Würzburg to Cape Town, part two – by Maximilian Geiger

Six weeks have passed very quickly – and I am writing this from back in Würzburg. Browsing my notes, reports and photos, the amount and variety of experiences feels simply amazing.

My secondment started with a meeting with Dan Stein and the local MRI experts, Jonathan Ipser and JP Fouche plus Henk van Steenbergen another visitor from Leiden University. During this meeting I got a first impression of the work that is currently done in their workgroup at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. Being still a little paralyzed and overwhelmed by South Africa, Cape Town and my new working environment, I was asked about my expectations and interests. I am more than happy that my reply was answered with the opportunity to work on some ‘real’ data in the field of social anxiety disorder.

During the first days Jonathan offered a lot of his time in setting up my workstation and helping me to get into the data. We discussed what research question and what approach would be most interesting. In retrospect I am very happy that we found a good balance between my previous skills and the opportunity to extend these skills. Here it was very helpful that Jonathan worked on a similar project and we could share experience.


During my secondment I also got in touch with the field of biology: Cape Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

The comparison between functional connectivity in certain resting-state networks between patients with social anxiety disorder and healthy controls led to some interesting primary results. Unfortunately the time was too short to completely finish the analysis, and to answer some open questions, but I hope to continue working on this now I am back in Würzburg. I had worked on topics related to social anxiety disorder during my Bachelor’s thesis and Master’s thesis before. It is an interesting and multifaceted disorder but also debilitating. It was great that my secondment in Cape Town gave me the space and the opportunity to get back into the recent literature and relate this to my analysis. I also became aware of a lot of methodological and technical issues. In studying functional connectivity it is often not very clear and sometimes even controversial which approach in analyzing data one should follow, and it is a challenge to find the technique that is most valid in answering your research question. I think I picked up some very useful skills which will be very helpful in my future work.

Cape Town University attracts renowned researchers and I benefited a lot from exchanging thoughts and listening to interesting talks while I was here. Even though time was short I am very happy that I also got the opportunity to visit other mental health departments in Cape Town, to see the scanner facilities and learn a little about other imaging modalities such as DTI.

Six weeks South Africa is more than another filled page in your passport. Cape Town offers a beautiful nature and landscape and you get the possibility to get so close to all kinds of animals you would never believe. But on the other hand you never have to miss the vibrancy and cultural offers of urban life because it´s all there. My visit to Cape Town provided me with varied cultural and academic experience. I really enjoyed the possibility in exchanging thoughts and the freedom in following and focusing my interests in the project. It feels like I will benefit a lot from the techniques and skills I learnt during my stay and I am looking forward to working together with the researchers from Cape Town in the future.


Definitely the place to be in 2014: Cape Town

ECNP Workshop on Neuropsychopharmacology for Young Researchers, Nice, France – by Verity Pinkney

An audible sigh of relief announces take-off with the expectation of leaving the seemingly endless rain in Southampton behind to land in Southern France drenched in glorious sunshine. The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) invite to attend their annual Workshop for Young Researchers was met with excitement in our office when we realised that three of us (Ben Ainsworth, Joanna Miler and I) were lucky enough to have been awarded a place to attend. The three-day conference in Nice aims to give early-career researchers like myself a chance to present and discuss their research in interactive sessions and provides ample opportunity to network with likeminded students, postdocs and psychiatrists from all over Europe.


The Nice vista, captured from our hotel balcony

Within minutes of our arrival we began our networking experience and met Mathieu, a Frenchman from Montpellier who has traded France for Leicester to study for his PhD at De Montfort University. After a not-so-brief detour around central Nice and a visit to the wrong hotel we soon found ourselves in the Boscolo Plaza hotel lobby which buzzed with energetic researchers at the welcome reception.


Day 1 kicked off with a good selection of impressive talks covering a wide range of topics, from the use of proteomics in CNS disorders to animal models of fragile X syndrome. One talk in particular that caught my attention presented interesting fMRI data showing that threat-related brain function could be moderated by daily bright-light intervention; an area that offers exciting possibilities in how treatments of this type may work in Seasonal Affective Disorder. After a brief interlude for lunch, the quality of the talks continued throughout the afternoon and was followed by an evening of poster presentations, networking, French wine and the local cuisine.


The first couple of talks in each session were presented by distinguished scientists in their field of research. These were a great way to illustrate the positive impact a lifetime of research in Psychology and Psychiatry can have to an audience of fresh-faced scientists keen to consider this challenging career path. Saturday began with an inspiring talk by psychiatrist Thomas Schlaepfer who presented some exciting results on the use of deep brain stimulation to alleviate symptoms of severe, treatment-resistant depression. We then enjoyed a few hours of sea and sunshine, before going to two well-attended optional talks covering “how to write good papers” and two personal accounts of careers in industry and academia.


This was again followed by another enjoyable evening of poster sessions where we quickly got chatting with other PhD students who talked enthusiastically and knowledgeably about their work.

After a third morning jam-packed with a wide range of talks, very quickly it seemed that our time in Nice was over. This ECNP workshop gave me the chance to meet some lovely people from a variety of different research areas and also gave me a first-hand account of the vast amount of top quality research that is being undertaken across Europe every day. I now look forward to attending the ECNP Congress in October in Berlin and hope to see some familiar faces there.

For further information about ECNP visit http://www.ecnp.eu/.

(Ed’s note: Based on the quality of her research and her poster presentation in Nice, Verity was selected by senior ECNP scientists to present her research at the ECNP conference 2014 in Berlin – congratulations Verity!)