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Working life: Susan Gathercole

Susan Gathercole

Susan Gathercole

Professor Susan Gathercole is the Director of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. Here she tells us about her working life, from her roots in psychology to the unit’s high-tech kit.

There’s something rather special about being an MRC director. You need to know what everybody’s doing and they need your support and direction. We have a very close and productive community, a place that doesn’t have much regard for hierarchy; I’m completely in support of that.

I decided to study psychology after attending a lunchtime lecture in my sixth form on Freud, in the days before it was routinely taught in schools. Understanding our mental lives seemed much more interesting and relevant than any subjects I’d studied before. I was fortunate to get into a degree course in psychology that had just started at York University, and was taught by young and inspiring lecturers.

The field of psychology that still engages me most, 35 years after graduating, is cognition. For me it’s the heart of the discipline, focusing on the processes and systems involved in the higher mental processes that are central to adaptable human behaviour. Research has been transformed in the past 15 years by the development of cognitive neuroscience methods that enable us to understand how cognition is embedded the brain. Read more

Attracting ― and keeping ― the best

(Image credit: Flickr/Danny Howard)

(Image credit: Flickr/Danny Howard)

Today we learned of a simplification to the immigration process for senior researchers from overseas. Here Linda Holliday, Deputy Human Resources Director at the MRC, reflects on the announcement, and the importance that information from those working at the coalface of recruitment has in bringing about changes to immigration policy.

The UK has an excellent track record in science and research. Despite growing international competition, the UK research base is second in the world for excellence and we are the most productive country for research in the G8 group of nations. When it comes to individual disciplines, the UK tends to come first or second in the rankings.

Our scientific workforce is a vibrant and diverse group of people. We know that the collaborations that UK researchers establish with their international counterparts is of a high quality and we rely on the UK’s immigration system to help us bring people to the UK for short periods to continue these collaborations, as well as attracting and retaining the best international talent for longer-term positions. Read more

Made to measure

The vibrating razor cutting a thin slice of mouse brain

The vibrating razor cutting a thin slice of mouse brain

Carrying out pioneering research can require unusual custom-made kit. Katherine Nightingale speaks to some of the people who work in scientific workshops, and the scientists who benefit.

In a small room in the bowels of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), researchers in the Margrie Laboratory are using a serial microscope to image the entire adult mouse brain. To do this they need to sequentially cut thin slices of the brain (50 micrometres thick) using a vibrating razor called a vibratome. As each slice is removed, the microscope photographs the exposed surface of brain. After three days, they will have 3.2 terabytes of digital images, and a pile of about 350 brain slices sitting at the bottom of a container. While the digital data is safely stored on servers, what happens to the brain slices?

As the head of the laboratory Troy Margrie says, “We might want to keep particular slices of brain for further study, and the slices we want will be buried in a pile with no way of us knowing which one is which.” This is where the institute’s workshops come in. Read more