An apres-thesis Leiden (‘lie-down’)… by Ben Ainsworth

(Please forgive the abysmal punnage – I really struggled there!)

When I arrived home from South Africa, I was determined to make some of the lessons stick. Some of them did; I kept on top of the staggeringly fast developments that are published in neuroimaging journals, as well as keeping in touch with friends who are working at the forefront of HIV-related cognitive deficits. Both of these are rewarding on a professional and personal level, and it’s been nice to have such clear markers of the time I spent away.

But, as you’d expect, distractions at home beckoned. The hazy back-end of a glorious Cape Town summer was in stark contrast with one of the coldest March/Aprils on record in the UK, and I regularly arrived at Highfield completely drenched before starting work on the dratted thesis. I’m sure everyone is well aware of the stereotypical caffeine-fuelled thesis-deadline-approaching doctoral student, and I (glumly) made no ground in disproving this.

Still, it’s done now, and I’ve had the good fortune to be awarded an MRC Centenary Award to further some of the cool stuff that I came across on the way. As well as writing publications to disseminate some of the findings from our lab, I’ve been involved in some exciting new collaborations.

One of these (a real tongue-twister: “respiratory psycho-neuro-immunology”) is an exciting venture that will examine some of the anxiety-reducing psychological interventions and how they could potentially help sufferers of COPD and asthma. Notably, the time I spent in South Africa, meeting and discussing ideas with the other EUSARNAD trainees, has had a direct effect on how I feel during these preliminary discussions. Rather than being overwhelmed by the rapidfire slingshotting of (occasionally radical!) ideas from some of the more senior group members, I feel able to participate and contribute. It’s a rewarding feeling!

But the most pressing collaboration, and the one that has currently got me writing this on a train to Gatwick at 5.35am, is with researchers at the Leiden University Medical Centre, in the Netherlands. At the end of April (actually, the day after the thesis was submitted, so I was feeling the requisite caffeine comedown)

Nienke Pannekoek (another EUSARNAD researcher, who I met at the IADS 2013 conference in Cape Town) came to Uni. Southampton to talk about her research at LUMC with Nic Van der Wee.

The idea of potential collaboration was something we had discussed since IADS, and I was given the chance to spend a few weeks in Leiden to see what research they were doing, and to talk about on-the-go projects in Southampton. While not strictly ‘EUSARNAD business’, I think it’s worth mentioning as it really is a direct product of the work we did out in South Africa, and just goes to show how effective the Anxiety Disorders Network really is!

– Ben