Flexible Supplement Award Impact Statements

Impact Statements

The Flexible Supplement Fund can be used to fund a variety of training opportunities, ranging from high-cost skills training to laboratory visits abroad. We collect impact statements from all awardees to demonstrate the breadth of it’s use and how it can be used to support research and training activities; below you can read a sample of how MRC funded students have benefitted from the funding opportunity.

James Findon – Awarded May 2017

Internships & Placements

“I have increased my professional network and opened avenues for future collaborations.”

The MRC flexible supplement award funding was used to cover my stipend payments for three months, allowing me to complete a placement at the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Brunel University.

During this placement, I was involved in the design, piloting and analysis of two EEG studies. I also worked on creating analysis pipelines and reviewing manuscripts from previous studies.

One of the reasons I applied for placement was to learn functional connectivity analysis, in order to analyse and publish data collected in my PhD study. After completing this placement, I am now confident in analysing this data. I also learnt additional analysis techniques such as event-related desynchronization analysis and time-frequency analysis.

In addition to these impacts on my training, this placement has helped develop my study design skills, analysis pipeline skills and team work skills. It also gave me an opportunity to apply my skills to a new field of study (i.e, sport and brain injury).

It was also fascinating to work in a multidisciplinary team during the research design process. The lab had a very open approach to study design, which allowed multiple members of the lab to contribute thoughts and ideas to the study. This approach, although more time-consuming at points, ultimately generated very high-quality research designs.

My contribution to the lab has resulted in me being including on the authorship of two peer-reviewed papers (in review). I have increased my professional network and opened avenues for future collaborations.

Tayyabah Yousaf – Awarded October 2017

High Cost Training

“The Brain Connectivity Methods course provided me with essential skills and understanding of how to analyse neuroimaging data in a cutting-edge way”

The incredibly generous MRC Flexible supplement award has enabled me with the opportunity to attend three incredibly valuable courses that have helped my development. By attending these training courses, I had the opportunity to learn new techniques and neuroimaging analysis methodologies that I wouldn’t have been able to do without this award. By attending the two genetic courses, I was able to acquire a fundamental understanding of how genetic sequences and DNA methylation could be analysed, which is something I would like to implement in my PhD when we acquire genetic data. The courses have also provided some great material that I have been able to look back at to refresh my memory.

The Brain Connectivity Methods course provided me with essential skills and understanding of how to analyse neuroimaging data in a cutting-edge way. This course gave me an exciting insight into brain network analysis, that I have been able to apply to my data. The methodologies outlined by the course have been incredibly useful for my PhD, as my data is now being analysed in an innovative way, which has allowed me to extract additional information from my data that I may not have been able to extract before.

Overall, the MRC Flexible Supplement Award has been indispensable for my development and for the progression of my PhD.

Musa Sami – Awarded May 2018

High Cost Training

“The impact of these courses has been tremendous.”

In the last funding round for the Flexible Supplement Fund I was funded to attend the Human Connectome Project course (Oxford, June 2018) and the European Summer School on Eye Movements (Bonn, September 2018). Additionally the allowance allowed me to stay a further week in Bonn to undertake analysis on my eye movement data under the guidance of my collaborator Professor Ulrich Ettinger.

The impact of these courses has been tremendous. The Human Connectome Project is a multifaceted, multimodal project. It was highly relevant both for those who use HCP data as well as conceptual understanding relevant to future projects. Crucial concepts in the field related to the HCP approach such as ‘myelin-mapping’, surface based parcellation and the greyordinate system and the need for acquiring high-resolution sub millimetre structural imaging and resting state data were covered on the course. Many of these concepts were directly relevant to my current analysis and further it is highly likely I will be working with HCP datasets in the future.

Similarly ESSEM was particularly eye-opening in terms of the techniques and potential of using eye-movement data. Of particular interest to me was specific workshops convened on psychiatric and neurological disorders, but the eye-movement field brings together multi-disciplinary researchers including medics, psychologists, economists and even marketeers. The further time I had to spend in Professer Ettinger’s laboratory allowed me to analyse and interpret my data in conjunction with an international expert. There are some very interesting findings from this body of work which will hopefully be making their way to press very soon.

Finally I wish to record my appreciation to MRC and those administering the Flexible Supplement Fund for making these opportunities available to me as they have greatly contributed to my development in my field of study.

Sophie Carruthers – Awarded May 2017

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“I would not be able to lead coordination of these efforts if it wasn’t for the training I received.”

I used the funding to take up a unique opportunity to visit Professor Catherine Lord and her team at the Centre for Autism and the Developing Brain in New York. The purpose of the visit was to spend two weeks being trained in two observational measures of autism that the team have developed; the Brief Observation of Social and Communication Change (BOSCC) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). The measures form the primary and key secondary measures in the Paediatric Autism Communication Trial-Generalised (PACT-G), the multi-site autism intervention trial to which my PhD is connected.

The BOSCC and ADOS are central to my PhD and as a result of receiving training of such a high quality, along with learning from the developing team’s insight, I have been allocated the role of lead BOSCC coder in the PACT-G study. This will see me coordinate a team of 16 coders scoring almost 2000 videos over a 2 year period. In addition, I will be administering both the BOSCC and the ADOS with many children throughout the trial during the research assessments. At least three chapters of my PhD will be focusing on different analyses with the BOSCC and ADOS across two different trials to inform their continued development and to ask novel questions about consistency and generalisation of behaviour for these children across different contexts. Finally, we will be adapting the original BOSCC for use with a different age range of children, children with more language and for use with teachers as the play partners; contexts that have not previously been used with the measure. Such analyses and adaptation are requiring a comprehensive knowledge of the measure and I would not be able to lead coordination of these efforts if it wasn’t for the training I received.

Alastair Kirby – Awarded October 2017

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“These skills will enable me to facilitate the translation of basic science from the laboratory to the neurosurgical operating room”

‘The MRC DTP flexible fund allowed me to attend the London Neuro-monitoring and mapping course, which covered the electrophysiological techniques used to record brain function during neurosurgery. This has greatly enhanced my understanding of clinical electrophysiology, in both the practice aspects of these techniques and the challenges associated with them. This knowledge has been important in building the foundations of my PhD, for both collaborating with neurosurgery and analysing data collected during the operation. These skills will enable me to facilitate the translation of basic science from the laboratory to the neurosurgical operating room.’

Evangelia Semizoglou – Awarded May 2017

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“through the technical experience that I gained, I will be able to establish new techniques in my lab and answer complex questions of my PhD project.”

‘In September 2017, I participated in the Ion Channel Cajal Advanced Neuroscience Training Programme, hosted by the University of Bordeaux.  The duration of the course was 20 days and two projects were assigned to all participants. The students worked under the guidance of an academic or an industrial instructor. Upon the completion of each study, the results were presented to the participants and instructors. Participating in an intense ion channel training programme, was a great opportunity for me to be introduced to state-of-the-art electrophysiological techniques, by experts of the field.

During my first project assignment, I had the opportunity to be trained in automated single channel recordings on lipid bilayers. Through this project, I gained experience in biophysical studies and electrophysiological recordings of ion channels that are localized in artificial lipid bilayers, which resemble the cell membrane structure. The obtained knowledge will be applied in the electrophysiological experiments that will be initiated for my PhD thesis. My second project focused on the consequences of optogenetic manipulation of serotonergic neurons in the raphe magnus, on the spinal descending pathway. I was trained in mouse intracranial injections of Adeno-associated viral vectors, behavioural tests and in vivo electrophysiological recordings of spinal wide range neurons, while stimulating the raphe magnus neurons optogenetically. The experience in mice handling and in vivo electrophysiological recordings is of major importance to my PhD thesis because my future experiments will be based on animal behaviour and imaging of calcium signals in vivo in DRG neurons.

To conclude, I would like to thank the MRC for supporting my participation in such a rewarding training programme because through the technical experience that I gained, I will be able to establish new techniques in my lab and answer complex questions of my PhD project.’

Patricia Fonseca Pedro – Awarded April 2018

High Cost Training

“It has equipped me with the tools to properly explore my samples and obtain more accurate data from them”


My PhD project focuses on the manipulation of endocrine cells from the intestine epithelium to treat diabetes and obesity. For this purpose, I use intestinal organoids due to their reliability and accuracy in mimicking the intestinal cell populations. My focus is on understanding and ultimately controlling cell fate in the intestinal epithelium to generate more of specific hormone-producing cells that are essential for glucose homeostasis and food consumption.

My model, being a 3D system, requires more precise and state-of-the art visualisation tools than 2D cell cultures. The flexible supplement allowed me to be immersed in the details of fluorescence microscopy and 3D imaging in the prestigious European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. The seminars were comprehensive and provided me with information from the basics to advanced physics concepts. This allowed me to understand how to improve my image acquisition in the practical imaging workshops. The practical training, among other methods, included time-lapse imaging of live models, i.e. growth of zebrafish embryos as well as using techniques such as FRAP in epithelial cells.

Overall, this training opportunity has provided a good foundation for 3D image acquisition as well as fomenting the interest in 2D techniques that might be adaptable to 3D models. It has equipped me with the tools to properly explore my samples and obtain more accurate data from them.

This funding allowed me to expand the limits of my research and it constitutes a valuable tool for the development of my career.

Lucie Burgess- Awarded October 2018

High Cost Training

“These tools are highly relevant to my PhD research”

I was awarded funding to attend the GIS for Public Health course held by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London. I spent a week at the St. Mary’s Paddington site in July 2018, learning how to use advanced geospatial techniques for assessing environmental exposures and mapping patterns of disease, using the ArcGIS mapping software. I learnt how to develop exposure proxies when limited data are available; exposure assessment techniques, such as postcode weighting; health risk assessment, such as calculations of attributable risk; geocoding and proximity analysis, such as assessment of exposure to traffic-related air pollution; network analysis, such as exposure along a road network; and an introduction to the PostGres SQL database spatial extension. Most excitingly, I learnt how to communicate stories through maps and create professional visualisations that can enhance the understanding of my research. These tools are highly relevant to my PhD research as part of the Urban Mind project which aims to measure, model, understand and map the relationship between mental health and polyenvironmic sources of risk in the built and social urban environment. In particular, I learnt about spatial interpolation techniques including kriging and inverse distance weighting which I plan to use to develop a generative map of mental health in London, using the Urban Mind data interpolated to unsampled locations. The course was also a valuable networking opportunity, with participants mapping public health all over the world including Rwanda, India, Indonesia, the US and Europe. I am grateful to the MRC for funding specialist training at one of the world’s leading institutes which has inspired new directions in my PhD.