'My supervisor is great - but I can't get up in the morning'

March 19, 2004

Six months in and some of our postgrads are finding the going tough. As experts gather for today's conference on 'Postgraduate Education', The Times Higher catches up with the students it is tracking over three years to see how they're coping

Six months ago, when Lisa Willats began her PhD research at the Institute of Child Health at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London, she admitted to being a bit daunted by the challenge ahead of her.

The 22-year-old, fresh from a first in natural sciences from Girton College, Cambridge, where she specialised in physics, found her new medical environment a little disorienting. She had been recruited to help run a research project using magnetic-resonance imaging to look at the blood flow in the brains of children being treated for strokes, but she knew there was a "pile of reading ahead" before she started to understand the medical side of her work. Half a year later and a little way down the pile of reading, Willats says she is beginning to find her feet.

Willats is working in a team of eight under Fernando Calamante, her supervisor, whom she sees on a daily basis. She says the difficulty of familiarising herself with her new field has been lessened considerably by a highly activist approach to supervision in the lab.

"Every Thursday morning we have a speaker, and we do a teaching session most Wednesday lunchtimes, where two of the postdoctoral students have been teaching us various areas of MRI, so that we have got a good education and grounding in all parts of the field rather than just our narrow specialisms," Willats says.

Her research is concentrating on the analysis of hypothetical MRI data.

Rather than using data from real scans, she is sharpening her analytical tools by inputting known data and assessing how accurate and useful her models are.

"In general, I would say there haven't been any nasty surprises. Everybody has been very friendly," she says.

Friends from Cambridge are beginning to arrive in London, and Willats says she has settled in her shared flat in North London. Perhaps the only shock has been the cost of living in the capital, though Willats still believes she can survive on her £12,500-a-year funding.

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