June 23

Annie Brookman-Byrne

Annie Brookman-Byrne, PhD Student

Birkbeck, University of London


What is your work/research topic? My research is in educational neuroscience – a relatively young interdisciplinary field that aims to bring together psychology, education, neuroscience, genetics, computer modelling, technology, and any other field that might be related to teaching and learning. The aim is to bring an evidence-based approach to the classroom (or adult learning) by considering all levels of description affecting an individual. The ultimate goal is to improve teaching and learning. My own research considers how adolescents learn and reason in science and mathematics. I work closely with teachers and use a range of methods including neuroimaging and behavioural studies to find out the cognitive and neural mechanisms of science and math reasoning. I am hoping to eventually implement a training programme that will improve performance in these subjects.

BROOKMAN-BYRNE_AAnnie Brookman-Byrne is a PhD Student at Birkbeck, University of London. Follow Annie on Twitter @abrookmanbyrne


What did/are you study at university?
My undergraduate degree was in Psychology. I was lucky because my degree included a placement year, so I worked as a research assistant which stimulated a love for research. After three years of working as a research assistant after my degree, in both Psychology and Education departments, I started my MSc in Educational Neuroscience. For me this was the perfect bringing together of my interests. I am now doing my PhD in a Psychology department and consider myself an educational neuroscientist.

What does your average day look like? It’s hard to describe an average day as it really feels like there is no such thing! But over a week I might: go into school to speak to teachers about my project and carry out some cognitive tasks with teenagers; carry out brain scans on teenagers in an fMRI scanner with the help of my supervisor; read academic papers about my area of research; attend seminars where I hear about the work of other researchers; write up parts of my studies; carry out statistical analyses on my data… One of the things I like most about research is the variety.



What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? In primary school I wanted to be a nurse, a swimming teacher, or a hairdresser… For no particular reason other than these were probably the only jobs I knew existed. In secondary school I decided to be a teacher (um, also probably because I realized that it was a job that existed). I applied to do my Psychology degree with the aim of qualifying to be a teacher afterwards, but after a period of not knowing what I wanted to do, I realized that I was much more suited to research and science.

Do you have any fun hobbies? I like to have lots of hobbies outside of work. I shudder when I read about scientists who are retiring soon and wondering what hobbies they should take up because they’ve done nothing but work all their life. I am determined for that not to be me! I particularly like music and dance, and at the moment I play the tin whistle (cooler than you think) and do swing dancing. I also enjoy climbing, reading, and running. I’m a vegan so spend lots of time cooking interesting meals and trying out the many vegan restaurants in London. I think it’s really important to have fun hobbies – when I’m having a hard day at work, the thought of a fun evening ahead keeps me going.


What was your biggest challenge during your degree? Keeping motivated. During my second year I had a bit of a dip. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after my degree, so I struggled to keep motivated. My placement year as a researcher kicked me back into action, and I returned eager to get a good degree so that I could pursue the career I wanted.

What is your best advice for girls interested in science? Seek out women scientists who do what you want to be doing. Look them up online and find out how they got where they are. I have found out about various opportunities by looking at online CVs of scientists who are more senior than me. Also, try to make yourself known. Aim to be a role model for women or girls who are more junior than you. Even if you feel at the bottom of ladder, there is someone out there who would look up to you if they found out about you. Create your online presence – make a Twitter account, start a blog, write about your scientific interests.


What is your favorite desk snack? Peanut butter and marmite sandwiches. I have one every day for breakfast when I get to work, and another in the evening before I go home! Delicious.

What was your favorite subject in high school? I didn’t have a single favourite subject so I chose Philosophy, Physics, and Sociology for my A Levels. Quite an unusual mix!

What color socks are you wearing? Black, but with a colorful pattern on the sole. These are my favourite because they look sensible and only I know that they’re exciting underneath!

An article in The Psychologist about educational neuroscience and why I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit: