Case study

Academic research associate — Flavia Idicula

Flavia is studying an MSc in Mental Health Psychology while working as an academic research associate as part of a university placement

What degree did you study?

Having completed a BSc in psychology and a postgraduate diploma in occupational psychology, I am now studying for an MSc in mental health psychology from St Mary's University London.

How did you get your job?

I got it through my university placement team. They helped me to build my CV, craft my LinkedIn profile, write cover letters and prepare for interviews. The placement team also supported me by helping me find my strengths and weaknesses through psychometric testing, which helped me to realise my suitability for different industries such as healthcare, research and teaching, and that is how I made a choice to apply for jobs in research.

What's a typical working day like?

I measure brain sensory activity through a brain imagining machine called an EEG (Electroencephalogram), collect data via objective measures and maintain a data sheet with confidential information. I work under the supervision of an academic research fellow (a cognitive neuroscientist).

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Collaborating with different people such as research scientists, article publishers, ethics board members and most importantly the participants taking part in the experimental studies, where I’ve conducted projects with a fellow research scientist.

This job has also allowed me to expand my networks within research and development through consistent communication on LinkedIn, ResearchGate and other academic-based social media platforms.

What are the challenges?

Learning new techniques and methods such as measuring brain waves through a brain imagining machine (EEG). In addition to that, I also faced difficulties in analysing brain waves and converting images into words and explaining them in lay language to avoid technical jargon. Converting waves into words involved learning software language to decode via Matlab. Learning these was both interesting and challenging, but I received strong support and feedback from my supervisor (a fellow research scientist), so it was achievable.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree is relevant as it teaches the mechanisms of brain and behaviour and includes understanding whether something is a correlation or causation. Along with theory, research techniques are taught for high-quality research to be done in our Masters programme, which I will use in the future as I plan to work as a researcher or scientist.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My role has developed from beginner researcher to intermediate. My ambition is to gain a PhD in neuroscience so that I can continue to progress in my career.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Look at what you want to become in the next ten years. Create a long term goal and a plan for achieving it and don’t deviate from it. Build strong coping methods as it can be highly challenging.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Read as many papers as you can. Gain interesting knowledge.
  • Reflect on yourself. Accept failures. Research is tough.
  • Be patient. It's a journey.

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