Student Profile - Nigel Rogasch

Nigel is a PhD student in the Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre, supervised by Professor Paul Fitzgerald.

What is your thesis about?

My thesis looks at brain function in people with schizophrenia. The overall aim is to try and better understand what changes in brain function lead to the symptoms and the cognitive difficulties associated with the illness. There are two main branches in my research. The first is looking at new methodologies to test certain brain regions, which involves non-invasively stimulating the brain in people and then recording how the brain responds to that stimulation. The second part is actually applying that technique in healthy people and in people who have schizophrenia, and comparing how their brains react to the stimulation.

Is there anything that you’ve learnt so far that has surprised you?

We’ve had lots of technical surprises along the way which we hadn’t anticipated, so that has made life a little bit difficult. My original thesis had a much higher emphasis on clinical research but the focus has shifted away from that now with a stronger technique focus. Even though things haven’t gone totally to plan, we have found some interesting preliminary results in people with schizophrenia. It appears that their brains are less able to change through a process called neural plasticity which is really interesting. This brain mechanism is fundamental for learning and memory so this might help explain why people with schizophrenia have problems with memory.

Is it hard to get people with schizophrenia to be a part of your research?

We are lucky here because we have a good database of people who are interested in participating in research, so it hasn’t been too bad. I actually did part of my PhD in Canada and they have a very similar group with a similar set up and I did a lot of recruitment over there as well.

What was Canada like?

The North American system is slightly different to the one that we have here but we did some very awesome things over there. I was in Toronto which is a really cool place. It was a six month placement so it was good to bring the groups in Melbourne and Canada together. I think it was good to break things up a bit and see something different. It’s always helpful to see what other people are doing so you can access new ideas and see what you’re doing well and what you might not be doing well.

Why did you choose to do your PhD at Monash?

It was to work with Paul, my supervisor. I was keen to work with him because he’s seen as a bit of a guru in this area, and our research interests align quite strongly. Paul’s group is also really dynamic and has access to a lot of cutting edge technologies which was also a major draw card.

What was your education path originally?

I did a Bachelor of Science and my early research background was actually in motor systems particularly looking at how the brain organises movement and how it improves performance. Then I did some work in Turkey on the organisation of spinal reflex circuits. After that I wanted to get back into studying the brain and I’ve always had an interest in mental health research which brought me back to here.

When you get a chance to get away from your PhD what kinds of things do you enjoy doing?

To be honest at the moment, not much!!! It is pretty thesis heavy these days.  But other than that I like to run, play sport and listen to music. My partner and I go out to dinners and the movies a lot too and I like to hang out with friends. I’ve got a little dog which I love to spend time with. I also love getting down the coast and the Murray river, we both water ski so we love to get out there when we can which sadly is less and less these days.

What are your plans when you finish your thesis?

First, take a holiday! Myself and my partner are also planning our wedding for next year which is really exciting. My role on the organising committee has been pretty minimal up until now so I need to lift my game! Other than that, I’m interested in staying in research so I’ve applied for a fellowship next year which I am waiting to hear from, so we just have to see whether I am accepted.  If not then it’ll just be a case of seeing what else comes around. I’m interested in brain stimulation which is a relatively fast moving field at the moment and I’m also very interested in combining this with neural imaging  to try and find out how such a complex organ as the brain works.

Video: 3MT thesis presentation 2012