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Elise Turk

PhD candidate at the department of neonatology at the Brain Centre Rudolf Magnus, and Dutch Connectome lab of the UMC Utrecht

Elise Turk
Photo: Elise Turk

Fascinated by the mind

‘I have always been fascinated by our mind. Because I was very curious which processes underlie a healthy or diseased brain, I chose Psychobiology. We strived to understand psychology by examining different properties of the brain. Neuroscience is a relatively new field in science – there is a lot to explore. That is why I wanted to continue working in this research area. During the Bachelor’s programme, I learned a lot about the working mechanisms of our brain on a macroscale. However, I wanted to understand the whole brain. Therefore, I chose Biomedical Sciences: Cellular and Network Neuroscience.’

Brain function on the smallest scale

‘The Master’s programme helped me to understand brain function on the smallest scale; the communication between cells. Our group had an intense work load and great supervision - we really learned a lot in a short period of time. I especially liked acquiring a lot of academic skills: critical thinking, conduct research, writing a paper and a little bit of programming. I still use those as a PhD student.’

‘For me, the most interesting part of the programme was the course about neuroanatomy. Within this course, we had to dissect the human brain and learned a lot about our brain structures in 3D. This gave me a lot of insight into the way our brain structures are connected to brain networks – and following from this, the way brain regions communicate with each other. I liked this so much, I did two exciting internships within this research area. I finished my Master’s programme with a thesis about connectomics and schizophrenia.’

PhD neonatology at UMC Utrecht

‘Currently, I work as a PhD candidate at the department of neonatology at the Brain Centre Rudolf Magnus, and Dutch Connectome lab of the UMC Utrecht. I feel very lucky and privileged that I work in a highly interdisciplinary environment of an academic hospital. My projects connect the medical field of neonatology and obstetrics with the technical field of MRI post processing and connectomics. We study brains of unborn and new-born babies of patient groups (e.g. premature born babies, congenital cardiac babies) and healthy babies using MRI. Structural and functional MRI sequences are used to analyse the neural connectome – a complex network that describes efficient information processing of almost 90 billion neurons between segregated brain regions through bundles of axonal and dendritic connections.’

‘With my project, we strive to get a better understanding of the wiring architecture and function of the brain network of baby’s during birth. In addition, we want to understand how early abnormalities or dysconnectivity lead to psychopathology and differences in later life cognitive neurodevelopment. We hope that my project contributes to our understanding of healthy brain development and thereby provides a context against abnormal brain development during birth.'

‘I really love that I can use my skills not only to contribute to the fundamental knowledge of the developmental brain, but also to find potential biomarkers which can help early intervention at our most vulnerable patient groups. In addition, it is great we have to spread our knowledge and therefore I travel to conferences all over the world.’