Wednesday, 7 October 2009


After what has felt at times like the longest of all summers, October has arrived, and with it my opportunity to embark upon a Master of Science degree.

This has been more than a little daunting, and I must admit that to many it is probably also pretty surprising (with good reason).

Here is, then, a little background information about me, and I promise that after this entry I will stick to detailing my experiences of the course, the field of cognitive neuroscience, and try and express what I am learning in easily digestible chunks. But for now, the autobiography commences:

When I was at school I was always what could be considered an 'under-performer'. Although many teachers over the years noted that I was pretty bright, this observation was almost universally followed up with an immediate 'but'. Typically my school reports would highlight the fact that if a subject did not capture my imagination I just wouldn't bother. Conversely, if it did capture my over-active imagination then I would invariably achieve very highly. In an ideal world this should not present a problem, but god knows a good teacher is hard to find, let alone one who will infuse each and every lesson with a spark of excitement and passion, meaning that more often than not my work failed to live up to my potential.

Not that I should attempt to absolve myself of blame absolutely, more often than not I was more than happy to let myself coast, often only expelling the bare minimum effort needed to scrape by with a moderately acceptable grade. Consequently I did just fine. Nothing great, but enough to ensure that the only way in which my memory would live on in my old school will be in the tales passed down the years about my childish and troublesome, albeit somewhat amusing behaviour (details about which are probably best left for another forum).

Anyway, I left school as the nineties turned into the naughties, and after a very uneventful gap year I enrolled, hated, and subsequently dropped out of a drama degree, all within the space of a term. While away I had become quite depressed which put me off academia for quite some time. This left a substantial gulf in my life, which I filled with a job working in a bar, and I was soon climbing up the rungs of a career ladder I had no real desire to be climbing, with promotion to bar supervisor and the offer of a place on a management training scheme. Four years passed, stuck serving the same old drinks behind the same old bar to the same old idiots, and it was becoming depressingly clear that I had no idea what to do next.

The trouble with bar work is it does not afford you much time to research career prospects - particularly when you have none. The combination of long hours (15 hour shifts, anyone?) late finishes and working all weekend meant I had little time to consider my options, let alone draw up a strategy for how to act on them. So I took some time out. I saved up as much money as I could muster and jetted off to New York City. For 3 months.

Finally, a chance to clear my mind of distractions, and to give some real thought as to what I would enjoy doing, and to what I would be particularly skilled at doing (oh, and to have some much needed fun in one of the best cities in the world!).

The result (drum roll please.....) I decided I wanted to become a hypnotherapist. Only I didn't, I just didn't yet know that I did not want it.

Anyway, to cut what was supposed to have been a short story at least relatively short, logic dictated that a psychology degree would be a good springboard for such an aspiration, and so I picked a London university at random, ending up at St Mary's University College in Twickenham.

To be fair to St Mary's, it was a very small campus, and therefore had very limited facilities. The psychology department was great, with some wonderful academic staff, but looking back the university itself wasn't great, and I didn't really fit in to university life on a campus that was primarily sports based. But, as you know by now, I didn't have the best set of A-levels, so I just had to work bloody hard to make up for all those years of slacking, and emerged in the summer of 2008 with a first class honours degree.

As you will know, the summer of 2008 also coincided with the start of a global recession, which rather buggered my employment prospects, but after six months on unemployment benefit I took a job in a medium-secure psychiatric hospital, giving me some great entry level clinical experience. Some good news, finally! Good news which was followed by some further good news, Goldsmiths College wanted me for their Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience MSc! As great as this sounded, I had my sights set on UCL, and the amazing course they had to offer.

The months rolled by and UCL remained silent, while I remained at the psychiatric hospital (still as staff, I might add) until, eventually, I was accepted onto my dream course.

And we arrive back at the never-ending summer, which has now ended. I am here. Studying at one of the top 5 universities in the country, and one of the top 10 in the world. On one of the top 3 neuroscience courses on the planet. Perhaps now you can see why I started off by saying I was a little daunted by the whole experience.

Now the history is out of the way, I can begin the exciting stuff, the reason I am here in the first place. Cognitive Neuroscience. The biological underpinnings of mental activity. Or something like that, at any rate. I will endeavour to keep this blog updated with my experiences over the next 12 months, and try to translate what I have learnt (well, the interesting bits at any rate) into plain English.

And I hope that you will enjoy reading it.

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