Dr Emma Yhnell is a post-doctoral research scientist working to try and better understand Huntington's disease and other brain disorders at the NMHRI.
My research is focused around Huntington’s disease, a devastating genetic brain disease which causes psychiatric, cognitive and motor problems. The genetic cause of Huntington’s disease means that if you carry the gene for the disease there is a 50% chance that you might pass it on to your children.
I completed an MRC funded PhD studentship in 2015 in looking at the basic science behind Huntington’s disease. When I was conducting my research in the laboratory, I was lucky enough to be invited to the patient clinic to greater understand the disease and the people and families affected by it.
Since attending the patient clinic, I decided that I really wanted to work clinically with people who are affected by this disease and to translate my basic science research into the patient clinic. After my PhD, I was able to obtain funding from the Jacque and Gloria Gossweiler Foundation for a post-doctoral research position exploring computer game-based brain training for people with Huntington’s disease.
I am now working in the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute (NHMRI), with the Cardiff Huntington’s Disease Centre and conducting clinical research in Huntington’s disease.
Engagement in science is hugely important, particularly when you are working with patients, research participants and members of the public. It can often be daunting or scary talking to large groups of people about complex topics, but this is a really important and valuable skill to learn and it will certainly stand you in really good stead for the future.
It is also really great fun knowing that you are teaching people something new and you may even be inspiring people to take up science in the future. There is nothing better than when a child says "your job is cool" or getting a "thank you" from a patient or family who didn’t really understand the information that they had been given until you had gone through it with them.
I am involved in several different types of engagement activities. I am a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Ambassador, and in this role I often go into schools and colleges to tell the students about what it is like to be a scientist.
I often use quite interactive demonstrations including jelly brains, which the students can operate on. I am also a member of Speakezee, an organisation which brings academic subjects to a public audience in relaxed, informal environments.
I write science communication articles, for people who might not want to come to public events. My article, ‘James and the Giant Gene’ won the Biochemical Society’s Science Communication Prize in 2015.
You can see that the public engagement activities that I am involved in are varied and there really is something for everyone to become involved in. If you haven’t already I suggest you give public engagement a go, it really is great fun and a fantastic opportunity to develop and improve your skills.
If you want to speak to Emma about her work, please get in touch.