Flexible Supplement Award 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.

High Cost Training

Awarded 2021

Alix Hughes

High Cost Training

“These courses provided… …lifelong skills that I will be able to utilise throughout my whole career”

With the award of the MRC Flexible Supplement Fund I was able to attend two high cost training courses: NHS Phlebotomy Training and the International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry (ISAK) Level 1 Training Course.

My PhD is largely focused on collecting physiological data from participants, and correct blood sampling and measurement of body composition is a key component of my research. These courses provided an excellent background in important techniques required by many physiological researchers, and they are lifelong skills that I will be able to utilise throughout my whole career. The courses took place near the beginning of my PhD, allowing me important training opportunities and enhancing my knowledge during a key learning period. It also allowed me the opportunity to have input into protocol development for my study, as I had a better understanding of the application of these techniques.

These training courses have had a big impact on my PhD and my development as a physiologist. I am very grateful to the MRC for providing this funding opportunity, which has allowed me to grow as a scientist.

Awarded 2020

Paula Sureda Gibert

High Cost Training

“an invaluable tool for both my current PhD work and the development of my academic career”

With the award of the MRC Flexible Supplement I have been able to be part of the SYSMIC course: an online training platform focused on developing computing skills in bioresearch.

My PhD project is largely focused on gathering and measuring electrophysiological recordings in vivo, which generate large datasets containing complex amount of information. This course has allowed me to train with automated signal processing tools which aim to translate such complex datasets into biologically-relevant mathematical models. This opportunity also enhanced my understanding of key mathematical models and statistical analysis by use of various interfaces, including MATLAB and Python. Given my background in Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, I thus hope to continue apply these mathematical concepts to build new models on brain imaging data and correlate both electrophysiological and imaging networks.

I would like to thank the MRC for their support through this fund, as it has provided me with an invaluable tool for both my current PhD work and the development of my academic career.

Awarded 2020

Ruth Dickenson

High Cost Training

“The experience has provided me with skills, knowledge and professional connections”

My project aims to investigate the interaction between the intracellular pathogen Salmonella enterica and their hosts. I have been developing a high-throughput image acquisition and analysis pipeline that would enable me to carry out a comprehensive screen of host genes that may influence these infections.

Thanks to the funding from the MRC flexible supplement fund, at the start of 2020 I went to Paris to spend two weeks at the Pasteur Institute. I was working with a group led by Jost Enninga, whose lab develops tools to study intracellular bacterial infections. They trained me in several techniques so that I could use one of the reporters they had been developing that was, at the time, not yet published. The knowledge I acquired has enabled me to perform these experiments at King’s and has conferred the ability to investigate aspects of infection that I would otherwise be unable quantify. In addition, I was able to meet the developers of the image analysis software I had been using, Icy, as they also work at the Pasteur Institute. The opportunity to troubleshoot aspects of my analysis with them was invaluable and has given me a deeper understanding of the software, which has improved my subsequent work.

The experience has provided me with skills, knowledge and professional connections that have already helped greatly with my project, will improve my screen, and I believe will enhance the rest of my PhD experience.

Awarded 2019

Francesca Chaloner

High Cost Training

“this course allowed me to learn fundamental concepts”

I was awarded the MRC flexible supplement award funding to take part in the Sysmic course. This course teaches the mathematic and computational skills for use in biomedical research. This course progressed my understanding of computations models of neural activity, statistical analysis and mathematic concepts.

My background is in biology and physiology, I have rarely ventured into the world of mathematics. Currently, to develop and progress in neuroscience research, computational and mathematic skills are becoming increasing relevant. Thus, this course allowed me to learn fundamental concepts in order to apply them to my own research in my PhD. This will allow me to apply mathematical models to replicate the circuits that I investigate in the brain using phycological approaches. The ability to partake in both types of research provide deeper analyses and understanding of the concepts I am interested in.

The MRC, thanks to this funding, have provided me with an invaluable opportunity to develop my skills which would have otherwise not been possible.

Awarded 2019

Ryan Stanyard

High Cost Training

“This training has been incredibly useful”

During my MRes year, I applied for a small amount to cover the cost of Media Communications Training with the Royal Society of Biology. This training has been incredibly useful both for networking and exploring public engagement approaches which will be fundamental to outreach work I am keen to explore alongside my PhD. The session showcased communication problems with journalists, the adaptation of material for different audiences, how to not go into every nitty-gritty detail when speaking to the public, and many other helpful aspects of media training. I came away arguably better qualified, and with some ideas to tie into my work. This also coincides with some public engagement training I received (for free) within the EPSRC within St Thomas’, which really got me thinking about how to communicate what my work means to younger audiences.

Awarded 2019

David Mason

High Cost Training

“transferrable skills that will be invaluable for my progression through my PhD and beyond”

The MRC Flexible Supplement award is a great way to access training courses that will develop your research skills. I applied for the award to fund a place on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) training. The ADOS is both a clinical and research assessment, hence, being ADOS trained is a very valuable skillset in autism research.

By completing the ADOS is now have a much clearer understanding of how autism characteristics are assessed, and how these measures relate to other constructs whilst reading autism research papers. Moreover, the training develops your observational skills. This is useful within the context of assessing autism characteristics, but also generalises to other assessments that require observation.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID situation I have not yet been able to put this training directly into use. However, having completed this training meant I was then eligible to attend training for an adapted, online, version of the ADOS. So, despite not being able to carry out the ADOS face to face I have now completed additional training for administering an online assessment of autism characteristics. Without the background knowledge of the ADOS I would not have been able to access this additional training.

Overall, the MRC Flexible Supplement award has allowed me to access a new set of research and transferrable skills that will be invaluable for my progression through my PhD and beyond.

Awarded 2019

Katarzyna Osytek

High Cost Training

“a great opportunity for me to develop my skills and learn new techniques”

Thanks to the MRC Flexible Supplement Fund received in 2019, I had a chance to attend a one-week summer school training organised by the Radboud University in Nijmegen – ‘State of the Art Radionuclide Imaging and Therapy in Oncology’.

The course offered a great opportunity to gather information about the latest developments in radionuclide imaging and cancer therapy. It provided an excellent summary of commonly used radiolabelling techniques, radiochemistry, cell-based assays, pre-clinical and clinical applications. In vivo and pre-clinical SPECT imaging sessions gave me an insight into more advanced methodology and helped planning the next steps of my PhD project. Apart from expanding my knowledge on radionuclide chemistry and radiobiology, I gained lots of practical laboratory skills, and connected with other PhD students from different countries by networking and exchanging ideas about current and future work.

In summary, the Radboud University Summer School training on radionuclides was a great opportunity for me to develop my skills and learn new techniques, and in general, helped to advance my PhD project. I am very happy that I could attend it during the first year of my PhD as it formed a perfect knowledge platform for further development.

Awarded 2019

Martyna Panasiuk

High Cost Training

“to deepen and broaden my understanding”

The MRC DTP Flexible Supplement allowed me to attend a workshop on Microelectrode, Patch Clamp and Optical Techniques for Cell Physiology in Plymouth.

As the vast majority of my PhD project involves patch clamp electrophysiology in acute brain slices, this opportunity greatly enhanced my understanding of the techniques I am using, and allowed me to design and carry out successful patch clamp experiments much more efficiently. The workshop took place at the stage of my PhD when I already had foundation knowledge of some of the techniques, allowing me to deepen and broaden my understanding of the underlying principles and new approaches to a level that would be exceedingly hard to achieve outside of this excellent workshop.

I am certain that the experimental skills I acquired thanks to the Flexible Supplement will benefit me during the entirety of my PhD, as well as during my future research endeavours.

Awarded 2019

Suzette Lust

High Cost Training

“enabling me to do research in this exciting field”

I was kindly awarded the MRC flexible fund in order to be able to fully access training and use of the COMSOL Multiphysics software.

Access to working with COMSOL was vital for my project in order to allow me to do the computational fluid mechanics studies needed to validate my experimental designs. I am working on the design of a flow chamber to stimulate vascular cells with mechanical forces from flow in order to simulate pathological conditions which contribute to Aortic Aneurysm development. In order to make my setup I need to validate my designs for the chamber by observing the flow patterns that arise from the geometry of the chamber and to work out the pressures and velocities needed to impart the correct mechano-stimulation to embedded cells. I am attempting to study the impact of flow in 3D cultures and so characterising the mechanics of the fluid motion in these complex geometries is only achieved through numerical solvers such as COMSOL. My project is highly interdisciplinary, and the potential impact of the results are underpinned by the ability to accurately quantify the mechanical forces acting on the cultured cells, matching them to the experimental observations we hope to find.

I am immensely grateful for the flexible fund as it has allowed me to better design my flow chamber more efficiently and allowed me insights on my experimental conditions which without COMSOL I could not have had. All I can say is a huge thank you to the MRC for funding my work and enabling me to do research in this exciting field which I love so much.

Awarded 2019

Carl Graham

High Cost Training

“This experience has had a massive impact on my PhD”

My PhD is focused on human neutralizing antibody responses to viral infections such as HIV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. A huge part of my project involves investigating how antibodies evolve to target viral glycoproteins and the mechanisms by which viruses escape.

In August 2019, the MRC flexible supplement award enabled me to attend the 5th annual viral genomics and bioinformatics training course held at the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. This week-long course introduced me to Unix/Linux systems and gave me training in various areas of viral bioinformatics. These included reference mapping, consensus/low-frequency variant calling, de novo assembly/contig merging, gene prediction/genome annotation, transcriptomics, multiple alignments, phylogenetic analysis and metagenomics. The course also offered a great opportunity to communicate with experienced viral bioinformaticians and this gave me a fresh perspective on how I could interpret my data.

This experience has had a massive impact on my PhD and provided me with the skills needed to handle large datasets such as next generation sequencing data. Overall, the MRC flexible supplement award has helped me progress and become a more well-rounded scientist.

Awarded 2018

Lucie Burgess

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.

Awarded 2018

Musa Sami

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.

Awarded 2018

Patricia Fonseca Pedro

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.

Awarded 2017

Tayyabah Yousaf

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.

Awarded 2017

Lucy Durham

High Cost Training

“These courses have given me a strong foundation in a variety of disciplines”

I am very grateful to have been awarded MRC Flexible Supplement Funding which I used to attend three training courses.

The first was the “focused ultrasound course on hands, wrists and feet in Rheumatology” at Canterbury Christchurch University. I learned the theory and practice of musculoskeletal ultrasound and had the opportunity to perform ultrasounds on patients with inflammatory arthritis. Following the four days of hands-on training I am now in the process of completing 120 hours supervised scanning at Guy’s Hospital. On completion of the course I will have a formal qualification in musculoskeletal ultrasound. This experience and qualification is invaluable for me to perform ultrasound-guided synovial tissue biopsies, a technique that will be necessary for me to collect patient samples for my PhD project. It will also be useful for my future career in Rheumatology.

The second course was the “mass cytometry training course” run by the NIHR BRC Flowcore. This course gave me the technical knowledge and practical experience required to optimise a panel of metal-conjugated antibodies to phenotype mononuclear cells isolated from ultrasound-guided synovial tissue biopsies.

The third course was a two week Bioinformatics course at Cambridge University. I was taught basic programming languages and how to analyse DNA sequencing data from initial quality control, to alignment, variant calling and network analysis. This knowledge has already been useful in analysing the T cell receptor sequencing data that I generated as part of my PhD project.

If I had not been awarded MRC Flexible Supplement Funding I would not have had the opportunity to attend these three varied and high quality training courses. These courses have given me a strong foundation in a variety of disciplines and have already been of benefit to my PhD.

Awarded 2017

Sarah Karrar

High Cost Training

“I am much more confident in carrying out my own analyses”

One of the main benefits of this course was that a significant proportion of time was spent in teaching the basics of writing scripts. The course taught everything from basic programming languages to generating analysis pipelines for DNA and RNA sequencing data including quality control, alignment and data visualisation. This has equipped me with the skills to not only be able to carry out my data analysis but to also be able to troubleshoot if any issues were to arise during data handling.

The other main benefit has been the hands on practical sessions which allowed me to put into practice the skills learned during the tutorials. This was incredibly useful- other shorter course that I have attended often relied heavily on “copy and paste” techniques so that during the course I felt able to do the analysis but unlike this course, I was not able to trouble shoot or vary independently from the list of commands given to us at the time.

Currently, I am much more confident in carrying out my own analyses and more importantly understand the foundations on which I can progress and develop solutions to my own data analysis problems. Armed with this knowledge, I have already begun using publicly available sequencing data sets (both ChIP and RNA seq) to generate hypotheses and insights in to how the gene of interest in my project (IKZF3) maybe contributing to autoimmunity.

I am extremely grateful for the MRC Flexible Supplement Award which has enabled me to do this course and gain the confidence to carry out analysis independently. Moreover, the course has given me a set of skills on which to build my bioinformatics and computing skills.

Awarded 2017

Amina McDiarmid

High Cost Training

“without this course I would not have been able to develop the confidence to strike out as a competent data scientist”

My award from the MRC Supplement Fund was used to pay the fees for the Next Generation Sequencing Bioinformatics Summer School in Berlin.

The course was run by ECSeq, a team of former academic bioinformaticians who themselves have written many bioinformatic tools and packages. Attendance expanded what I taught myself previously. Following the course, I was able to take an innovative direction with my PhD project which resulted in a plan for two publications and a new collaboration. The course was 5 days and had 35 people in attendance so I was also able to develop my international professional network as there were seminars which provided opportunities to present/discuss our own research projects. Provided by the course organisers, was a large and detailed manual which covers a vast range of topics and contains practical exercises. In addition to this, we were given a memory stick which contains a range of sample data for use alongside the manual in the practical exercises and allows me to adapt my computer to be more amenable to programming.

Essentially, without this course I would not have been able to develop the confidence to strike out as a competent data scientist in the field of next generation sequencing. The course not only increases the quality and impact of my PhD research but has given me the ability to share my new knowledge with my colleagues and contribute to my research group/institute as someone who is known to have these core skills.

Exceptional Training Opportunities

Awarded 2022

Shelia McSweeney

(MRC Funded Clinical Research Training Fellow)

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“Unsurprisingly, this opportunity has been the highlight of my PhD…”

Using my MRC Flexible Supplement Award (2022), I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a month at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. This world-class institution hosts a large department dedicated to the clinical management and molecular investigation of urticaria. My PhD is focused on solar urticaria, a rare form of urticaria in which mast cell degranulation is triggered by sunlight, resulting in clinical manifestations such as wheals and/or angioedema. Consequently, this placement offered me a unique opportunity to observe clinical management of solar urticaria in a world-class institution, as well as an opportunity to observe and learn research methodologies that will be critical to the success of my PhD.

As part of the clinical aspect of this placement, I observed urticaria clinics, clinical trials meetings, and provocation testing. I was able to combine this with excellent exposure to basic science lab meetings and specifically observed procedures including mast cell extraction from skin samples and extraction of intercellular fluid from skin. Acquisition of these skills has been invaluable as my PhD is specifically focused on exploring the genetic aetiology of solar urticaria and my genetic findings will require functional validation using these methodologies. Furthermore, this trip has consolidated the relationship between my department (St. John’s Institute of Dermatology) and the Charité and has served to promote our collaboration in further research projects. Unsurprisingly, this opportunity has been the highlight of my PhD and I am very grateful for the support provided by the MRC.

Awarded 2021

Katie Flaherty

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“This fund has helped to create a long-standing collaboration between our labs”

My PhD project focuses on the impact of single and combined co-stimulation on CAR T-cell metabolism and function, and whether combined co-stimulation allows T-cells to withstand the challenging tumour microenvironment. In order to test CAR T-cell function in an environment similar to the tumour setting, we became interested in the metabolic microenvironment chamber (MEMIC), a 3D-printed ex vivo model of intratumoural heterogeneity, developed by the Carmona-Fontaine lab at NYU.

The MRC Flexible Supplement award funding allowed me to travel and stay in New York for 6-weeks to work with the Carmona-Fontaine laboratory and learn how to use the MEMIC. This was a very successful time where I was able to establish using the MEMIC with the tumour/CAR T-cell model I work with, learn how to carry out imaging of the MEMIC and also image analysis. It was also an amazing experience to live and work in New York for a short time. This fund has helped to create a long-standing collaboration between our labs and we have since been awarded an MRC IAA Fast Track grant in order to purchase a 3D printer and set-up this technique in our lab at KCL.

I am incredibly grateful for the flexible fund for the opportunity to learn a fascinating new technique, be able to incorporate it into my PhD project and experience living and working in New York. I would like to say a massive thank you to the MRC for this funding!

Awarded 2019

Jasmin Omar

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“an exceptional opportunity to step into a field which is crucial for my research”

The Medical Research Council flexible supplement funding has enabled me to complete a 2-week Molecular Simulation course at the university of Amsterdam.

This was a unique experience and the intense program allowed me to acquire new skills and knowledge, as this field of computer modelling was completely new to me. This field has been expanding dramatically recently, with its’ use widening to a variety of different applications. Molecular Dynamics are empirical for my PhD as it highly complements my experimental data to obtain a deeper understanding on the molecular-level organisation for my polymer systems. It was a well-rounded course where theory sessions were delivered by experts in the field and accompanied by very helpful practical sessions. This has allowed me to gain an understanding of what is fundamentally required to build my molecules and set up my simulations in various conditions and the calculations that accompany them.

Overall, the flexible funding from the Medical Research Council has given me an exceptional opportunity to step into a field which is crucial for my research and has provided me with a solid foundation for my simulations.

Awarded 2019

William Villiers

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“this experience has massively enhanced my research capacity”

Throughout my PhD I had been generating and analysing large complex NGS datasets to understand the global mechanisms driving an aggressive form of leukemia called: acute promyelocytic leukemia. I used the MRC DTP flexible supplement fund to enhance my bioinformatic skills by visiting collaborators at the Mifsud lab in Qatar (Hamad Bin Khalifa University) for one month. Here I teamed up with the statistical machine learning group (Bensmail lab), and sparked several collaborative projects exploiting the data I had generated. I utilised my time with experts in the machine learning field, learning different approaches to extracting import information from predictive models.

I can now confidently apply different algorithms to ask different questions of my data. For example, I have been able to predict the expression of a gene across multiple haematological conditions/diseases based on its epigenetic profile, which has allowed us to pinpoint critical signatures driving individual gene transcription.

Overall, this experience has massively enhanced my research capacity. I am currently writing two papers, both of which have use machine learning algorithms to answer complex questions. Using the flexible supplement fund this way has added an extra dimension to my PhD experience, and undoubtedly given me desirable skills for the future.

Awarded 20219

Eilidh MacNicol

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“I have enriched my professional network with new collaborators and mentors”

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) requires substantial processing before it is ready to analyse and many software tools are available to achieve this. However, the results are not necessarily equivalent, making comparison between studies difficult. fMRIPrep is a tool developed by the Centre for Reproducible Neuroscience at Stanford University to standardise image processing and improve reproducibility in neuroimaging.

Most tools, including fMRIPrep, rely on population averages and are not compatible with brains that are very different from the average adult human brain. This is a problem for MRI of animal models, which aims to translate basic science findings to discover new biomedical therapies and diagnostics. Currently, researchers must choose between adjusting their images to work with existing tools, creating more differences between resulting images, or working with animal-specific tools that lack translation to humans.

The MRC Flexible Supplement fund provided me with the funds to undertake an exceptional research opportunity: being a visiting student researcher in the Poldrack lab at Stanford University for 3 months. With Dr Oscar Esteban, the lead developer of fMRIPrep, we are creating software for the rodent neuroimaging community that does not compromise on reproducibility or translatability. This augmented my understanding of image processing, allowing me to create the best workflow for my PhD project, and improved translatable data skills, including software development and open-source project management. Additionally, by visiting this leading research institution, I have enriched my professional network with new collaborators and mentors, and I have a greater appreciation of reproducibility and openness in science.

Awarded 2019

Huzefa Rupawala

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“I have developed to think more critically as a scientist”

The MRC Flexible supplement fund supported the opportunity for me to undertake a month-long exceptional training placement and undertake a study at the Spires-Jones lab at the University of Edinburgh. This lab is are the forefront of Alzheimer’s disease research, more specifically investigating the synaptic changes that occur across several neurodegenerative diseases. This ties into my PhD question investigating the role of cysteine-string protein (CSP) alpha aggregation in Alzheimer’s disease. Their lab has developed an incredible tool known as array tomography to explore the changes at the synaptic level using thin sections of post-mortem human tissue, a technique that is not yet available at King’s College., The fund has therefore been most valuable in providing me the opportunity to explore my potential PhD question, suing state of the art techniques without which would not have been possible.

During the placement, I learnt the stages of array tomography from tissue cutting, processing, fluorescence staining, imaging and analysis before conducting my own short study. Here, healthy control and Alzheimer’s disease tissue was used which I could successfully stain with an antibody against CSPalpha along with other synaptic markers and toxic protein such as beta-amyloid associated with Alzheimer’s disease pathology. This allowed me to investigate protein structure and their arrangement at the molecular level. This experience opened access to a wealth of knowledge, not only into this study but the wider aspect of the disease and development of the field, all of which have enriched my PhD and learning. I have also acquired a better understanding of experimental techniques and provides which includes optimisation antibodies, trouble shooting and using complex analysis software such as Image J and Matlab.

Without the MRC Flexible Supplement funding, I would not have been able to form such an incredible collaboration, undertake valuable training as a scientist and an opportunity to work in world-class laboratory in neurodegenerative diseases. From this experience I have not only incorporated a lot of the skills in my own work, but also, I have developed to think more critically as a scientist.

Awarded 2019

Alexandra Lautarescu

Exceptional Training Opportunity

“techniques learned in this course were directly relevant to my PhD work”

In June 2019 I was awarded £806.90 to attend the 2019 School on Brain Connectomics, which took place at the University of Verona, Italy, between 23rd-27th September. The funds awarded to me as part of the Flexible Supplement Award allowed me to cover the costs for my course registration, my travel to Italy and my accommodation for the duration of the course.

This course was focused on connectomics, and covered relevant theory and novel analysis approaches. As my PhD project is part of the “developing Human Connectome Project”, improving my understanding of the field of connectomics was essential. Imaging of the developing brain is an emerging field, and there is an increasing need for scientists with skills in this area of research.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to attend this course, which has complemented my ongoing training. Many of the concepts and techniques learned in this course were directly relevant to my PhD work and have since informed my analyses. Moreover, attending this course has allowed me to network with other researchers in my field, and build lasting working relationships.

Awarded 2017

Alastair Kirby

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.

Awarded 2017

Sophie Carruthers

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.

Awarded 2017

Evangelia Semizoglou

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.


Outreach/ Public Engagement

Awarded 2019

Deyana Ivanova

Outreach/ Public Engagement

“This lasting piece of media will be a crucial part of my future outreach plans”

I was contacted by SciAni an animation company interested in depicting my current research into a short-animated video with an engaging voiceover script. I considered this a great public engagement opportunity. The production of a digital animation is costly. I decided to apply for the MRC flexible supplement fund to aid with the process of producing this animation.

The goal of this collaborative effort was to increase awareness of my research, educating and improving public knowledge of scientific concepts. I worked with SciAni to bring to life how psychological stress affects neural signalling in the part of the brain that controls emotions and the impact on puberty. I felt this project encompasses various themes of great interest to the public, including mental health, the interaction between brain and body, the pubertal switch and would raise awareness about the deleterious effects that stress and altered pubertal timing can have on the health of an individual later in life.

We created a visually engaging script that reflects my research and chose a voice actor best suited for the video. Once the script and the voiceover were complete the animation was ready to be created by the design team. The process took several months and the animation was ready to penetrate various media platform. The company offered to run a global untargeted media promotion of my animation, including uploading it to their YouTube channel.

This was an invaluable learning experience helping me to find creative and relatable ways I can reach out to the public as a PhD student and future academic. This lasting piece of media will be a crucial part of my future outreach plans, scientific conferences, web-pages, future interviews and any science related events.

Internships & Placements

Awarded 2022

Phoebe Reynolds-Whitehead

Internships & Placements

“I have expanded my network with new mentors, colleagues, and collaborators.”

My PhD project focuses on whether visual plasticity also occurs in the sensory organ, the retina, as well as in cortical regions. As well as exploring the parameters of this plasticity, I also hope to look at the effect of visual stimuli on behaviour. 

The MRC Flexible Supplement award funding allowed me to create a successful collaboration with Professor Amin Bahl at the University of Konstanz, Germany, who specialises in sensory integration and decision making within the larval zebrafish. This is through his novel closed loop freely-swimming set up for zebrafish to measure their behaviour as they swim in ‘VR’. With MRC support, I joined the Bahl lab for 3 months, which allowed me to introduce new areas of speciality into my PhD that I would otherwise be unable to. The opportunity enhanced my understanding of animal behaviour, as the lab is part of the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour (CASCB),  a cluster of excellence within Germany. In addition, I was trained on how to successfully create behaviour paradigms, methodology on decision making and statistical analysis of data using Python.

It created a long-standing relationship between our labs and subsequently we were awarded a BBSRC grant to build the closed loop set up here at KCL, which is not only beneficial for my project, but also for future collaborations. I have also expanded my network with new mentors, colleagues, and collaborators, which will be beneficial for my future career.

Awarded 2022

Sian Wilson

Internships & Placements

“My research placement was a unique experience, which allowed me to engage in a different lab environment in the US.”

The Medical Research Council flexible supplement funding allowed me to undertake a 3-month research placement at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The high cost of living in Boston would have prevented me from being able embrace this opportunity were it not for the flexible supplement fund, which provided support for my accommodation expenses. My research placement was a unique experience, which allowed me to engage in a different lab environment in the US. During my time there, I acquired new skills and knowledge in the field of fetal MRI image reconstruction and processing, to complement my PhD research. Learning different techniques to tackle the unique problems encountered with abdominal imaging was very informative and helped me to progress with my PhD analysis. I was able to engage in seminars and meetings at Harvard and MIT to further my understanding about deep learning approaches to medical imaging analysis. This research placement has culminated in a results chapter for my thesis and an abstract that I will present at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping conference later this year.

Awarded 2019

Dominic Oliver

Internships & Placements

“I was able to gain a better understanding of the structure and nature of work that the pharmaceutical industry can offer”

Throughout my PhD, I had been collaborating with Lundbeck’s Singapore office. The project we had been working on was a large-scale international replication study of a transdiagnostic psychosis risk calculator developed by my group. Previously, this calculator had been validated, but there was no indication of its potential effectiveness outside the UK. Lundbeck had recently procured a database of several million patients in the United States with data for all the available variables for the transdiagnostic risk calculator. While in London, I had developed the protocol for this study and pre-registered it but there was no opportunity to access the data outside of Lundbeck

The MRC DTP Flexible Supplement Fund provided me with the opportunity to spend a week at the Lundbeck Singapore office, working with biostatisticians to write, quality check and run the analysis scripts and advance my data analysis skills. In addition, I was able to gain a better understanding of the structure and nature of work that the pharmaceutical industry can offer and broadened my professional network. As a result, I was able to publish the largest replication study of a prediction model in psychiatry in Translational Psychiatry and this will form one of the chapters of my PhD thesis.

Awarded 2017

James Findon

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.

Awarded 2017

Florence Mowlem

Internships & Placements

“the internship built my confidence”

The MRC Flexible Supplement provided funding for me to complete a 3-month policy internship at the Academy of Medical Sciences, which was a great learning experience and built up my transferable skills.

The internship gave me the opportunity to gain a different perspective on research, and learn about the ways other organisations work to make sure that the research carried out in academia is translated into benefit for society – an understanding I believe to be important for any researcher. It also gave me the opportunity to gain experience of communicating information via different writing styles, for different audiences, as well as providing a platform to interact with individuals from a variety of organisations. During the internship, I was also lucky to have the chance to spend some time at the MRC and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

I believe that the internship built my confidence and has opened my eyes up to the variety of career options that may be available to me post-PhD, and has helped me appreciate that the skills I am learning and acquiring during my PhD are applicable to a wide variety of careers.

PhD to Postdoctoral Transition

Awarded 2022

Helena Winstone

PhD to Postdoctoral Transition

“The data collected from this collaboration will form a key part of a publication…”

I started my PhD working on HIV-1 viral entry and understanding how the HIV-1 viral entry protein escapes restriction by innate antiviral proteins. Due to COVID-19, a majority of the thesis I submitted in October 2022 was on SARS-CoV-2 viral entry, and my HIV-1 project was put on the backburner throughout the pandemic. We wanted to finish my HIV-1 project before leaving King’s, and so I applied to the PhD-to-postdoc transition to facilitate spending a month working in Professor Andres Finzi’s lab at the University of Montreal in Canada to learn and utilise a virus capture assay technique they have developed (as well as eat lots of poutine). The data collected from this collaboration will form a key part of a publication we aim to submit soon and provided a valuable opportunity to learn a new technique in another lab. The opportunity to visit Professor Finzi’s lab has been instrumental to developing an additional paper I would not have otherwise had time to complete during my PhD due to pivoting to SARS-CoV-2, and I am very appreciative to the MRC DTP PhD-to-postdoc transition fund for the opportunity.

Awarded 2022

Zsofia Szlamka

PhD to Postdoctoral Transition

“These experiences contribute directly to my PhD as I am in the midst of writing up the manuscript to be published about the case study conducted in Argentina. ”

I completed my PhD in November 2022, studying caregiver interventions for developmental disabilities in Ethiopia and Argentina. As part of my PhD I conducted case studies regarding the empowerment of caregivers of children with DDs, and service development for families in these respective countries. The MRC DTP Flexible Supplement Fund gave me the opportunity to conduct a follow-up visit to two of the Argentinian sites where some of my previous research participants came from. I visited the capital city, Buenos Aires, and Salta, the capital of Salta Province in the North of Argentina. As part of these visits I focused on disseminating findings from my PhD research. I also conducted preliminary work for my application for post-doctoral work: I met with professionals supporting families with DDs, and with caregivers of children with DDs. As part of these conversations, I focused on caregiver wellbeing: an important theme discussed in my PhD. We discussed what services are currently available for caregivers in the North of Argentina to support their children, and whether they receive formal or informal support for their own wellbeing.

I am writing this impact report mid-visit, from Salta, Argentina. I have already managed to conduct various meetings with health centres and caregiver associations. I organised two caregiver workshops with a Salta-based caregiver group called Familias Tea Salta, disseminating the results of my PhD, and discussing wellbeing and mental health from a caregiver perspective.

These experiences contribute directly to my PhD as I am in the midst of writing up the manuscript to be published about the case study conducted in Argentina. Further, the preliminary conversations and group meeting with caregivers allow me to gain initial insights to caregiver wellbeing – the theme of the post-doctoral research application I am currently writing. Lastly, this visit allows me to maintain research collaboration with colleagues in Argentina, facilitating further partnerships with them. Please see picture of a preparation meeting I had with Ada Sanchez, founder and leader of Familias Tea Salta, and her special education teacher colleagues supporting her when running the caregiver association.

Awarded 2020

Kristi Sawyer

Internships & Placements

“This time was invaluable to me and crucial for my postdoctoral opportunities”

I am incredibly grateful to the MRC Flexible Supplement committee for awarding me funding for the PhD to Postdoc transition. I submitted my thesis in December 2020 and was very worried about what I would do going forward, as I had not been able to focus on future plans while writing my thesis, particularly in the state of lockdown. The Flexible Supplement funding awarded me 3 months’ living expenses, during which I was able to prepare one manuscript which is now under submission with Brain Behavior & Immunity – Health, and another which is almost complete, using data from my PhD thesis. This time was invaluable to me, and crucial for my postdoctoral opportunities. Unfortunately lockdown meant that I was unable to complete the data collection for my PhD research study, but it was important that I was able to remain at King’s for this period so that I could handle ethical amendments and devise new protocols which can be implemented to complete the study when restrictions allow. Additionally, the 3 extra months allowed me to assist with the ethical approval and study design process for a new clinical research study called SHAPER (Scaling-up Health Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research) which is currently being delivered online. This experience allowed me to build-up an extensive knowledge of the study and topic, such that when the opportunity arose, I was able to make a successful application to work on the study as a postdoctoral research associate. I am very grateful to the MRC for this opportunity and the opportunities it has afforded me.


Awarded 2017

Steve Lukito

Internships & Placements

“the funding was crucial in supporting me”

Parts of this funding have been used to support the completion of two papers, which are currently being reviewed by my supervisors and collaborators. Additionally, the funding was crucial in supporting me through a challenging peer-review process for an article. This article, titled “Specificity of executive function and theory of mind performance in relation to attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms in autism spectrum disorders”, is now published in the journal Molecular Autism.

Some of the funding was also used for registration to the FSL neuroimaging data analysis course and a travel to Canada where the course was held this year. I was however unable to attend the training due to delays in my visa, despite allowing a month for processing. Upon negotiation with the FSL course organizer, I was allowed to transfer my registration to a course in 2018. While the reservation for the accommodation was returned, the flight ticket was unfortunately non-refundable. Using the remaining fund from this award and my own personal fund, I organized a visit to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, District of Columbia, USA, to attend a free training on the neuroimaging software AFNI (Analysis of Functional Neuroimages) in October 2017. The software allows scripting thus more freedom in analysing imaging data. Attending the training allows me to develop my ability to program my own neuroimaging pipeline, which is a valuable skill to have for my current postdoctoral works in neuroimaging.