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MRC Skills Development Fellow: Wessel Woldman


Wessel Woldman     

Current job

MRC Skills Development Fellow

Key quote

"[This fellowship] allows me to be in an excellent position to address research questions regardng the network properties of people with epileptic seizures."

Education and career in brief

After completing my Bachelor Applied Mathematics at the University of Twene, Netherlands, I combined a Master Applied Mathematics and a Master Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society. Completing two masters simultaneously was highly challenging at times, but also very rewarding. It allowed me to explore my interests in neuroscience from both a mathematical and a more ethical/philosophical standpoint – considering the ethical implications of deep brain stimulation, in particular. I felt I could make the most concrete contributions in the field of computational neuroscience as a mathematician, and decided to undertake a PhD in mathematics researching epilepsy at the University of Exeter under supervision of professor John Terry.

What attracted you to the Skills Development Fellowship?

Though I come from a quantitative background, I have become really passionate about working on clinical and biomedical problems, trying to discern how mathematics can be applied optimally to reveal new insights and finding ways to support clinical and medical practice in as far as that is possible. This Fellowship will allow me to do exactly this: it will enable me to work on the clinical problem of diagnosis of epilepsy. By learning and developing news skills from a clinical (data-collection/processing) as well as a mathematical perspective (parameter inference, uncertainty quantification), I will be in an excellent position to address research questions regarding the network properties of people with epileptic seizures. This fellowship will aid me further as I am supervised by two world-leading neurologists (King’s College London, University of Melbourne) in their clinical environment and research groups, as well as get the most out of a new research institute as well as several recent research centres at the University of Exeter aimed at tackling complex biomedical problems. 

Biggest challenges

I have experience with data-analysis and subsequent modelling, but I have never collected it, nor pre-processed it. As my goal is to discern improvements to the current process of diagnosing epilepsy, it is crucial to have a real and deep understanding of that process (i.e. not just through reading papers). This will allow me to learn how things are currently done in practice, which will inform the data-analysis and models I will develop.

Words of wisdom

If you come from a more theoretical background and want to work on clinical or biomedical problems through setting up collaborations with researchers from another discipline, I strongly advise you to spend a significant amount of time with people from that other field. Visit their universities, labs, clinics, conferences or workshops; talk to them, ask them seemingly ‘naive’ questions; make sure you understand what it is they do and what they want to achieve. You need to understand the questions they’re trying to solve, you need to understand the ‘language’ they use to do so, their ‘focus’, and – most importantly – how something that you will develop will be of value to them.

Next steps

My ambition is to continue using advanced mathematical and computational tools and methods to research clinical and biomedical problems through interdisciplinary collaborations. I am particularly interested in other neurological disorders associated with network abnormalities, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Long term, I aspire to have my own independent research lab at a university that promotes such interdisciplinary research, where we use computational and mathematical techniques to biomedical questions and problems. 

I will obtain greater independence through establishing successful collaborations with the clinical environments at King’s College and University of Melbourne, as well as through the organization of a forum event including people with epilepsy, their family members, carers, and the general public informing people of the ongoing research and co-create new research ideas.