Interviews with Scientists: Myrthe Mampay
Myrthe Mampay is a final year PhD student in the Centre of Stress and Age-Related Disease (STRAND) at the University of Brighton, UK. She is currently investigating the impact of psychological and pathological stress on synaptic plasticity and cognitive function. In 2016, Myrthe was awarded a full doctoral scholarship from the University of Brighton, after completing her MSc project in neuro-regeneration following spinal cord injury at the University of Hasselt in Belgium and an Erasmus+ internship at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain.
Myrthe is intrigued by how internal and external stressors can impact the central nervous system, and the downstream effects on neuronal function and cognition. When she’s not stressing out about researching the effects of stress, she enjoys running, cuddling her cat and a good bottle of wine shared amongst friends.
After Myrthe wrote us a brilliant guest blog on Alternative Ways For Scientists To Network During A Pandemic, it was great to speak to her and find out more about her PhD research, the biggest lessons she’s learned from her PhD, and more.
Great to speak to you, Myrthe! First, we’d love to hear more about your PhD research...
Currently, I am working on two distinct projects, with one overarching research question: “How can psychological and pathological stressors induce and exacerbate cognitive dysfunction?” The human brain can be subjected to a wide variety of stressful insults, including injury, disease, stress hormone signalling and oxidative stress. I am especially interested in the impact of these insults on post-mitotic, hippocampal neurons and the molecular mechanisms utilised to maintain intrinsic homeostasis.
The main project I am working on aims to identify the mechanisms underlying pre-treatment cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI). Cancer patients with non-central nervous system tumour growth often experience cognitive dysfunction. Whilst this phenomenon is predominantly blamed on the toxic side-effects of chemotherapy, the existence of pre-treatment CRCI suggests that other factors contribute to the observed memory dysfunction. However, the exact mechanisms underlying pre-treatment CRCI are currently unknown. For my PhD project, I am trying to unravel some of the potential mechanisms, such as diagnosis-associated stress and tumour-associated immune dysfunction.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work?
As a final year PhD student, the pandemic has quite a big impact on my research and career development. Like many other scientists, my research has been paused completely without the possibility of accessing the labs. As for my career development, I had planned to attend a variety of scientific meetings this spring and summer, which have now been cancelled or postponed (which is why I wrote my blog post for Hello Bio!) Whilst my plans for the last few months of my PhD have definitely been shaken up by the Covid-19 pandemic, it really helps to have a great supervisory team and a supportive group of friends and family.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger?
Whilst I’ve always had a very strong interest in medicine and science, I got the best grades in language subjects. When I was younger, I thought I had to pursue the subjects I was good at, rather than the subjects that truly fascinated me. Thus, I chose to study modern languages and economics in high school, which I regretted massively in hindsight. Making the switch from languages to Biomedical Sciences when starting university was not an easy transition, but I am proud every day for pushing through!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their science PhD?
Find a topic that really intrigues you! You are going to spend the majority of the next years working on it. Without passion and interest in your topic, it could become very hard to find the motivation and willpower to overcome all of the struggles the PhD will undoubtedly throw at you.
What's the most important lesson you’ve learned during your PhD so far?
Your self-worth is not measured by the success of your experiments. Whilst it is hard sometimes not to get down over a failed experiment, just pick yourself up and try again (and again and again!)
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I am very proud of myself for pushing through and making it to where I am today. I started with a difficult switch from studying modern languages to studying Biomedical Sciences. On top of that, I was greatly discouraged by teachers and advisors to pursue this career. Now, being in the final year of my PhD, I am very proud of the path I have walked thus far.
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?
Because of the online world we currently live in and data availability, more and more people outside of science have taken it upon themselves to interpret scientific findings and draw invalid (and sometimes dangerous) conclusions. Over the next few years, I think science communication will become absolutely necessary to battle the coming wave of scientific misinformation.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
Every day looks different, but in general, my days mostly consist of running up and down the stairs between my office and the labs. In between, I perform experiments, check my cells, attend meetings, analyse and organise my data, do lab demonstrations, plan the next experiments and I am also attempting to write my PhD thesis!
What does your typical day look like at the moment, while your lab is closed?
With my thesis deadline creeping up, I’m mostly focused on writing all of the parts I currently can, which will greatly help to finish up my PhD. As soon as the labs are reopened, I can perform my last few experiments and add them to my (hopefully) mostly completed thesis!
Outside of science, what do you enjoy doing most?
I very much enjoy going running, it really helps to clear my head and get my thoughts in order. I also really love playing card games and going on spontaneous camping trips.
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would still want to be involved in the scientific world, as it fascinates me a lot. In an alternate (or future) life I see myself as a life science entrepreneur.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
As a neuroscientist I can only say the complexity of our brain, it is such a fascinating organ! Our brain produces thoughts, actions, memories, feelings and experiences. Billions of nerve cells make up your brain and the complexity of the connections between these cells is truly astonishing. Millions of new connections are formed everyday of our lives, shaping you as a person, your everyday behaviour and potential susceptibility to disease. Throughout the last 10 years, our understanding of the brain has increased massively, however many aspects of the brain are still unknown. It is exciting to be a part of the neuroscientific community and I look forward to all of the discoveries that will happen next to further uncover the brain's complexity!
What’s your favourite science quote?
I really like the quote by Charles R. Swindoll: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Whilst this isn’t a science quote directly, I still think it is an important message to take on board as a scientist.
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
The work by Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Camillo Golgi really revolutionized the way we view and study the structure and function of the brain. Cajal's discovery of the spaces between adjacent neurons, which led to the discovery of the synapse (the junction between two neurons), instigated many other important neuroscientific discoveries. In my opinion, their research forms the basis of both cellular and molecular neuroscience.
Thank you so much for speaking with us Myrthe, and we wish you the very best of luck with your PhD thesis!
Myrthe is a member of the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) and the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS). Her research is fully-funded through a competitive PhD Studentship from the University of Brighton.
Here’s how you can connect with Myrthe on social media:
- Twitter: @mampaymrth
- Instagram: @thepinklabcoats_ and @myrthemampay
- ResearchGate: /profile/Myrthe_Mampay
- LinkedIn: /in/myrthe-mampay-873167113/
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