The Public Engagement Team provides advice, opportunities, and funding for engagement with research. The team was established to support Birkbeck’s commitment to making research results available to society. By working together with researchers, external partners, and organisations, we aim to create opportunities for knowledge exchange.
We would like to let researchers know that applications for our annual Public Engagement Awards are now open. This award recognises the inspiring public engagement work undertaken by Birkbeck researchers at various levels of their career, including doctoral researchers.
The team will be attending a research networking event hosted by the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research on Thursday 6th February, 12-2pm (G04, 43 Gordon Square) if you’d like to speak to them in person. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or to reserve a seat.
Current Birkbeck PhD students are invited by the BBSRC-funded LIDo PhD programme to attend events in their multi-disciplinary Teaching Week in February 2020. The sessions are open to all University of London PhD students regardless of their subject area.
This year the week consists of a series of separate day-long workshops on themes of Drug Discovery, Software Development in Biology & Medicine, The Psychology of Wellbeing, Insects in Agriculture and Ethics in Health Sciences .
PhD students should express their interest in attending each event by clicking here and completing a short form, full details of locations (London – UCL) and speaker biographies will follow in the new year.
Places are limited so please let us know as soon as you can.
Drug Discovery: Monday 17 February 2020
Translational Genomics in Drug Discovery
Data-driven drug discovery
AI and Drug Discovery
Data mining in Drug Discovery
Computer-Aided Drug Discovery
Software: Tuesday 18 February 2020
Development and implementation of intelligent
patient monitoring systems
Information Management in Systems Biology
Software Solutions for Research Communication
Software Engineering for Research Computing
Problems of uncertainty in Sensor System
Psychology: Wednesday 19 February 2020
The Impact of Social Identity on Mental Health
Emotion Regulation and the Brain
Psychological wellbeing following atypical
prenatal hormone environments
Big Data Psychology: measuring well-being in
Impact on brain anatomy of allele risk for
Entomology: Thursday 20 February 2020
Applied Ecology: making fundamental research
relevant to real-world problems
Understanding and mitigating arthropod vectors
and vector-borne diseases as ecosystem disservices
The use of biocontrol as an alternative to
The British Science Association’s mission is to transform the diversity and inclusivity of science; to reach under-served audiences and increase the number of people who are actively involved and engaged in science.
They are looking to recruit CREST assessors within the fields of: STEM, Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences and Economics. The CREST Awards is one of their flagship programmes for young people. CREST inspires and engages young people aged 5 to 19-years old with project-based STEM activities.
CREST Assessors sought
CREST assessors help to develop students’ interest and attitudes towards science, along with their scientific and project skills. They do this by assessing Silver and Gold projects against the CREST assessment criteria, providing constructive feedback and encouragement, and sharing their STEM expertise with young people. Often, project assessment is the first time students’ work is seen by someone other than their parents or teachers. Students value the opportunity to share their work with someone with expertise and/or a career in the STEM sector.
Assessing projects can be done on a voluntary or paid basis paid (£4 per Silver Award assessment and £6 per Gold Award assessment), with approximately 5 hours’ worth of assessments per month. All assessment and feedback are carried out via our online platform.
Assessors are trained how to assess projects and give effective feedback. Also, assessing CREST projects count towards STEM Ambassador volunteer hours.
Please see the complete details for the role here.
Those interested should register their interest in this form and will be contacted shortly afterwards. If you have any questions, would like to know more about CREST Awards or have any thoughts on who else might be interested in the CREST assessor role, please contact Claudia Linan, Education Officer: t. +44 (0)20 7019 4969
Birkbeck doctoral researcher Jessica Massonnié(Department of Psychological Sciences) speaks about the development of her research exploring children’s perception of classroom noise which has led to collaboration between teachers and researchers. Jessica was recently the winner of of the PhD/ Early Career prize for at Birkbeck’s 2019 Public Engagement Awards for her entry ‘Noise Annoyance in Schools: is it a Fatality?’.
About my research
Public engagement always reminds me of who I am working for. I feel lucky to have quite an applied research topic: noise in schools. I am trying to understand how noise impacts pupils’ performance and well-being, and why children vary in their reactions to noise.
During the first year of my PhD, I designed “lab studies”: I prepared school exercises that children would do, as well as specific types of noise to display through headphones – hearing someone telling a story, or a more general babble noise. I assigned children to these different noise conditions and compared their performance in silence and in noise. This process had the advantage of fitting with the standard rules of scientific experiments, because it was highly controlled. But I often felt like a sales person when I was presenting the project to schools in order to try and convince them to participate. Although teachers and children were interested in the studies, and were enthusiastic about their participation, they were not directly involved in the creation of the research. All I could offer were some goodies to thank them for their participation, and feedback about the results several months later.
I met Philippe Frasseto by a happy coincidence, when I was doing a training session about research methods in Psychology in Paris, for an external organization. Over a coffee break we discovered that we were both interested in the issue of noise in schools. As a teacher, he was at the front line, experiencing high levels of noise in his school, which he found pretty stressful for himself and for his students. He had the initial idea of creating visual displays that would raise children’s awareness about noise, by using a visual code (green for low noise levels; orange for moderate; red for high). We wanted to embed this tool within a broader workshop, introducing children to the concept of sound, noise, and music, and to the harmful effects of loud noises. Philippe and I were also involved in yoga and mindfulness practice, and having reviewed the scientific evidence for such practice, we decided to include it as a second type of workshop the children could benefit from. Yoga and mindfulness have the potential to calm children down, lower their stress levels, and make them more aware of their environment.
The actual implementation of these coffee-break ideas was made possible by the combination of several factors: Philippe’s contacts with an artist, sound engineer, and yoga teacher; the enthusiasm of his “inspector” (within a French equivalent of Oftsed), who helped us to recruit schools; the research support from Birkbeck and my supervisors (Denis Mareschal and Natasha Kirkham); and funding support from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development of Birkbeck University, and the Rectorat de Corse.
A collaborative approach
We designed the study together, and there was a lot of back and forth between the lab, and the school as we defined the main outcomes that we wanted to measure: noise levels; school performance; attention and memory skills. I then proposed some tasks and activities based on the available scientific evidence, and these were revised based on feedback from Philippe and participating teachers. This got me out of my comfort zone, by openly presenting the project before having finished it, or having any results. We were mostly focused on the collaborative process, coming up with a project that would benefit all of us.
I would say that one of the greatest challenges was to find a protocol that would answer the teachers’ interests and be flexible enough to fit with their everyday constraints, while still allowing us to conduct stringent analyses and derive reliable conclusions.
As Philippe says: “ The greatest challenge was coordination, to engage teachers and children and create a research project with classrooms that would not disturb their usual way of functioning.”
We followed the children over a 6-months period, collecting our assessments before, and after the interventions. The study was conducted in Corsica, an island in the south of France. I had the chance to be totally immersed in the project, living there for 3 months, during the key stages of the project. I was regularly meeting up with the team, visiting schools, observing the interventions, carrying out debriefing sessions with the children.
Continuation of my research
In the longer term, this research has allowed me to perceive scientific and experimental studies from a new angle, and I have become more involved in emerging fields in mind, brain and education, as I foster collaboration between teachers and researchers.
I am currently working with Michael Hobbiss (UCL) and Tracey Tokuhama–Espinosa (Harvard University, Flasco) to create an online platform connecting teachers and researchers willing to design scientific studies together. Feel free to read Michael’s blog post, and to get in touch with us, if you would like to participate, or to have more information.
Evgenia Markova and Laura Pokorny are PhD students who joined the UCL-Birkbeck MRC funded Doctoral Training Programme in Autumn 2016. PhD students on this programme complete rotation projects in year 1 before choosing and developing their PhD project. Both Evgenia and Laura are looking forward to increasing opportunities to engage with new intakes of students.
I obtained a BSc in Genetics from the University of York and during the course of my degree I completed summer internships in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and in Genika, a genetic medico-diagnostic laboratory. It was at this point that I started considering a career in science, as I was surrounded by experts in their respective fields who warmly welcomed me into their research environment. I also completed a year-long placement in a biotechnology company, Heptares Therapeutics, where I discovered a passion for biochemistry and structural biology, which ultimately determined my choice of a PhD topic.
Rotation Projects (Year 1)
‘My choice of PhD project emerged through engagement with rotation projects which took my research in novel directions. This flexibility to develop and mould the final project has been a great opportunity.’
Rotation 1: My first rotation project ‘Structural elucidation of a component of the COPII secretion system’ was with Dr. Giulia Zanetti (ISMB, Birkbeck) where I encountered electron microscopy for the first time and obtained preliminary structural information on a component of the COPII secretion system.
Rotation 2: My second rotation ‘Age-dependent neuroinflammation in the brain of a Wnt signaling pathway mutant’ was with Dr. Patricia Salinas at the MRC LMCB and utilised immunofluorescence to study the time-dependent brain inflammation profile of a Wnt signalling pathway-defective mouse model.
Rotation 3: Finally, I spent my third rotation ‘Single-molecule fluorescence investigation of the COPII coat assembly’ in Dr. Alan Lowe’s lab in (ISMB, Birkbeck) where I studied the dynamics of an endoplasmic reticulum membrane model as remodelled by purified COPII proteins.
‘The ISMB has excellent facilities which provide access to structural biology and cryo-EM. It has been easy to move between facilities at Birkbeck and UCL as part of the jointly run ISMB.’
PhD Project: The Kinetics and Assembly of the COPII Secretion System (Year 2 onwards)
The intracellular trafficking of biomolecules is an essential property of eukaryotic systems. The COPII vesicular transport system is responsible for anterograde intracellular transport processes at the ER membrane, where COPII component-lined vesicles incorporate protein and lipid cargoes. My project aims to investigate the mechanisms of COPII budding and coat assembly, which are currently poorly characterised. I will study COPII assembly and dissociation using an established membrane model,
Giant Unilamellar Vesicles (GUVs), and the mammalian COPII proteins, as expressed and purified from insect cell culture. I will utilise cryo-electron microscopy and single-molecule fluorescence in the study of the COPII coat assembly through in vitro reconstitution. My PhD supervisor is Dr Giulia Zanetti, ISMB, Birkbeck.
I studied for an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of York. In the summer between my second and third year I carried out a 2 month research placement in Paul Pryor’s lab at the Centre for Immunology and Infection at the University of York, where I was identifying chlamydial effector proteins involved in disrupting the trafficking of the bacterium to the host lysosome. I really loved working in a research setting and this was when I realised I wanted to do a PhD and pursue a career in research.
Rotation projects (Year 1)
Rotation 1: My first rotation ‘Manipulation of Nuclear Function by Chlamydia trachomatis’ was in Dr Richard Hayward’s lab (ISMB, Birkbeck). Previous research in the Hayward lab had identified alterations in nuclear architecture during infection by C. trachomatis. Namely, the nuclear shape becomes distorted in infected cells, lamin A/C is decreased at the inclusion distal face of the nucleus, and there was a degradation of nucleoporins at the inclusion proximal face of the nucleus. I confirmed these findings by aiming to understand the mechanism underlying the lamin A/C decrease.
Caspase 6 is a candidate for the degredation of lamin A/C due to the fact that lamin A/C is degraded by caspase 6 during apoptosis. By treating infected cells with a drug which inhibits caspase 6, I was able to block the lamin A/C decrease in infected cells. This was shown by confocal microscopy and by western blot.
Rotation 2: My second rotation ‘A novel mechanism of targeting and transport of a P. falciparum protein down the secretory pathway’ was in Dr Andrew Osborne’s lab (ISMB, UCL). The mechanism leading to protein transport, and in particular trans-membrane protein transport, in P. falciparum is not completely understood. Proteins destined for export must cross many membranes of the parasite before entering the host cell. Models have proposed whereby TM proteins are extracted from membranes at various stages of the secretory pathways and trafficked via chaperones (Papakrivos, Newbold and Lingelbach., 2005; Kneupfer et al., 2005; Gruring et al., 2012). However, the concept of pulling proteins out of membranes during protein export is unsupported outside the Plasmodium field. Recent work in the Osborne lab and others has provided evidence that the PNEP protein Pf332, which has a single TM domain, behaves in line with this extraction model. I used yeast as a model organism and showed that, when Pf332 is expressed in yeast, there is a subset of soluble protein. This suggests that the machinery needed to pull the protein out the membranes is conserved in eukaryotes. In this rotation I used techniques including western blotting, parasite culturing, cloning, and florescence microscopy.
Rotation 3: In my third rotation ‘Single-molecule studies of the molecular mechanisms of the nuclear pore complex during C. trachomatis infection’ in Dr Alan Lowe’s lab (ISMB, UCL) I used super-resolution microscopy to gain images of the nucleoporin degradation seen in my first rotation, and to learn more about the kinetics of importin-beta transport in the nucleus during infection. I used the technique of photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM). In short, PALM imaging uses the principle of stochastically activating, imaging and photobleaching photoswitchable fluorescent proteins in order to temporally separate closely spaced molecules (Betzig et al., 2006). The resolution achieved in PALM imaging is over an order of magnitude higher than the diffraction limit of light. By transfecting infected cells with importin-B (nuclear transport receptor) tagged to a photoswitchable fluorescent protein and imaging by PALM, we could gain a much higher resolution picture of the organisation of the nuclear pores, and could follow the kinetics of transport via single-particle tracking.
‘Working within the ISMB environment has been a great way to find out more about the work of other PhD students and staff through weekly presentations during term time known as Friday Wraps’
PhD project: Studying Vaccinia virus fusion using a minimal model system (Year 2 onwards)
Vaccinia virus (VACV) is the prototypical Poxvirus. Poxviruses enter cells by acid mediated fusion, using the most complicated virus fusion machinery identified. Whilst genetics indicates that poxvirus fusion relies on 12 viral proteins, to date the organisation of this machinery, its mechanism of fusion, its fusion peptide, and the structural and molecular details of poxvirus fusion remain a mystery. Therefore to address this lack in our knowledge, I aim to develop a new minimal model system to study VACV entry and fusion. This system will be amenable to super-resolution imaging studies allowing us an unprecedented view into the biological requirements of viral entry. My PhD supervisor is Dr Jason Mercer LMCB.
How would you describe this Wellcome Trust 4 year PhD programme?
This is a fantastic interdisciplinary program that enables students to experience three distinct yet synergistic fields, that together can lead to the most exciting developments in biomedical research. These are structural, molecular, cellular biology and biophysics, computational biology and chemical biology.
Which departments at Birkbeck are taking part in this PhD programme?
The first year involves rotation projects in 3 different labs, each specialising in one of the 3 disciplines within the program. In addition, students attend both foundation and advanced lectures to strengthen their understanding in these fields. At the end of their first year students choose the project that will be the focus of the remainder of their PhD and spend the remaining 3 years affiliated with that lab answering exciting questions at the forefront of biomedical research. Further information about the programme structure is available on the WT PhD Programme webpages.
What kinds of resources and facilities are available to students who are offered a place on the programme?
How are PhD students supported during their postgraduate research and in preparing for their careers after the PhD?
Students are supervised by senior scientists who are recognised at an international level in their chosen field, both during rotations and during the PhD project itself. They are exposed to a highly interdisciplinary environment through which they gain experience of working in a dynamic and challenging way. In addition to opportunities to undertake taught programmes across a range of ISMB disciplines students also take part in WT PhD programme activities including literature clubs, and gain experience in presenting their data. Students can attend career days, where PhD-qualified scientists working in non-academic environments give talks and meet students and they can also access professional development opportunities within Birkbeck and UCL.
What are the advantages for students taking part in this Wellcome Trust PhD programme?
Exposure to and involvement in some of the best biomedical research in the UK and interdisciplinary training which is shaping the future of biomedical research. Profiles of some of our PhD students are available.
Are there any features of supervision within the Wellcome Trust programme that you would like to highlight?
In addition to every student having a thesis committee that meets at regular intervals throughout the 4 years, the student also meets the program director/co-director to ensure that the project is on track, to resolve any issues early on and to ensure that the student has the best possible outcome form their PhD.
How can students find out about potential projects and supervisors at Birkbeck?
How would you describe your role within this Wellcome Trust PhD programme?
As co-director I work closely with the director, Finn Werner, and the administrative support staff to ensure the smooth running of the program. This includes everything from sifting through applications to the program, to interviewing students, to a more pastoral role for students in the later years of their PhD.
What background and experience would successful applicants be able to demonstrate if they are interested in joining the programme?
This is a highly competitive program and successful students are exceptional. They should have an excellent degree in one of the disciplines in the program, or a related discipline, and hands on experience of working in a lab in one or two of these areas covered within the program.
What do students need to do to apply?
Students must follow instructions for applicants carefully. Student need to complete an online Graduate Student application form from UCL and submit a single document with a current CV and a statement explaining why they are a suitable candidate. They also need to provide details of 2 referees. Full instructions for applicants are available here.
The next deadline for Birkbeck Wellcome Trust ISSF applications is 31 October.
Opportunities for Birkbeck PhD students could include the following:
If you are a PhD researcher completing your thesis can apply for funding to enable you to complete publications or develop public engagement or dissemination activities. The funding covers salary costs up to six months beyond the end of your formal period of study (on the starting point of the Researcher 1 pay scale).
If you are a current PhD researcher you can apply for funding of up to £5,000 to carry out public engagement or interdisciplinary activities for a period of up to three months. Please note: this period will represent a formal break in your studies, if your PhD funder allows it.
For further information about the ISSF awards and for details of how to apply please view the ISSF website.
The London NERC DTP is a partnership of nine world-leading research organisations across London. The partnership, which includes Birkbeck, is focused on excellence in environmental science research training and delivery of a transformative inter-disciplinary experience for PhD students.
How would you describe your role within this London NERC DTP?
What are the advantages for Birkbeck PhD students taking part in the London NERC DTP?
Unlike most other DTP’s for the first six months students receive core interdisciplinary training as a cohort covering the full spectrum of environmental science. This engenders a strong sense of community and support. Training is given at each of the partner institutions including the Natural History Museum, Kew, UCL, Kings, Queen Mary and the Institute of Zoology. Part of the training requires the student cohort to organise and lead a field trip to California and an annual conference with the DTP’s at Imperial College and Reading University to showcase student work.
How is the programme structured?
In the Autumn term of year 1 students undertake core multi-disciplinary skills training, then in the Spring term they continue with core training and PhD project development. As part of their training students have taken part in a 10-day California Field Training Course. Within the Summer Term students relocate to the institution where they will be carrying out their PhD research.
Alongside PhD supervision bespoke training courses are provided to develop specific skills. During their second year students are considered for upgrade from MPhil to full PhD status.
Students continue research as well as preparing their thesis for submission and viva in year 4.
What kinds of resources and facilities are available to students who are offered a place on the programme?
Aside from training, each student is allocated a research grant of between £6,000 to £8,000 to cover any expenses associated with their project.
How are PhD students supported during their postgraduate research and in preparing for their careers after the PhD?
Students are able to access a range of training and networking workshops, events and internships: to develop business and entrepreneurial skills, engage with industrial, commercial and policy end-users; and to develop specific skills in collecting, interpreting and commodifying environmental data. These opportunities include “Innovation Week’ a 5-day integrated programme of lectures and workshops at the Siemen’s Crystal building at the Royal Victoria Docks in East London, covering topics at the interface between environmental science, business, and science policy.
What background and experience would successful students be able to demonstrate?/ What do students need to do to apply?
Applicants must meet UK residency criteria and language requirements. Applicants are expected to have a 2:1 or higher in a relevant degree, or equivalent work experience.
How can students find out about potential London NERC DTP projects and supervisors at Birkbeck?
Potential applicants should visit the London NERC DTP website for further information about the programme and about how to apply. Applications for London NERC DTP studentships beginning in Autumn 2018 are expected to open in November 2017 with a deadline for applications expected to be in early January 2018. Potential student projects at Birkbeck will be made available on the Earth and Planetary Sciences website in November 2017 once applications for studentships open.