysiology of obesity.

Jillian E. Franks
University of Missouri-St. Louis

Speaker Bio
Jillian E. Franks hopes to inspire the next generation of scholars and researchers and create a learning environment that recognizes and celebrates the differences inherent in humanity. Training as a social neuroscientist, Jillian has a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee with a minor in theater. Currently, she is a graduate student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the Social Neuroscience and Intergroup Relations Lab. Her early interest in the brain was sparked by a Christmas gift of a toy brain. Overtime, Jillian has participated in programs that support students from historically underrepresented communities interested in science and technology.
During graduate study, Jillian was awarded a Graduate School Minority Master’s Recruitment Fellowship, was second author on a mini-review published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, and presented research on the effects of sexist comments made toward women STEM majors. Her proposed Master’s Thesis project examines same-race memory bias for skin tone modified emoji faces. Research interests also include neural synchronization, empathy, and cooperation in interracial dyads.
Competing as a high school and college swimmer, Jillian enjoys a leisurely lap around the pool and loves live theatre. Jillian desires to unite her passion for neuroscience and theatre by taking an interdisciplinary approach to the study of acting.
Contact: jillianefranks@mail.umsl.edu

The Other-Race Effect and Emojis:  A Memory and ERP Study Using Diverse Emojis
Other-race-effect or own-race-bias is a well-documented phenomenon in memory. Findings suggest that humans are better at recognizing and remembering faces of their own race than other races. Previous research suggests that these results are due to a lack of interracial contact or exposure to other racial groups. Evidence from previous studies has demonstrated that individuals process own-race faces differently than other-race faces, paying more attention to more salient features that become better encoded. While there is support for both hypotheses, it has yet to be studied if the other-race effect for memory extends to people-emojis. Emojis are digital pictures used for electronic communication of emotions, expressions, and meaning. The current studies set out to determine if the other-race effect for recognition memory can be extended to emojis, specifically the category of “people” emojis. Black and White participants will view both light/medium-light skin tone and dark/medium-dark skin tone emojis. Participants will be tested on own-race bias in recognition memory of people-emojis and how it relates to cooperation. In the second study, own-race bias recognition memory and brain activity associated with early facial detection and structural encoding, will be examined. It is predicted that both groups will demonstrate own-race bias when recalling emojis.

Session 3 – Wed 21 Oct

Nwabisa Mlandu
University of Cape Town

Speaker Bio
I am currently doing my Master’s degree in Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town (UCT). I’m hoping to become a clinical neuropsychologist and open my own memory clinic one day that also provides services to underserved rural communities in South Africa. My research interest lie in cross-cultural neuropsychology, particularly in the development of tests that take context and cultural differences into consideration. I am also interested in epilepsy research, rehabilitation and ways in which to increase quality of life in patients with incurable neurological disorders.
While I was completing my Honours degree in Psychology in 2019, I also worked as a tutor in the Psychology Department at UCT and as a research assistant for two independent studies. One study investigated non-adherence to HIV medication in a local clinic, and entailed the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data. The other study was quantitative and focused on the neuropsychological functioning and MRI findings in patients with HIV in order to understand how HIV encephalopathy affects their memory and behaviour.
In my spare time I enjoy exploring different art galleries and museums because I love the intersection of art with history.

‘Detecting Cultural Influences on Social Cognition: The South African-Adapted NEmo Test Battery
Social cognition describes several forms of mental processing in the brain that are essential for healthy relations with other people. Emotion recognition and theory of mind (ToM), are central parts of social cognition and have been the subject of intense neuroscientific study. Although these concepts are universal to all humans, numerous studies have shown that cultural-linguistic influences might affect expression of these social cognitive abilities. Given the importance of intact emotion recognition and ToM, it is imperative for local research to describe possible cultural and linguistic influences on their expression and to ensure that tools used to assess them are contextually appropriate in different local cultures. In this study, I evaluated a South African-adapted version of the NEmo battery, a newly developed test for social cognition by the Swiss Epilepsy Centre. The tasks on the NEmo test battery were translated from their original German into English, and South African faces and voices replaced the original Swiss faces and voices as stimuli for emotion recognition tasks. South African university students completed the NEmo test battery and other standardized cognitive tests. English-speakers and Afrikaans-speakers performed significantly better on tasks assessing ToM than Xhosa-speakers. This suggests that culture influences the expression of this construct, and tells us that future research needs to adapt these tests to Xhosa to ensure that social cognition is reliably measured in this language group.

Alyx Shepherd
University of California San Diego

Speaker Bio
Alyx Shepherd is the research coordinator for the Women Inflammation and Tau Study (WITS) at UCSDs Altman Clinical and Translation Research Institute. She obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University of Fullerton in three years with a double major in Anthropology and Ethnic Diversities Studies and the goal of becoming an archaeologist. However, an unexpected and life-altering health condition set her on her somewhat unconventional and mostly kismet path toward medicine and neuroscience research.
Her experience in research has been primarily Alzheimer’s and dementia; as well as TBI, fMRI, and neurorehabilitation. These fields of research hold her interest because of the vital necessity for breakthroughs in these areas for underrepresented and marginalized communities. She has spent time as a student at the University of Chiang Mai in Thailand studying the displaced hill tribes of Northern Thailand and teaching inner-city high school students in Medellin, Colombia.
She is the creator and host of the Angry Black Woman Podcast, a podcast that highlights the black American Experience and integrates mental health and mindfulness. In her free time, she enjoys studying foreign languages, writing short screenplays, gardening and long hikes with her pup.

‘Diversity-Focused Recruitment in Neuroscience Research and the Potential Impact on Data Quality’
Pathways to careers in research and medicine can be unclear and this is very true for people from underrepresented groups. It is important to not only diversify researchers but also ensure diversity-focused recruitment by embedding diversity and inclusion into research culture. Research has shown that social interaction, a good diet and exercise can prevent the decline of cognition, which is often associated with age and dementia. My work as a research assistant and office manager at a neurological office fuelled my interest in finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In persuit of this interest, I joined a team investigating how conversational engagement via the internet impacts the brain functions of socially isolated older adults. The study was designed to recruit an 80% African American population in an area that simply could not support these numbers. This was something that immediately stood out to me when I began working on the study and it remained the constant concern throughout.
Study Methods: One group received 30-Minute video calls 4 days a week for 6 months, then 2 days a week for 6 months until the end of the study. The control group received 1 weekly phone call that included a fun-fact as a retention method to keep them engaged in the study.
Early results of the study were promising in terms of the main aims to investigate brain function and were expected to continue this trend. The concerns for diversity arose when it became evident that while phone chat-staff were well trained, they were not trained to work with diverse populations. Thus, many of them found it difficult to connect with the African American participants that were recruited. I raised my concerns about the impact this would have on both our African-American participants and overall study data with the lead study investigator and we outlined a plan for how to address these concerns. The need for diversely trained researchers is demonstrated here and needs to continue to be highlighted across all disciplines, borders, and school curriculums.

Session 4 – Wed 28 Oct

Speakers TBC

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