Student Profile - Lizzie Thomas
Lizzie Thomas is a PhD student in the Cognitive Neuropsychiatry lab at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre (MAPrc) where she is supervised by Dr Caroline Gurvich, Professor Susan Rossell and Dr Kiymet Bozaoglu. She studied a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and decided to undertake an Honours project which incorporated her interest in genetics. This led her to study at MAPrc and gain a whole new subject of knowledge - psychology.
Can you tell me a bit about your research?
I focus on Schizophrenia and the role of the glutamatergic system* in cognition. We know that people with Schizophrenia have a lot of cognitive deficits, for example issues with memory and attention. We’re looking at the role of this particular system, the genetics involved and how it influences cognitive performance.
Is this an area you’ve always been interested in?
My undergrad was in Biomedical Science and it was quite different from what I’m doing now. When I was looking at Honours projects I wanted to do genetics and I wanted to do a clinical project. Caroline’s project was the only one that was human genetics so I applied for it and fell into psychology that way.
Had you done any psychology before Honours?
No, not at all. I had zero background in psych, I didn’t even do it in year 12. So it’s a bit of an effort sometimes, but you learn as you go.
What have you enjoyed most about your project?
I get to see a lot of patients who come in to be tested. It’s good to know that you’re helping them and that you’re helping to find a solution for their cognitive issues.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
To be honest I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I like to see movies, read and spend time with my husband.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely nothing to do with science! I wanted to be an author when I was really young and eventually that might be nice. When I was in high school I wanted to go into multimedia, until about Year 12 and then I switched at the last minute and decided to do science.
Do you still do any multimedia now?
I do, I run the website for MAPrc and recently I designed the logo for our team. So I do some little things here and there.
You’re hoping to finish your PhD in early 2018, what are your plans for when you’ve finished? Do you want to take a break, travel, get straight into work?
I think the plan is to get straight into work. I’ve been travelling a lot during my PhD, which has been interesting. I had a few trips last year - two international and two domestic and I have another in a couple of weeks to India. So when I’m finished I think I’ll just get straight into it and aim for a fellowship.
What’s been your favourite place that you’ve visited?
It’s hard to choose, but I loved Iceland - even though I only went there for a day as a stop over - and Venice too.
You participated in the graduate symposium - what did you find were the biggest benefits of participating?
Definitely improving on my ability to communicate research. It’s always interesting to try and convey my research to people who don’t have a background in psychology or mental illness. It’s always good practice to present to people outside the field.
What advice do you have for others who are considering or just starting a PhD?
You truly need to be passionate about it and really love it, otherwise it will be extremely difficult. It takes a lot more time and effort than I thought, as well as a great deal of self-motivation. There are lots of ups and downs during a PhD, and having a passion for it makes it much easier to get through.
Also, do your research and try to make sure you have a really good supervisor. I have fantastic supervisors who not only care about my PhD but also give plenty of advice and support for a career in research post-PhD, which makes these years less stressful and much more enjoyable.
*The glutamatergic system "is a fast-signaling system that is very important for information processing in neuronal networks of the neocortex and hippocampus in particular". (Reference: see link)