29 Nov 2016

CCS Doctoral Student Profile - Aron Hill

Aron Hill presenting at the 2016 CCS
Three Minute Thesis competition
By Eliza Watson

Aron Hill is a PhD student in the Cognitive Therapeutics Research Group at MAPrc where he is supervised by A/Prof Kate Hoy, Dr Nigel Rogasch and Prof Paul Fitzgerald. He studied psychology in his undergraduate degree and decided to pursue it for Honours where he began looking at brain stimulation, he has continued his interest in this area through his PhD.

What is your research about?

I look at the effects of something called non-invasive brain stimulation, in particular I look at transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) which is essentially where you apply very small electrical currents into the brain via electrodes that are placed on the scalp. There is evidence to suggest that if you put these electrodes over the cognitively relevant brain areas you can get a change in cognition or thinking ability. My research is looking at the effects of tDCS on cognition, specifically working memory and in particular trying to assess the underlying neurobiological effects on the brain that lead to changes in cognition. As well as using functional neuroimaging techniques to look at the underlying brain changes and how they correlate with changes in behaviour or cognition.

Have you always been interested in this area? What made you want to do this topic?

I was always interested in psychology, at least since I started undergraduate uni. I did a combined Arts and Science degree, I majored in psychology and also in microbiology which is a little bit odd. I then went on with the psychology stream with my honours where I did a brain stimulation project. That was slightly different from my PhD, I was looking at something called mirror neurons, but that introduced me to brain stimulation so from there I got really interested in it. I also work at the Alfred in neurology so there were some parts which were relevant to it as well.

Why do you enjoy psychology, what do you enjoy about your project?

I think I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of how the brain, which is essentially a bundle of neurons, can create all the thoughts and emotions and feelings that we have. So I think that doing cognitive neuroscience, being able to explore the relationship between brain activity and behaviour is really exciting and being on the forefront of that.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

I don’t know that I have a specific favourite, but somewhere warm with a beach would be nice, possibly somewhere in Southeast Asia. I think at the moment the ideal place would just be somewhere I could relax and not do too much.

Have you done a lot of travelling?

I’ve done quite a bit through South East Asia, Europe and through the US as well. I really liked Southeast Asia, a few years ago I went to Burma and it had only recently opened up its borders so it was really interesting to see a culture that wasn’t used to tourism.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to travel but I haven’t been able to do that for a while. I like photography, seeing live music and hiking. I’ve been hiking in Wilson’s Prom, through the Otways, Tasmania and I did some hiking in Japan as well.

Have you enjoyed competing in the three minute thesis competitions? What skills did you gain from competing?

I enjoyed the challenge of trying to condense all of my research down into three minutes, and where anyone from a broad background could understand it. I found that really useful in terms of being able to try and explain my research to other people too. As a PhD student, you often get people asking what you do and it’s quite hard to distil it down into a couple of minutes, so I found that really worthwhile - and it was fun. [See video]

What are your plans for when you’ve finished your PhD?

Ultimately I’d love to stay in research, I think it’s just the practicality of doing that. I think people are becoming more aware of the difficulties of funding and I think there’s going to be some changes, so I’m optimistic there will be. So ideally, I’d love to stay in research, I really enjoy it.

What advice do you have for others considering or just starting a PhD?

Take the time to do your homework on what the topic is and be clear on what you want to get out of your PhD, I think you can do it for a number of different reasons and I think going into a PhD with a couple of clear ideas of what you hope to gain from it and where you want to be when you finish it is really important and will help you progress through it.

The other thing would be to choose your supervisors very carefully, go and talk to them - I certainly did, and particularly if you can talk to other people in their lab and their students and get a feel for whether it’s somewhere you could see yourself working. I was lucky because I did my honours there so I got a feel for what it’s like.

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