Tereza Ruzickova is a PhD Student in the Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Lab (PERL). She completed her undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology at Oxford. During her undergraduate degree, she founded a non-profit organisation which now works with over 70 volunteers to improve mental health awareness in Czech schools.
Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?
I come from the Czech Republic where all psychological treatments are generally seen as equal. They are not evaluated on the basis of quantitative evidence. I was attracted to the undergraduate course at Oxford because of its evidence-based approach. I wanted to reconcile the perspectives on mental health treatment that I know from my home country, the UK and from continental Europe. During my undergraduate studies, I interned at the PERL lab and loved it. It’s a really fun lab, doing impactful research on depression treatment, so I decided to stay there for my PhD as well.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?
I am interested in why different treatments work better for different people, especially when it comes to deciding between the pharmacological and psychotherapeutic routes, or a combination of the two. I feel like our mechanistic understanding of this could be much better and I enjoy the combination of neurobiological and cognitive-behavioural insights that this work requires. In my PhD I’m researching what happens when you combine antidepressant drugs with behavioural activation therapy, based on the hypothesis that drugs might be changing someone’s emotional learning about the world and might thus work better if that person was exposed to a richer environment (e.g. through hobbies or social activities), even when they don’t feel motivated for it.
What is currently at the top of your to-do list?
Recruiting participants with low mood, organising work for our research assistants, reading interesting papers to inform the design of our next experiment. I would also like to finally unpack from my recent conference trip and tidy-up!
How did you get to where you are today?
When I was 16 I got into a scholarship programme for students from post-communist countries to study in the UK. There I lived in a boarding house with a wonderful academic family who greatly encouraged me to apply to Oxford, which I would have never considered previously. Thanks to their support and to generous Czech academic scholarships, I ended up studying there and gaining a whole new perspective on psychology. Mental health awareness in the UK was so much better than at home and it inspired me to start the first Czech mental health campaign, which eventually turned into a bigger non-profit organisation thanks to the amazing work of my colleagues. Mental health is such a neglected area within our society and I have seen the impact of poor mental health on many people around me as well as on myself, so I think I’ll have a lifelong motivation for this kind of work.
Who or what inspires you?
My supervisors Cath and Susie (as well as the rest of our lab) inspire me in their accomplishments and in how present and uplifting they are at every research meeting, which makes my PhD so much easier. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the only person who ever got me properly interested in politics. Brene Brown and her research inspires me not to be afraid to talk about stigmatised topics. And I am really inspired by the UK IAPT system and I’d love to see (and be part of) similar efforts to expand mental health care in other parts of the world.
If you were not in Your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
I would possibly be continuing with the non-profit work or training to become a psychotherapist. I am also a keen dancer and a part of me has always wanted to pursue that full time, so who knows!