We would like to congratulate Jeremy Guild on completing his MPhil! Jeremy completed his MPhil titled “Anticipating Outcomes in Addiction: Behavioural and Neuroimaging Studies in Regular Drug Users” under the supervision of Dr. Karen Ersche. Here, Jeremy gives us a quick summary of his work and findings.
Can you give us a short background into what your MPhil was about?
Why addicted individuals have a strong tendency to take drugs instead of non-drug incentives may relate to the way they process rewarding outcomes differently to healthy people. Understanding their motivation or “sensitivity” to these outcomes is therefore important to shed light on what drives drug-seeking behaviour. Using fMRI imaging data, I explored the neural underpinnings of outcome processing in addicted cocaine users, by looking at both activation and connectivity of reward-related brain regions during anticipation of monetary reward.
How would you sum up your main findings?
Although the cocaine users showed similar levels of activity in the brain reward system compared with controls, there were marked differences in connectivity between key reward-related regions such as the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These areas are highly associated with motivation for rewards as well as how much they are valued, thus potentially highlighting how drug users and healthy individuals might process rewarding outcomes differently.
What made you want to do a MPhil?
My interest in addiction research was initially sparked during a research project during my final year of undergraduate studies. I came to realise this was an area I wanted to explore further, and a year long research-focused MPhil would provide a great opportunity to do so. After coming across Dr. Ersche’s addiction research group at Cambridge, we spoke about the exciting work I could get involved with during an MPhil and this is what led me to pursue this course.
What was your best day during your MPhil?
Although there were many enjoyable moments, a highlight that particularly stands out was the Department of Psychiatry Graduate Research Symposium. Gathering at Trinity College to hear about the cutting-edge research being undertaken by PhD students at the department was certainly inspiring and was a great opportunity to broaden my perspective outside my own field of research.
What was your worst day during your MPhil?
This would have to be back in March 2020, when everything was flipped upside down in the space of a few days. The news of an impending nationwide lockdown came with the worrying realisation of not knowing when I could return to the lab, and whether I would have enough data to complete my MPhil. This sort of uncertainty was definitely unnerving, but after discussing with my supervisor we came up with a plan to get the data I needed in time for my thesis. I am grateful to my collaborators, as well as the department, which was very cooperative in supporting a time extension to complete this work.
Do you have any words of advice to future MPhil students in Psychiatry?
Writing a thesis can often take as long as you allow it to, so setting goals such as writing a set number of words every day or getting into a solid routine will allow you to make steady progress and avoid any sleepless nights down the road. Above all however, do your best to enjoy it! Take advantage of the multitude of opportunities Cambridge has to offer, whether these are courses run by the university to improve your skills as a researcher or experiencing the city itself (if we aren’t still stuck indoors!).
What do you hope to do next?
I am fortunate enough to have landed a role as a strategy consultant in the life sciences, which for me has been a great way to explore the corporate world whilst leveraging the skills I developed during my MPhil. When the world returns to normal and research opportunities spring back, a PhD will definitely be on the radar!