31st Cambridge Neuroscience Symposium

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Cambridge Neuroscience is delighted to announce the 31st Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar, Signalling, Sensation & Sentience hosted by the Department of Pharmacology on Thursday 14th March 2019, at Robinson College. Dr Ewan St John Smith is the chair of the Scientific Programme committee.

The aim of this annual interdisciplinary meeting (about 280-300 delegates) is to give a snapshot into the extent of neuroscience research here in Cambridge and how it fits into the broader context of neuroscience worldwide.  This year will focus on areas of research that highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the Pharmacology Department here at Cambridge, with sessions covering development, physiology, cognition degeneration and regeneration.

Deadline for Abstract submission is Monday February 25th 2019.

CamBRAIN Annual Careers Event, 3rd May 2017

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The aim of the CamBRAIN Annual Careers Event, which was held on 3rd May at St John’s College, was to showcase some of the different career paths open to people who have neuroscience degrees.

Many students find it hard to choose what type of career they would like to pursue after finishing their degree. So this event was a unique opportunity for students to hear about jobs ranging from science writing to managing clinical trials through consultancy to running your own lab or company.

The event was opened with a plenary session in which six speakers talked about their career paths. Dr Liam Wilson, who is one of the founders of CamBRAIN, talked about his job with QuintilesIMS. For his job he manages the publicity and he spends much of his days writing to inform the public about technological solutions to scientific problems.

He was followed by Dr Adam Tozer, who is a science writer for Technology Networks. He showed us the different platforms he uses to reach a variety of audiences communicating the newest neuroscience research.

Dr Sara Soleman spoke about her job at GlaxoSmithKline as a Clinical Development Manager. For her job, she manages a dozen different clinical trials at the same time.

Yet another career path was chosen by Dr Tahl Holtzman, who set up his own company, Cambridge NeuroTech, with which he sells technological products which he developed during his post-doctoral position at the university. He saw the potential of commercialising his tools and his company is now very successful.

Dr Ewan St John Smith is a University Lecturer at Cambridge University. He runs his own lab besides tutoring and lecturing.

Last but not least was a talk from Dr Tim Rittman who is a Clinical Research Training Fellow in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. He combines the intense job of a doctor with conducting research and fatherhood very successfully.

The speakers each discussed pros and cons of their careers. Some career paths involve much travelling, whilst others require long working hours. Many of our speakers have had periods during which they were not sure what type of work they would like to do. And for many of them, it took several years before they reached the job they wanted. All of them advised choosing a career based on your interests and deep passions. Several of the speakers who had chosen careers outside of academia mentioned how it can sometimes feel like you waste your degree if you don’t stay in academia. However, the speakers all felt they had gained many transferable skills during their degrees which they definitely still applied to their work now. Throughout their talks, all speakers emphasised the importance of networking.

After the six talks, Sally Todd from the Cambridge University Career Service provided an overview of all services the university provides: ranging from practice interviews and CV writing to help you choose your career area.

A speed networking session with refreshments followed after the talks. All participants were given the opportunity to engage with the speakers. Since many of the speakers had mentioned how building a network had been crucial to developing their career, a network session to put this into practice was very useful.

Meeting people who might be able to alert you to a new job advert or recommend you for a new position is crucial for any career path you may choose!!

The event highlighted that there is a broad variety of jobs available for neuroscientists and with so many opportunities in our field everyone can find a career path which is right for them.


Article by Heleen van ‘t Spijker – CamBRAIN Junior Treasurer




A Meeting to Remember: The BNA Festival of Neuroscience 2017

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bnaThe British Neuroscience Association (BNA) Festival of Neuroscience is a fascinating biannual event which aims at bringing together neuroscientists from all over the UK (and the world!) to share ideas, celebrate recent successes in the field and to meet others who are equally excited about the future of neuroscience. With more than 1500 delegates, 750 posters, over 40 seminars and symposiums spanning across 12 diverse themes and 60 exhibitors, the BNA Festival of Neuroscience 2017 was one of the largest international neuroscience meetings in Europe this year.

The BNA Festival of Neuroscience 2017 took place in Birmingham from the 10th – 14th April at the glamorous International Convention Centre located in the heart of what felt like a lively and friendly city. As usual, there was a strong Cambridge presence at the festival with numerous attendees, speakers and presenters affiliated with the University of Cambridge as well as a number of companies and organisations based in Cambridge.


2The programme of the BNA Festival of Neuroscience 2017 was extremely diverse and dynamic – there was a little something for everyone who attended. Delegates could choose to take part in various symposiums, plenary talks, public engagement sessions and lectures, career speed networking events, poster presentations, social events and exhibitions. It is hardly possible to describe in so few lines all the fascinating events I managed to be part of during these four days, but here is an overview of some of the highlights for me from BNA2017.


The day started with a session on spinal motor control where some cutting-edge research was presented. Of particular interest was a talk by Dr Ronaldo Ichiyama from the University of Leeds who shed new light on the timing of epidural stimulation, rehabilitation and drug treatment after spinal cord injury. He claimed that in contrast to previous beliefs that these therapies should be administered simultaneously, the best functional outcomes are achieved when there is an interval of several weeks in between.

The talks were followed by a poster session where there was a variety of posters from presenting a novel zebrafish model of autism spectrum disorders, through describing the role of microglial activation in Alzheimer’s disease to finding a novel marker for religious beliefs.

The exhibition was also of top quality with a variety of exhibitors from all over the UK and the world – some of them had tempting offers especially for the delegates and exciting competitions. I even managed to win myself a little fluffy devil from Miltenyi Biotec named Den Dritic.

The official opening of the conference, as well as a rather intriguing introduction to the first plenary speaker, was given by the BNA’s President – Prof. John Aggleton. Prof. Masud Husain – an outstanding researcher from the University of Oxford brought us up to date with the most current research on the topic of how memory, attention and motivation link together and how this link is disrupted in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The first day of the festival ended with a welcome reception where the CamBRAIN (Veselina Petrova) and Cortex Club (Samuel Picard) Presidents exchanged some ideas and inspirations for future events.


Day 2 of the BNA Festival of Neuroscience 2017 had a strong Cambridge presence. The day started with a session entitled “Old brains, new insights” where two researchers –

Karen Campbell (currently at Brock University, previously in Prof. James Rowe’s lab) and Kamen Tsvetanov (a post-doctoral researcher in Prof. James Rowe’s lab at Addenbrookes) showed fascinating fMRI studies on the CamCAN cohort of 3000 people aged between 18 and 88. Karen provided evidence that the functional strengthening between brain networks declines in old vs. young participants using a natural viewing task which tested attention, memory and emotion. Kamen spoke of the different profile older brains show on fMRI scans compared to young brains and described a novel model of accounting for vascular effects when analysing these results.

This session was followed by yet another outstanding Cambridge researcher’s plenary lecture – Prof. Andrea Brand from the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. Prof. Brand presented some exciting research on how neural stem cells can be awoken by nutrition in adult Drosophila model with the participation of a gene unsurprisingly named Tribbles for the fans of Star Trek.

In the breaks between sessions researchers and exhibitors could admire some intriguing pieces of neuroscience art by artist Rebecca Ivatts who paints the human brain in its various different states. The next session for the day was the President Symposium which aimed at familiarising the audience with the latest Wellcome Trust and EEF-funded projects on neuroscience-informed education. All these projects aim at improving students’ school experience at several hundred schools across the UK by implementing the latest neuroscience research such as the effects of exercise on the cognition, the reward pathways in competition-based tasks, etc in the school curriculum. The session was extremely inspiring as one could see a real example of neuroscience research directly being used to improve people’s lives.

The second plenary lecture of the day was given by Prof. Graham Collingridgea winner of the 2016 Brain Prize who played a pioneering role in understanding the molecular basis of LTP and its role in learning and memory by studying the hippocampal circuitry.

Probably the most memorable event of the day for me, however, was the public lecture given by Paul Howard-Jones, a well-known figure from the famous TV show “The secret life of 4, 5 and 6 year olds”, a Professor of Neuroscience and Education at the University of Bristol and “a former earlgray addict” as he described himself. Paul gave a fascinating talk about how neuroscience plays an indispensible role in education and about some of the misconceptions of neuroscience research in teaching.


Day 3 started with a rather interesting careers workshop called “Beyond Academe”. There we had the opportunity to hear the inspiring stories, unexpected twists and turns as well as the motivation of several neuroscientists who have gone on to work in various different fields. Among the presenters were Victoria Gill (BBC Presenter), Gary Gilmour (Senior Research Scientist at Eli Lilly), Lucy Foss (Team Manager, Wellcome Trust), Natasha Bray (Associate Editor at Nature Reviews Neuroscience) and Erica Smith (Preclinical Scientist at Imanova). All talks had two overriding messages – one was that you can still have intricate contact with science even outside of the traditional academic path and the second one was that switching fields of expertise is not uncommon today as long as in the end of the day you end up in a happy, fulfilling position which satisfies your drive and your thirst for knowledge. The morning symposia were followed by a plenary lecture given by Alon Chen outlining some of the stress pathway mechanisms using optogenetics.

However, undoubtedly the most memorable and inspiring event for me for the day and probably for the whole festival was the second plenary lecture given by Prof. May-Britt Moser. May-Britt was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine together with Edvard Moser and John O’Keefe for discovering the cells in our brains which form a spatial map of our surroundings – place cells and grid cells. As described by John Aggleton in his introduction, May-Britt is someone with unstoppable enthusiasm, being able to ask simple but important questions and someone who is willing to go an extra mile in order to answer these questions. Indeed, all these qualities came through May-Britt’s talk – the research she presented was so logical and the ease she explained complex concepts with was astonishing. I did indeed ask myself “How did not anyone think to do this in the past?” and at the same time I knew that the answer lies in the fact that in order to do “big science” you need to be open-minded and see things from a different perspective which is exactly what May-Britt did. For me, this lecture was not only an inspiration but an eye-opener to the kind of science I would like to conduct in the future – selfless, intriguing, logical and most of all inspiring to others


The last day of the BNA2017 was rather extraordinary. The day started with a symposium on “Breaking Neuroscience” in which we had once again a strong Cambridge presence – Dr David Belin presented some exciting research he recently conducted in collaboration with Prof. Barry Everitt revealing some of the brain pathways involved in addiction through the use of a rodent model of cocaine self-administration.

The last workshop of the conference was a rather touching and a personal one. It was named “Neuroscience Post-Brexit”. As an EU scientist in the UK, I still have many questions unanswered about the future of my career in this country and so did many others who attended the workshop. However, this workshop was not about answering questions – it was about sharing experiences, thinking of ways how we can counteract the consequences of Brexit and what we as individuals could do to make sure that cutting-edge science continues to be carried out in Britain even if there are some barriers to it.

The closing part of the BNA2017 started with presenting the awards for best posters among two categories – student award and young investigator award. The award ceremony was followed by a fascinating lecture by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore describing how adolescence is an extremely sensitive period of brain development and how some external pressures such as peer pressure can have a major effect on behaviour and health.

In a nutshell, BNA2017 did not fail to arouse my fellow neuroscientific curiosity for yet another year! Inspiration, cutting-edge science, laughter, friendly faces and an endless sea of knowledge – this is what the BNA was for me this year. I cannot wait for BNA2019, hello Dublin!

Article by Veselina Petrova – CamBRAIN President

Successful careers event organised by CamBRAIN.

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CamBRAIN president Sally Jennings opening the event

After getting a degree in neuroscience, there are many exciting career options available to you. Some people choose to stay in academia, while others may want to explore jobs in industry, science communication, or policy. A science degree is highly valued in a variety of sectors and companies, which can be easily forgotten by graduates. Therefore, CamBRAIN – The Cambridge Neuroscience Society organised a careers event on Monday 25th April. They invited professionals from a wide range of companies to speak about their current employer, role, and career progression.

The first speaker was Dr Deniz Vatansever, who recently started a post-doc at the University of York after completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge. While at Cambridge, he was involved in founding CamBRAIN and served as the first president of the society. He spoke about many unsuccessful applications during his career and stressed the importance of being persistent – he got where he is by “a combination of luck and hard work”. Read the rest of this entry »

Outstanding Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar 2016

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Once again, Cambridge Neuroscience put on a highly interactive and successful symposium to showcase cutting-edge research. This year’s theme was “New Directions” and the delegates truly gained insights into new, innovative studies. The meeting was opened by Professor Bill Harris, head of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. He thanked the seminar organisers, and especially Dr Dervila Glynn, for their hard work, and promised an exciting day of talks and posters.

Photo: Sally Jennings
Photo: Sally Jennings

The first presenter was Dr Rick Livesey who explained how the human cerebral cortex develops differently from other primates and mammals to contain more cortical neurons. This higher number of neurons is thought to be one of the reasons for our higher cognitive abilities. Next, Dr Lucy Cheke presented a new way of measuring memory in humans. She and her colleagues have developed an innovative spatial working memory task which was used to assess memory in obese subjects. They found that a higher BMI was correlated with impairments in memory, offering new insights into the relationship of eating behaviour and cognition. The final speaker of the first session was Dr Tiago Branco, who investigates instinctive behaviours. His research focuses on mice and their eating behaviour in threatening environments. Dr Branco explained how mice compute the decision to eat or escape in such environments. Read the rest of this entry »

Very successful ‘Imaging the Nervous System’ Symposium

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The biennial Cambridge Neuroscience Symposium attracts neuroscientists from within and well beyond Cambridge. This year the theme was ‘Imaging the Nervous System’. The programme brought together a wide range of techniques to visualise and better understand the processes underlying everything from the intra-cellular RNA expression to the behaviour of nematodes and the development of human psychopathology. The event was attended by 400 delegates and featured 25 research talks and over 90 research posters. The symposium was opened by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.

Day one focused on recent advances in fundamental neuroscience. Every presenter, as you may expect, showed off his or her exceptional images of the nervous system at the microscopic scale. The first session, chaired by Professor Bill Harris, kicked off with a discussion of how neuronal circuits evolve, from those in the hippocampus and amygdala of zebra fish (Kawakami), to the Drosophilia fruit fly (Cardona) and the stunning brainbow mice (Livet). This work was thrown into perspective by Professor Helmstaedter whose video of neurons imaged using electron microscopy reminded us how densely packed the cells of the central nervous system actually are. His talk promoted the “citizen science” games BrainFlight and Eyewire that have made tracking the exceptionally high volume of data that has been collected a fun game that anyone can take part in solving.

PhotosINS-2. Read the rest of this entry »

The British Neuroscience Association’s Festival of Neuroscience 2015

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The British Neuroscience Association (BNA) recently celebrated its fiftieth year by organising a ‘Festival of Neuroscience’, in Edinburgh: 12th – 15th April 2015. Over 1600 delegates attended the event, from various disciplines of neuroscience research, their interests spanning from the pharmacological to the psychological.

Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry presenting their posters at the BNA2015: Festival of Neuroscience The researchers pictured are: Tiina Annus, Madeleine Walpert andAlexandra Lautarescu (L-R, clockwise). Aude Belin-Rauscent, from the Department of Pharmacology was awarded the runner up Post Doctoral poster prize (800 posters submitted) with her work entitled: The amygdala plays in stereo to recruit the ventral-to-dorsal striatal transitions in the control over cocaine seeking habits
Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry presenting their posters at the BNA2015: Festival of Neuroscience The researchers pictured are: Tiina Annus, Madeleine Walpert andAlexandra Lautarescu (L-R, clockwise).
Aude Belin-Rauscent, from the Department of Pharmacology was awarded the runner up Post Doctoral poster prize (800 posters submitted) with her work entitled: The amygdala plays in stereo to recruit the ventral-to-dorsal striatal transitions in the control over cocaine seeking habits

The BNA2015: Festival of Neuroscience showcased some of the best neuroscience research currently being undertaken in the UK and internationally in an extensive four-day programme of: eight plenary lectures; fifty symposia sessions, each composed of four speakers; four workshops; 800 poster-presentations and two public lectures. The public lectures were particular highlights of the conference:

Professor David Nutt (Imperial College London) discussed “Why Scotland should lead the neuroscientific enlightenment?”in terms of changes to drug policy.

Dr Adrian Owen (University of Western Ontario, Canada) spoke about The search for consciousness: Detecting awareness in the vegetative state.”

The BNA2015: Festival of Neuroscience was attended by 96 delegates from the University of Cambridge, many of which were students from the Department of Psychiatry who gave poster presentations.

Liam Wilson, PhD Student in the Department of Psychiatry, reflected on his experiences of the BNA2015: Festival of Neuroscience ” A huge strength of this conference is the breadth of symposium topics that are available, and that of the plenary lectures as well. It’s great to be able to find out about the latest advancements in the particular field you are working in, but at the same time to be able to attend talks that are perhaps not directly related to your work but are extremely interesting and given by people who are world leaders in their field, or indeed, Nobel laureates! But if I had to pick one particular event that I enjoyed at this year’s festival, it would have to be the careers in neuroscience speed-dating event. It was fantastic to get advice about how to advance in a neuroscience career from professionals and prolific researchers who have seen and done it all.” 

Adapted from Psychiatry News. Photocredit: BNASally Jennings, and Madeleine Walpert.