Dr Sheila Amici-Dargan

Dr Sheila Amici-Dargan

Senior Lecturer

School of Biosciences

+44 (0)29 2087 0825
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX

Bioscience Research

  • Neuroscience of Learning and Memory (long-term potentiation & depression)
  • 2 photon imaging, single channel recordings & patch clamp electrophysiology
  • Intracellular calcium signalling.

Education Research and Scholarship

  • Developing effective and sustainable student-led ‘communities of practice’ within, across and beyond Higher Education Institutions
  • Use of Web 2.0 collaborative technologies in learning and teaching
  • Student-led collaborative and social learning beyond the classroom
  • Working with students as ‘co-creators’ in curriculum development
  • Innovative approaches to assessment and feedback.

Roles within the School and University

  • Year 1 Academic Lead
  • Academic Lead for Education Innovation
  • Teaching Lead for Neuroscience
  • Exam Board Chair - Prelim & Year 1 Subject Board
  • Exam Liaison Officer (Year 1)
  • UCAS Open Day Officer (Biomedical Sciences and Neuroscience)
  • Module leader for BI1001 (Skills for Science) and BI1003 (Organisms and Environment)
  • Assessment coordinator for BI1002 (Structure and Function of Living Organisms)
  • Personal tutor.


I graduated with a BSc hons in Cell Biology from the University of East Anglia in 1998 and completed a PhD in Biophysics at UEA in 2001, in the laboratories of Prof Alan Dawson FRS and Dr Edward Lea.  My PhD involved setting up a novel technique (excised-patch single-channel recordings of purified receptors reconstituted into giant liposomes) to investigate the pharmacological regulation of IP3 receptors. In 2002 I moved to the USA to work as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Ian Parker FRS at the University of California Irvine, where my main research projects involved using line-scan confocal imaging and flash photolysis of caged compounds in Xenopus oocytes to investigate modulation of IP3-mediated calcium signals by calcium buffers and neuronal Ca2+ binding proteins.

On returning to the UK, I took up a temporary post at the Biochemical Society as a Professional and Education Projects Manager, which involved running scientific events, maintaining educational websites and forging links with external organisations. In 2004 I joined the University of Bristol, where I conducted postdoctoral research in the laboratories of Professor Graham Collingridge FRS and Professor David Jane.  My research there focused on the role of glutamate receptors in synaptic plasticity in hippocampal brain slices using simultaneous 2-photon microscopy, whole-cell electrophysiology and calcium imaging.

In 2009 I was appointed to a University Lectureship in Physiology at Cardiff University and I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2013. During my appointment at Cardiff University I have held the following previous roles: Academic lead for BIOSI enrolment (2009 - 2015), Medic year 1 SSC director (2009-2011), Degree Scheme Coordinator for Physiology (2015 - 2016), Biomedical Sciences Admissions Tutor (2009 - 2018).  My current roles are detailed on my Overview page.


Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, University of Bristol (2012)

Currently completing PgCUTL module 4 (20 credit research project at Level 7).

Continuing Professional Development

Research Ethics Online Training (2018)
Transitioning into Pedagogic Research: Dual identities and discipline spanning. Society for Research in Higher Education. London (2017)
Practical innovations in Life Science Education, London (2017)
C4ME Educator Development course (2016)
Cardiff University Educational Portfolio event (2015)
Transforming Learning and Teaching. (2015)
Leading and managing teams (2012)
Equality and Diversity training (2012)
Feedback & Assessment: Physiological Society workshop. Birmingham (2011)
Negotiating Skills (2011)
Undergraduate Admissions Training (2011 & 2017)
Coaching and mentoring skills (2010)
AoME recognising teaching excellence workshop. Bristol (2010).

Conference presentations and workshops

Amici-Dargan SL. Student-led collaborative learning and ‘communities of practice’. Presentation to visiting academics from Namibia. (Oct 2017)

Cole, D., Amici-Dargan SL, Shaw, H. and Rutherford S. Pedagogical alignment of technology to learning.  Social media and online curation tools – how do we best use them to support learning? Co-presented an interactive workshop at: CEI Learning and Teaching Conference. Cardiff. (July 2017)

Amici-Dargan SL. Platforms with Potential: Exploring motivations and barriers for staff and student engagement with online tools for enhancing lessons. Practical innovations in Life Science Education, London (Apr 2017)

Rutherford S, Limorenko G. and Amici-Dargan S. ‘Shadow module leaders’ - student experiences as peer teachers and facilitators of peer-assisted learning. Presented by Steve Rutherford at: Ireland International Conference on Education, Dublin, Ireland (Apr 2017)

Amici-Dargan SL. Motivations and barriers for engagement with student-led collaborative learning communities. College of Biomedical and Life Sciences (BLS) Education Seminar Series. Cardiff. (Feb 2017)

Rutherford S. and Amici-Dargan S. Pedagogical impact of engaging students and partners through collaborative learning in Shadow Modules. Presented by Steve Rutherford at: International Federation of National Teaching Fellows World Summit. Birmingham. (Feb 2017)

Amici-Dargan SL. Student experiences of cross institutional collaborative learning. SRHE International annual research conference: Exploring Freedom and Control in global higher education. Newport. (Dec 2016)

Amici-Dargan SL. Cross institutional collaborative learning of Physiology. Physiology2016. Dublin. (July 2016)

Dargan SL and Rutherford S. Engagement and student led shadow modules. FEBS Innovations in molecular biosciences education. Cambridge. (Dec 2012)

Dargan SL and Shore A. Student authored assessments. Co-presented an interactive workshop at: HEA conference, Imperial College, London. (April 2012)

Honours and awards

Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Scholarship Award (2017)

Nominated by a member of staff for a ‘Teaching Excellence Award’ (2017)

Nominated by students for: ‘Most effective teacher’ (2011 & 2012) and ‘Enriching Student Life’ awards (2012 & 2014)

Professional memberships

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
Physiological Society – Education and Teaching Theme Lead
Society for Research in Higher Education
International Society of the Learning Sciences
British Neuroscience Association
















Teaching specialisms

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Generic Academic Skills (e.g. numeracy, scientific writing).

Continuing professional development/Teaching interests

  • Innovative teaching approaches
  • Flipped and active learning
  • Technology enhanced education.

Bioscience research background

Learning and Memory: Role of glutamate receptors in synaptic plasticity. My research at the MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity (University of Bristol) involved using simultaneous 2-photon microscopy, whole-cell electrophysiology and calcium imaging in hippocampal brain slices to explore the precise roles of various glutamate receptors in synaptic plasticity.

Modulation of IP3-mediated calcium signals by calcium buffers and neuronal Ca2+ binding proteins: My research at the University of California Irvine involved using line-scan confocal imaging and flash photolysis of caged compounds in Xenopus oocytes to investigate modulation of IP3-mediated calcium signals by calcium buffers and neuronal Ca2+ binding proteins.

Pharmacological regulation of IP3 receptors: My PhD involved setting up a novel technique (excised-patch single-channel recordings of purified receptors reconstituted into giant liposomes) to investigate the regulation of IP3 receptors.

Scholarship of Learning and Teaching, and pedagogic research

My education research interests are focused around three key areas:

Developing effective student-led ‘Communities of Practice’ within, across and beyond Higher Education Institutions. Being part of a ‘community of practice’ (i.e. having the ability to communicate with a group of people with shared interests) can increase sense of belonging and provide opportunities for personal development. Undergraduate students are often taught in very large cohorts with students from diverse backgrounds with different academic interests. My research to date in this area has involved conducting semi-structured interviews and focus groups with undergraduate and postgraduate students at different stages of their journey through academia.  The themes emerging from these qualitative data sets are currently being used to guide and empower students to set up their own effective and sustainable ‘communities of practice’ (e.g. student mentoring schemes and/or discipline specific groups) within their own university, with students from other universities and with communities outside of Higher Education (e.g. schools, patients, public). This work has been funded by a David Jordan Teaching Award from the Physiological Society.

Motivations and barriers to student engagement in collaborative learning: Collaborative learning can be a powerful pedagogic tool.  When students are actively engaged in academic-focused discussions and challenge each other’s assumptions, they can create a shared understanding which can enhance metacognition. Dr Steve Rutherford and I have been working closely with undergraduate students to develop educational initiatives, including ‘Shadow Modules’ and online learning communities, to provide opportunities for students to engage in collaborative learning outside of the formally taught lessons.  My current research uses constructivist grounded theory methodology and thematic analysis (of focus groups, semi-structured interviews and reflective logs) to explore motivations and barriers to engagement with student-led collaborative learning initiatives.  This work has been funded by grants from the Physiological Society and the Higher Education Academy.

Pedagogical alignment of technology to learning: The majority of students in higher education use social media as a form of communication, but they do not seem to be making the most of these technologies to support their learning and develop academic networks. I have been working with Dr Duncan Cole (School of Medicine) to explore how and where we can best use social media to support learning and teaching. We have conducted technology reviews, developed case studies of use in different contexts, and gathered and analysed student views through surveys, focus groups and semi-structured interviews. We are using the outputs of this research to share best practice and increase confidence in the use of freeware technology to support and enhance learning and teaching.  This research has been funded by the Physiological Society and an Education Innovation Fund seed-corn project.

Public Engagement

I have been consistently involved in public engagement activities since commencing my first postdoctoral position in the USA in 2001.  The events I have organised are too numerous to list here, so here is a small selection to give a taster of the types of activities I have been involved with over the years:

  • Organised practical sessions for the International Brain Bee Competition (2011-present)
  • Organised and devlivered a Neuroscience engagement event in Seoul, South Korea (Nov 2008) http://www.bna.org.uk/static/docs/BNA_Bulletin_Summer09.pdf
  • Academic representative for the University of Bristol on the Science Engagement and Researching Change (SEARCH) project (2007-2009) http://www.bristol.ac.uk/publicengagementstories/stories/2009/103.html
  • STEM ambassador (2009 – present) e.g. NSEW launch event, Senydd, Cardiff (2014)
  • Founder of Cardiff CUBE (Collaborative University Bioscience Engagement) website (2014)
  • Teacher’s panel day: pitched Physiology activities to secondary school teachers (2013)
  • Photo in “Science Grrl” Calendar to promote roles of women in science (2013)
  • Supervised undergraduate summer students, final year project students and CREST gold award pupils conducting bioscience engagement research projects (2012-2015)
  • Organised and ran hands-on science activities for Learn About Life events (sponsored by a £875 Grant from the Physiological Society) (July 2010)
  • Brain Awareness Week: organised hands-on science and engagement talks (2005-2015)
  • Presented hands-on neuroscience activities at Science in the Gardens, Sheffield (2006)
  • Invited to BA festival as a “soapbox scientist”: How neurons communicate, Dublin (2005).