Meet the MIC: Jay Hall
Jay is a postgraduate student at Newcastle University. Jay joined the MIC team in 2022 as part of her master’s degree in neuroscience. Her dissertation focused on understanding the diagnosis of depression and bipolar disorder. Jay is continuing this research through a PhD project. For World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, Jay discusses her research and her interest in this area.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and why you are interested in neuroscience and mental health research?
I think my interest in neuroscience stems from an interest in psychology. When I was 17, I read a book about neuroplasticity, which was all about how the brain could change itself. That really sparked my interest.
I studied for an undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at Newcastle University, which I really enjoyed. From the start I knew that I liked neuroscience the most, which confirmed my interest in this area.
I also really enjoyed the research aspects of the degree. During my lifetime I feel that the subject of mental health has been talked about more. So, I chose to do my master’s degree in neuroscience so I could do research in this area. I am really interested in why people are the way they are, what happens when people face mental health difficulties and how they can overcome these challenges. I am still very interested in psychology too. In fact, I am studying for a master’s degree in psychology, part-time, alongside my PhD.
What does your research focus on and why is this area of research important?
My PhD is based around diagnosis and is funded by the NIHR Newcastle MIC, NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR Applied Research Collaboration for the North East and North Cumbria. Specifically, my PhD aims to improve the diagnostic process for people with depression and bipolar disorder through identifying emerging techniques and understanding unmet needs.
I am conducting a systematic review to extract and interpret data from published research on this topic. I have also been spending time at the Regional Affective Disorders Service (RADS) in Newcastle. This specialist service provides care for patients with difficult to treat mood disorders. I have observed first time appointments with patients when they discuss their history, the treatments they are on, and the diagnosis they have. I have also been attending meetings where different psychiatrists discuss the patients they have seen in the week and make decisions about what to do next for the patients. Later in my studies I am also planning to interview clinicians and patients to understand even more about the process for diagnosing depression and bipolar disorder and how it could be improved.
What have you enjoyed the most about your PhD so far?
It is nice to focus on one area that I have chosen and study it in depth every day to learn more and more. I have also really enjoyed visiting the RADS, seeing psychiatrists at work and understanding how they make their clinical decisions.
What have been the challenges and how have you overcome them?
Undertaking the part-time master’s degree at the same time as my PhD is quite challenging but they really complement each other. For example, recently I chose to write an essay for my master’s degree on psychiatric diagnosis.
During my undergraduate degree I mainly developed lab-based research skills. At the MIC my research involves different skills so that has been the main challenge. For example, the first interviews I conducted were during my master’s project with the MIC. So, I do need to develop more skills for examining this type of data. But the MIC team are really helpful, and I have found some training courses that I can attend.
Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for students who are interested in undertaking a PhD?
I would encourage students to take the opportunities that come their way and do the best they can with them. I think it is also good to find what you are interested in and do as much research and get involved in as many things in that area as possible. Also, if you have your heart set on a particular career and you think the opportunity has gone, be open to going down a different path and taking an alternative route to get there!
Outside of your PhD, what are you looking forward to during the next few months?
I’ve got lots of concerts coming up. I’m seeing Taylor Swift, Maisie Peters, The Vaccines and Eric Clapton in the next few months! It’s taken me longer than I thought to get used to going back out to events since COVID. But now I’m excited to get back out and see lots of my favourite artists again, and enjoy the music scene!