Christine Ozolins who received a The Kenway scholarship spoke at The Legacy Afternoon Tea. Christine described how the studentship transformed her life and enabled her to undertake important research for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Read the full speech below.
Good afternoon, my name is Christine Ozolins and I recently completed Birkbeck’s MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology. Today I would like to share with you my experience of studying at Birkbeck and how the Kenway scholarship helped me at a crucial point in my studies.
As a child I had a difficult home life and was unable to finish my schooling. I spent many years working in a variety of different jobs. However, I always felt unfulfilled and longed to be in a career where I could help others and fulfil my potential. It took me years to get the courage to change my life, but when I eventually did, I commenced a BSc in Psychology here at Birkbeck. This degree transformed my life in ways I never could have imagined. I fell in love with the brain and with cognitive neuroscience, something I was not expecting.
I graduated with a first class honours degree. For my undergraduate project my supervisor and I used fMRI to functionally locate and retinotopically map human visual area V6 as it relates to relative motion perception, something that had not been done before. For my dissertation I extrapolated this finding as a possible tool for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, and I won the Honorary Research Fellows prize and was nominated for the British Neuropsychological Society’s national award.
I knew that I wanted to take my studies further and apply psychology and neuroscience to helping people. And so I commenced a part time MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology here at Birkbeck in 2016. However, halfway through my MSc my marriage broke up and I had to move into rented accommodation. With the financial burden of having to support myself and also pay my fees I knew I would not be able to continue my studies. I had received a distinction for all my first year modules and I was heartbroken at the thought that I might not be able to continue.
It was at this point that I applied for the Kenway scholarship, which is available for postgraduate psychology students experiencing financial hardship. I was delighted and very grateful when I was awarded the scholarship.
For my MSc project my supervisors and I devised an intervention to help people alleviate the symptoms of creative block. I interviewed my participants and used qualitative analysis to understand how they experienced their creative block. This was followed by an EEG neurofeedback intervention targeting brain activity known to be associated with creativity and relaxation. This was then followed by another interview to see whether the intervention had been effective and whether they had experienced any changes in their creative process.
My participants were a musician, a composer, a writer and an artist. The artist broke through her block of five years and my other participants experienced dramatic changes in their behavior, emotion and attention, which were all factors that had been contributing to their block. Again, this is something that had not been done before. I received a distinction for my coursework and my thesis. My supervisors are currently helping me prepare to submit my thesis for publication.
For my undergraduate and postgraduate studies I have had the honour of working with excellent academics. In particular, my MSc supervisors Dr Eddy Davelaar and Dr Virginia Eatough were wonderfully supportive of my desire to do something ambitious that had not been done before, while providing me with practical advice as to how to manage what was essentially three projects in one. Studying at Birkbeck enabled me to realise my dream of going to university, and the Kenway Scholarship enabled me to take the dream further and finish my Masters.
During my research into creative block, the head of the reading rooms at The British Library told me that ‘if we could solve the problem of writer’s block we would be doing humanity a great service’. I have since been asked to give a presentation about my project and the methods I used to undergraduate psychology students at the British Library, as part of their outreach program. I believe we have made a start in understanding the underlying mechanisms of creative block. I really want to stay at Birkbeck and continue this research by doing a PhD, however the financial obstacles to this are considerable. As with most mature students I have to support myself, and so I would have to do a part-time PhD. However, funded studentships for part-time PhD students are rare, and competition from across universities is fierce.
Nonetheless, I will continue to put all my efforts into finding a way to finance my PhD. There are currently no bursaries or scholarships for PhD students in the Department of Psychological Sciences. With this in mind, I plan to become successful enough that I can leave money in my will to support students like myself at PhD level, and make the path easier for those who will come after me.
As a mature student I believe I can combine my life experience and (hopefully) wisdom with the skills I have acquired to make a valuable contribution to science. This is why I believe it is so important that people like myself are given a chance to fulfil our potential and create value for society in the present and the future. I believe Birkbeck stands alone in its mission to provide the highest quality education to everybody, regardless of age, background or gender.
I would like to read a quote from Buddhist philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda – “Education is not simply the transmission of knowledge. It is not simply the development of talent. Education is the great enterprise of steadily and surely passing on the fullness of humanity from the past to the future”.
Thank you all for coming today, and in that spirit I hope you will consider helping the students of the future.
If you are curious about learning more about remembering Birkbeck with a gift in your will, please get in touch with the Development & Alumni Team by calling Kara McMahon on 020 7380 3187 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.