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
In 1991 and 1992, 14,000 pregnant women in Avon in the West of England signed up to be part of the Children of the 90s study. Over 21 years information about their children — from their first steps to variations in their DNA — has been collected and studied, providing one of the richest resources about child development in the world.
This kind of public participation is essential for the success and future of medical research. Without volunteers to donate time and biological samples, scientists can’t fully understand how we stay healthy and how disease develops.
Part-funded by the MRC, the study has gone from strength to strength. As the young people started to turn 21, we caught up with the scientists who curate and work on this vital collection to find out what the future holds.
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