Interviews with Scientists: Dr Laura Boddington

Interviews with Scientists: Dr Laura Boddington
6 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Dr Laura Boddington

Next in our Interviews with Scientists series, we spoke to Dr Laura Boddington. Laura is currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oregon. She obtained her PhD in Neuroscience in 2016 from the University of Otago in New Zealand, where she investigated the use of brain stimulation to enhance recovery after stroke.

After completing her PhD, Laura moved to Oregon, USA to begin her postdoc looking at using peripheral nerve stimulation to modulate learning and performance.

Firstly, tell us a bit more about your PhD...

My PhD focused on understanding what happens to the brain after a stroke and how we might be able to use brain stimulation to enhance recovery for stroke survivors. A stroke is when a blood clot (or a bleed) occurs in the brain. This disrupts the blood supply to the downstream brain areas, which can very rapidly cause severe and irreversible damage to the brain tissue. Stroke can be a highly debilitating condition, leaving those affected with lingering physical disabilities which can have a considerable impact on their day-to-day life. Currently, physical therapy is the only effective treatment for stroke survivors to regain motor function, however for many recovery is still limited.

Brain stimulation looks to be a promising method to use in conjunction with physical therapy. The hope is that we might be able to use brain stimulation to enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitation so that stroke survivors can make larger and quicker improvements in their recovery. However, there are many different forms and methods of brain stimulation, and our understanding of the best ways and times to use them after stroke is very limited. During my PhD I worked with Professor John Reynolds at the University of Otago and I looked at how electrical stimulation applied to the healthy side of the brain could alter communication to the stroke-affected side, and how different forms and doses of stimulation could modulate motor recovery.

Did you always want to be a scientist? If so, why?

When I was very little I can remember going to a store that sold all sorts of colourful and sparkly rocks and minerals and after that I decided that I wanted to be a geologist, so I suppose yes I did always want to be a scientist. Although my specific interest in geology didn’t last, I was always interested in science in general, and throughout school I knew that I wanted to pursue a career related to science and health somehow. It wasn’t really until I got to university and had the opportunity to speak to and interact with real scientists and trainees that I really understood what ‘being a scientist’ meant.

During my first year as an undergraduate student I studied a broad range of health sciences and through these classes I was introduced to neuroscience. Something about learning how complex and intricate the brain was and knowing that pretty much everything we do relies on this one organ really struck a chord with me. From there I pursued a degree specifically in Neuroscience. I also had really great lecturers who really inspired me to move into this field.

What did you enjoy most about your PhD?

There were a lot of things, I enjoyed the idea that what I was studying might be able to benefit someone with stroke someday. Also just knowing that what I was looking at was at the 'edge' of our current knowledge and that I was somehow helping to extend that. The people were pretty great too!

What do you think are the biggest challenges / barriers / issues currently facing life scientists and their work at the moment?

I think one of the major challenge we face is making our science accessible and transparent enough to the public. It is important that all sorts of people, including the general public, healthcare providers, business people, policy makers, and politicians, all want to understand and trust the science we spend our lives doing. Every day we are increasing our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, but if we want to see that knowledge actually advance our society through improvements in medicine or technology, or to protect or improve our environment, we as scientists need to make sure that our science is both rigorous and accessible to the people who will take this knowledge to the next stage.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

Celebrate all of the small victories!

Also, it’s easy to get sucked in and bogged down by everything that the PhD throws at you, but remember that you can, and should, have a life outside of your PhD. This will be most important when things don’t always go to plan.

Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment...

Currently I’m a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Professor David McCormick at the University of Oregon. Instead of the direct neural activation that I did during my PhD, here I’m looking at using a different kind of neuromodulation technique: vagus nerve stimulation. I’m looking at using vagus nerve stimulation to modulate brain state by triggering the release of certain neuromodulatory neurotransmitters. Throughout the day and from moment-to-moment, our brains are going through various states. For example sometimes you might be really zoned in and focused, sometimes we might be a bit drowsy and find it hard to concentrate, other times there are 300 things racing through our minds all at once. These changes in state are the result of changes in brain activity and so I'm hoping to use vagus nerve stimulation to try to modulate this brain activity in order to optimise learning and performance.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

What I like about being a research scientist is that every day is different so it’s hard to say exactly what a typical day looks like. The past few months for me have been setting up and testing rigs for electrophysiological and imaging experiments. We also have a number of undergraduate students who are working in our lab to get some research experience, so I’ve been teaching and helping them to train our mice on a behavioural detection task. Over the next couple of months I’m hoping to do a lot of electrophysiological and imaging recordings.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with friends and family, catching up on Netflix, snuggling with my cat.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?

If I wasn’t actively working as a research scientist I could definitely see myself as either a science museum curator or an educator in a museum or science centre. I’d still want to surround myself with science and be able to show others how cool science is!

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

My favourite technique is doing electrophysiological recordings from single cells. Patch clamp or intracellular recordings allow you to record the activity going on inside a single neuron in the brain. Being able to see all of the action potentials and sub-threshold activity going on inside one cell in the brain is pretty cool. It’s a difficult technique to master which makes it even more special when you can get a really nice recording!

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

I really admire the scientists who make the effort to communicate their science in a way that is understandable and accessible to everyone.

What’s your favourite science quote?

“What you learn from a life in science is the vastness of our ignorance ” – David Eagleman

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

I don’t think I could pick ‘the greatest’ but the one dearest to my heart in many ways is probably the discovery and understanding of electricity, by a number of scientists in the 18th and 19th centuries. Understanding electricity not only paved the way for a transformation of technology, but it led on to the discovery that our brain and nervous system also communicate through electrical impulses known as action potentials. I’m personally very fond of recording these in the lab so I’d have to pick electricity as the starting point for that.


Thank you so much for speaking to us Laura, your research sounds fascinating! We wish you the very best of luck with everything.

You can follow Laura on Twitter @LauraBoddington

Find Laura on ResearchGate here:

And connect with Laura on LinkedIn here:

Leave your comment
Your email address will not be published