The lecture modules in the first 16 weeks (up to the first laboratory rotation) cover the areas of Neuropsychiatry (Monday and Wednesday, pm), Vision and Action (Tuesday, am), Developmental Psychopathology in Childhood Adolescence (Tuesday, pm), Molecular Neuroscience (Thursday, pm), Neuroscience of Learning and Memory (Friday, am).
These issue-focussed modules are complemented by the skills-based training modules in Research, Design and Statistics (Thursday am) and Research Techniques in Bioscience (Monday and Friday, am). The latter modules include substantial applied and practical components. All modules have explicit learning outcomes including Knowledge and Understanding, Discipline Specific and Transferable Skills.
Once laboratory rotations start (week 18), the lecture component is scaled down so that students will only attend one additional issue-based module Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience (from week 18 Friday, am). For the third laboratory rotation (week 40), there are no concurrent taught modules, the extra time helping the student with the critical decision concerning their research programme for Years 2-4.
Lectures given in the area of Neuropsychiatry will be assessed in the form of compulsory essays. The research techniques in Biosciences lectures given on a Monday morning will require preparation for the Friday morning tutorials. Students will undergo regular tests as part of the Postgraduate Research Design and Statistics PST001 module.
In addition to these timetabled lectures, students will receive formal training on a number of essential topics (e.g. health and safety procedures in the various suites of laboratories, COSHH). All students will also complete an accredited Home Office training course (which is put on several times a year by Cardiff University). This two-day course is followed by a formal examination, and is an essential pre-requisite for a Personal Licence.
The parallel laboratory rotations start in week 18 (late January) and all three rotations follow the same structure. Prior to starting, in weeks 11-12, the student decides on the rotations they will take. A final set of first and second preferences will be provided by the end of week 12.
The Programme Director and Deputy will then confirm the allocation of laboratory placements, ensuring a suitable balance for each student and ensuring proportionate supervisory loads across supervisors. To aid the students' selection, potential supervisors (see list of 30, Section 2) will help compile a handbook with suggested mini-projects at the start of each academic year.
The student will work on a mini-project for a 9-week period, then the student will have 2 weeks to complete two tasks:
- To submit a succinct report on the mini-project. This report will be a maximum of 2,500 words and will be in the style of a Journal of Neuroscience paper (e.g. Introduction a maximum of 400 words, Discussion no more than 1200 words). These reports will be read and assessed (with feedback) by the rotation supervisor and a second, independent assessor from a different school.
- To give a brief, PowerPoint presentation on the study (10 mins, followed by a discussion).
The session of five presentations (one from each PhD student) will be attended by the Directors of Postgraduate research, the other PhD students, and the rotation supervisors. The student will then receive formal feedback on the report and the presentation by his or her Supervisory team.
Presentations will be graded as either 'Accept', 'Minor Revision', 'Major Revision' or 'Reject', and feedback provided on each aspect of the presentation. The three rotations (weeks 18 -28, weeks 29 - 39, weeks 40 - 50) provide invaluable first-hand experience of research techniques, a taster for specific research issues, and provide a method of assessment of progress.
The completion of the rotations and their associated reports and presentations take the student to a crucial 2-week period (weeks 48-50). During this time the student and potential supervisor (s) will decide, by mutual agreement, on a suitable research project for a PhD. The students and supervisors will be encouraged throughout to engage in a project that combines multiple approaches. Note, the supervisors for Year 2-4 need not come from the mini-projects (laboratory rotation), although this may sometimes occur.
During the first week of Year 2, the student, the Programme Director and Deputy and the prospective supervisors will agree on a research plan and the principal supervisor. The principal supervisor will determine the 'Home School' of the student for Years 2-4. Prior to that, the Home School for all students will be the School of Biosciences (Home School of the programme director and Personal tutor of the students) to foster a sense of identity and to provide a strong, peer-support network.
Additional training courses
As mentioned above, some training courses will continue into Year 2. An example of an existing course is in Human Imaging. This course, based in the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), initially covers Safety. An MRI safety lecture (delivered by an experienced MRI Neuroradiographer) is followed by a tour of the MRI suite to train users in safe operation of the facilities. Potential users are then assessed orally by Profs Wise, Jones or Evans to ensure understanding of procedures for safe MRI scanning. This must be passed for the investigator to become a probationary approved user of the MRI scanner. This procedure also includes person safety training and basic CPR.
There is then a functional and structural MRI 4-day intensive course based around the FSL (FMRIB Software Library) software for analysis of structural and functional MRI data. This includes 4 hours of lectures and 3 hours of practical work each day. The intensive course covers both the theory and practice of functional and structural brain image analysis.
Background concepts and the practicalities of analyses are taught in detailed lectures; these are interleaved with hands-on practical sessions where attendees learn how to carry out analysis for themselves on real data. By the end of the course, attendees should be able to fully analyse their own fMRI and MRI data sets.There is, in addition, a separate one day course on MEG data acquisition and analysis provided by the MEG lab manager (Dr Muthukumaraswamy). Other examples of advanced courses available in Year 2 include Postgenomic Biosciences, Computing for Bioinformatics, Genetic Epidemiology, Animal Imaging Techniques (EMRIC).