We spoke to Amber Ruigrok, who just finished her PhD with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, and is currently on the organising committee of the Building Bridges in Medical Sciences (BBMS) conference taking place in March 2016.
Congratulations on finishing, Amber! Can you tell me a little more about your PhD?
Thank you! Yes, my PhD focussed on the development of sex differences in the brains of normally developing individuals. I conducted a meta-analysis of sex differences in human brain structures across the whole life-span, which was published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. I investigated if prenatal hormones (such as testosterone) influenced the development of sex differences in white matter in children and adolescents. I also worked with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the USA, using longitudinal data to look if variation in the androgen receptor gene influenced developmental trajectories of white matter volume.
Are you continuing this work after your PhD?
To some extent, yes. I am now more focussed on individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), and how sex differences in their brains relate to behaviour and cognition. My PhD also made me even more interested in the role of hormones, particularly the interaction between prenatal and pubertal hormones and pubertal brain development.
What is it that you like most about your work?
Whereas my research is quite fundamental, the aspect I find most fascinating is how my work fits the wider context of brain development. I chose a PhD in neuroscience because I wanted to understand the human brain from different perspectives including brain anatomy, behaviour and cognition, so I am very interested in the clinical and practical implications of my work.
Is this also why you became involved with the BBMS conference?
Yes. The goal of the conference is to build bridges between different specialisms within medicine and basic research and applications of this research, whether this is in clinical practice or in industry. We have speakers from research, clinical practice and industry. For instance, we will have an elevator pitch session where different medically related start- up companies from the Accelerate programme of the Judge Business School will share their ideas and pitch their technology.
So, is the conference aimed at early career researchers?
The conference is mainly by and for graduate students but it is open toeveryone who would like to attend! It is organised entirely by students from the Graduate School of Life Sciences. Our speakers are renowned experts, and we ask them to share their career path. So we will not only be discussing what important scientific questions they have answered, but also how they got there. We’re very proud that we’ve got an evenly balanced list of speakers, with four men and four women.
Thank you very much for speaking to us Amber, we’re looking forward to the conference!
More information on BBMS can be found on the website, where registration will also open soon. The Department of Psychiatry is sponsoring BBMS 2016.
Written by Hannah Jongsma.