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MSc student Brendan Sargent reflects on his experience at the Neuroscience Symposium last month and what he took away from the event.

Felicity Waite presenting at the Neuroscience Symposium
Brendan Sargent The 12th Annual Oxford Neuroscience Symposium was a great opportunity for everyone involved in neuroscience research across Oxford - from postgraduate students and early-career researchers to professors and department heads - to explore the cutting edge of the study of the brain. It was a fantastic day at the Mathematical Institute, with excellent talks and interesting discussion. 

Having been to several conferences over recent years, mostly clinically focussed, I was struck by two things during the jam-packed day: the translational nature of the work presented, and a strong sense of celebrating and showcasing the work taking place across Oxford.

It was exciting to see talks from a wide spectrum of academic areas within neuroscience, from animal model work to clinically focussed talks, and from proteomic and genomic research to population level research on huge collaborative datasets. This gave the audience a real sense that Oxford is an exceptional place to carry out this work, with the possibility of reaching across subfields’ typical boundaries and working with colleagues in other areas. Beyond that, it was interesting to see how different groups might attempt to tackle similar problems in different ways, offering potential to both improve diagnosis and treatment for patients, as well as approach answers to fundamental questions about the brain.

It really felt like a showcase of the breadth of Oxford’s neuroscience research

In this sense, it really felt like a showcase of the breadth of Oxford’s neuroscience research. This was also felt during the poster sessions. MSc students from the neuroscience and clinical neuroscience courses, as well as DPhil post-doctoral students, presented posters from a huge variety of research groups. It was really engaging to walk around and listen to both friends and individuals I had not met before discussing their projects. I overheard many challenging questions, and thoughtful discussions, and it was clear that everyone was passionate about their work.

Later in the day, during the rapid-fire talk session, I was really inspired by researchers with the ability to distil their area of interest (and clearly years of work!) into just 5 minutes. Talks such as on the encoding and differentiation of self-generated vs externally-generated sensory inputs, by Dr Jeffrey Stedehouder, were fascinating and generated much discussion amongst the audience.

As I have a clinical background, I was really excited by Associate Professor Sarah Floud’s presentation on the Million Women Study. She raised key points regarding unfounded assumptions we make about causative relationships from cohort studies; the long pre-clinical phase of dementias means that early features of pre-dementia states may be mistaken for risk factors. This teasing apart of sources of causation from those of reverse-causation was an interesting point of discussion, and an important consideration I will take forward into future work.

Other fantastic talks included Associate Professor Miriam Klein-Flugge’s exploration of neuroimaging markers of mental health. She discussed the importance of disorder heterogeneity and specific anatomical circuits in moving neuroimaging literature towards clinical applicability, and she was one of many speakers who made their subject material very accessible even for those not expert in the given area.

The Plenary Lecture on Prodromal Parkinson’s by Professor Michele Hu was a great way to end the day, bringing together an amazing amount of collaborative work to present the current state of the field, from improving identification of early Parkinson’s to evolving work on the glymphatic system. I came away excited by the work going on in Oxford, and keen to explore some of the concepts discussed in my own area. I am looking forward to next year’s symposium, and the opportunities to  continue to engage with researchers answering fundamental and translational questions in neuroscience.


Brendan Sargent is studying for an MSc in Clinical Neuroscience.


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