Angharad de Cates is a Wellcome Trust Clinical Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry working in the Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory (PERL) with Professor Catherine Harmer and colleagues, and an Honorary Speciality Registrar for Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Tell us a little about yourself, and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?
I joined the department in 2018 as a DPhil student on the Wellcome Trust Doctoral Fellowship Scheme for Clinicians. Before that, I was an academic foundation and then a psychiatry trainee in Birmingham & completed an MSc at Warwick. However, Oxford is my original home – I was a medical student here for most of the 2000s, and decided I wanted to be a psychiatrist during a brilliant Community Adult Psychiatry attachment in Henley. Once I knew what research I wanted to do, I came back to work in the fantastic PERL with Catherine Harmer, Susannah Murphy and Phil Cowen. For my DPhil, I’m looking at agonists that work at a particular serotonin receptor (5-HT4) and whether we can translate the benefits that we see in animals in terms of cognition and emotional processing into humans. I also co-chair the Family Friendly and Part-Time Athena SWAN Working Group, and sit on the Self-Assessment Team (SAT) for the department.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?
I’m very lucky – Oxford and Wellcome have been incredibly supportive and I have been able to spread out my funding over a longer period of time, so I still have around another year to go before submission. So far, we’ve been able to show that a specific 5-HT4 agonist, prucalopride, seems to boost cognition in humans. Our recent press release achieved some very interesting media headlines! Our next steps are to try and delineate which areas of cognition are affected, to further our understanding mechanistically of how this may be happening; and to determine if we see similar effects in clinical or at risk groups, such as those suffering with depression either now or in the past.
For the longer-term, I’m hoping to keep researching into neurocognitive impairments across different psychiatric disorders – thinking about how these emerge, what impact they have for patients in terms of their disease and functioning, and how we can perhaps treat them.
What is currently at the top of your To-Do List?
Getting to the bottom of a particularly tricky bit of resting state imaging analysis! I’m also starting to recruit for a new study looking at the effect of prucalopride on cognition in people who have had depression in the past, so there’s quite a bit of work to get that up and running, alongside finishing the RESTAND and RESTART studies that are (COVID-willing) nearing the end of recruitment – mostly due to the fantastic team involved who have persisted despite the pandemic.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve had so many lovely people in my working life, both peers and mentors, who have celebrated with me on good days and encouraged me to keep going on bad days. I’ve been part-time for most of the last decade and so there’s lots of career ahead of me, but life is all about the journey rather than the destination.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m not sure I can pin that down to one person: my mother, my other half, my academic and clinical colleagues, all inspire me in different ways and in different facets of my life. I think that’s the amazing thing about being an academic psychiatrist – you can wear a lot of hats!
If you were not in your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
In my other life I would have been a musician – probably my only regret at the moment is that life is too busy to do much music! But at least now, thanks to my children, my instruments are out and being used rather than hidden under various beds, even if it’s only to support their practice. I know I made the right choice with my career – it’s nice to keep your hobby and your job as two separate entities.