Neuroscience student

Abigail Byford

Abigail is studying MBiol Neuroscience, spent a study year abroad at Northern Arizona University and completed an internship at the Barrow Neurological Institute, working in an ALS research lab in Phoenix, USA. She also completed a 10-week BBSRC summer research placement with Dr Julie Aspden at the University of Leeds. 

10 things I gained from my study abroad

I got to widen my knowledge around my degree

I spent the year studying in Flagstaff, Arizona in the United States at Northern Arizona University (NAU). My degree course, Neuroscience was not available at NAU therefore I enrolled as a Biomedical Science major. Throughout the year I got to learn about some of the broader science and psychology aspects of neuroscience. I also got the chance to enrol onto a module that enabled me to be a member of a research team in the psychology department hypnotising people and measuring their brain waves!

I got to experience another culture and explore the world

I wanted to do a year abroad to experience living in a different country and culture. I had always wanted to live in the States and decided studying there would be an opportunity to do this. Going abroad through the University gave me the chance to meet more people through classes and accommodation and also to experience their way of teaching. 

I got to see the Grand Canyon, California and Las Vegas

I would spend my days going to a few classes, often a trip to the gym or swimming pool on campus and meeting my friends in nearby coffee shops or downtown. When I had homework I would visit the university library. We often went for meals or drinks downtown during the week, and on Wednesdays we would go to the cowboy line-dancing club! On our weekends we would visit many sites in and around Arizona including the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon (my favourite place in AZ). On long weekends we would venture out a little further than Arizona. Usually visiting places in California and Las Vegas on my 21st Birthday. 

I got to experience Thanksgiving and Christmas in Texas

Two of my close friends were from Phoenix in Arizona so I spent a lot of time in Phoenix with their families. This was really nice because I got the chance to experience thanksgiving and even went on a trip to Texas with one of their families for Christmas. The University also held many free events throughout the year including many sports games and tailgates which are a big tradition in America. There were a lot of differences in terms of academic work. Homework that was due weekly was a lot more common, and the assessed work was spread out pretty evenly over the semester. However, all of the final exams were done before Christmas, which meant that there was no work to be done over the holidays.

I got support and help from a wide number of people

I had frequent communication with my personal tutor at Leeds, which was great because I knew she was there to support me if I had any issues. I also was in contact with the study abroad advisor who would check my modules were appropriate for my degree course. Although everything went smoothly on my year abroad, I was very aware that the study abroad office and FBS staff were there if I needed help. I also had great support from the international office at NAU, especially with any visa and travelling questions. 

I gained practical life skills and independence

Moving to a different country allowed me to gain independence and confidence, especially when travelling alone, planning trips, booking flights, transfers etc. As well as general practical life skills such as setting up a bank account, finding accommodation and getting visas. After spending the summer working in a neuroscience lab in Phoenix, my study abroad has opened up the possible opportunity of going to graduate school or working in the USA in the future, which excites me. 

I gained a new direction for my career and how I want to process

After working in a neuroscience lab over the summer in Phoenix I decided I want to pursue a career in academia, which encouraged me to change onto the integrated Masters (MBiol) course at Leeds. I now plan to apply for PhDs following my Masters and would really like to apply for some in the USA also!

I got a chance to have work experience

The real highlight of my year abroad was getting a summer job in the field I would eventually like to work in. There seemed to be fewer opportunities in the UK to do this so I am glad I found this placement. I also enjoyed having the chance to live in a different city in Arizona throughout this time and extended my duration in the USA by 3 months. This gave me the experience of real working life in America which only made me want to move back in the near future even more. 

I got to improve my CV and career prospects

I think my year was relevant to my career as I would like to go into academia and the studies I undertook at NAU included broadening my neuroscience knowledge to surrounding areas. I also got a summer internship in a neuroscience lab in Phoenix, this experience will be invaluable and look great on my CV.

I got to have the best experience in my life

If you’re deciding whether or not to do the study abroad year, my advice is to do it. It was the best year I have ever experienced. I got to meet so many new people and develop connections all over the world. This means I have great places to visit and many people to see if I ever return. I also spent the majority of my free time travelling across various states in America, which was an amazing experience and would highly recommend. I would also advise researching a lot on the different universities and their locations. It is important you want to live in that place because you’re going to be there for a year and also research the financial and practical aspects of that place or university.

About the University

Why did you choose the University of Leeds?

After visiting an open day at Leeds, intending to study Medical Sciences or Biology I was intrigued by Neuroscience, and the course specifically at Leeds sounded extremely interesting. As Leeds is a Russell Group university, I was interested in learning from researchers studying the field themselves, as this meant that I would be learning about the most upcoming findings in neuroscience. Alongside this, I love the city and, coming from Hull, I frequently visited Leeds and knew this was the place I wanted to go to university. It is a lively place where there is always something to do and the campus is lovely situated right in the centre of Leeds!

What have been the highlights of your time at Leeds?

The main highlight is the people I have met. It was also great to live away from home, be independent and live with new friends. I also thoroughly enjoy my course, and have become more interested in neuroscience throughout my time at Leeds, I originally thought I didn’t want a career in this area, however, I am now pretty sure I do not want to leave the field.

How have the facilities helped you get the most out of your degree?

The laboratory sessions at Leeds have been great to develop practical skills in my degree that most employers look for. This experience has helped me get other lab placements (including my summer placement in the USA). The integrative biomedical science module I am doing this semester is also a great laboratory module helping us to understand and practice working with animals in research. 

What aspects of your course helped you to make friends?

Tutorials, laboratory sessions and group work are the best opportunities in classes to talk to others on the course and to make friends. I also found it pretty easy to make friends within lectures as everyone is always very friendly.

Have you joined any student societies or sports clubs?

I joined the Faculty of Biological Sciences society (FoBSoc), which was a great society to join as they ran many fun socials to meet others within the Faculty including a great trip to Amsterdam. Alongside this they also ran many careers and educational events which were very helpful. I became a committee member in my second year which also allowed me to become more involved in the society and its organisation and planning. 

What would you highlight to students considering the same course? 

One of the great things about the FBS department at Leeds is the employability services. The employability officer is extremely helpful in providing information and workshops on how to make yourself more employable. The opportunities Leeds provides such as the placement year/study abroad and internships are all a part of the enhancing your employability scheme, which in turn really helps Leeds graduates find work and careers when they leave Leeds. Within my course I think that the laboratory sessions we have are one of the main highlights of my course. We have the opportunity to go into the dissection room in first and second years which I think really helps develop your understanding of human anatomy that is difficult to learn from textbooks. The integrative biomedical science module is also great if you want to learn how to work with animals in research, with hands on experience in how to handle them or how to conduct various procedures on them.

Tell us about your ambitions and plans for the future.

My career plan is to pursue a PhD following my integrated Masters. The University has really helped me with these goals. Before starting university the possibility of doing a PhD had never crossed my mind, however my personal tutor once mentioned to me that she thought I would be a good candidate for one. Since then I have had lots of help in getting the experience needed and advice from staff at Leeds which led me to convert to the integrated Masters. The Careers Centre and the FBS employability staff run sessions on checking over applications or CVs which I will most definitely take advantage of next year when applying.