Can New Activities Help an Ageing Brain?

Heriot-Watt University front entrance

Can taking up a new activity help our thinking skills as we age?

That’s a key question for researchers interested in cognitive ageing, the field that explores how thinking skills change over the life course, and what factors might be associated with those changes.

The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt University’s Department of Psychology have made it their mission to find out how new activities could affect our thinking skills as we age.

As we age, we are more likely to experience changes in our thinking and memory skills (these are referred to as our mental or cognitive abilities). Some people experience declines in their thinking and memory skills across their 60s and beyond, while others maintain their abilities into old age. This variation suggests that a number of factors influence the likelihood of mental decline. Keeping engaged in intellectual, social or physical activities have all been proposed as potentially beneficial.

In our major study in The Ageing Lab, we are asking people take up new and challenging activities to see how those might have benefits for their thinking skills, as well as their health and wellbeing more broadly. We’re on target to have over 300 people in that study, and the results will be reported later this year. But there’s still time for people to take part. To find out what that might involve, here are what some of our current participants think about their experiences.

Picture by Lesley Martin
7 June 2018
© Lesley Martin 2018

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A Masters Degree, Friendships and Travel: Project Manager Carman couldn’t have planned it better

Name
Chau Lok Man (Carman)

MSc Degree
MSc International Business Management with Project Management

Undergraduate degree/university
Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing an Management, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

Nationality
Chinese (Hong Kong, China)

1. What drove your decision to study a Masters degree in your subject? Did you have a specific end goal in mind?

I wanted to explore something new for my further study that could be related to my previous study. I thought a masters degree in project management would advance my level of study and be beneficial to my future career. Nowadays, project management is essential to all kinds of organisations, no matter in private and business industries, or in public services. I hoped that studying in project management could enhance my understanding and upgrade my skills of project planning, execution, controlling and evaluation.

2. What was it about Heriot-Watt and your programme that made you want to study here?

The critical reason for me to choose Heriot-Watt was my programme title “International Business Management (IBM)” with a specific field of study in Project Management. The broader sense of curriculum brought me flexibility to explore other elective subjects such as Digital Marketing, HR and Finance. This curriculum enriched my Project Management learning and widened my knowledge in other subject areas. I was particularly happy to continue my learning in marketing through the elective courses in digital marketing and Marketing for SMEs. They are the practical courses which are not limited to reading and writing only, but also real project execution to produce videos and develop a start-up to raise funds for charity.

3. Can you tell us about a course or part of your degree you’ve particularly enjoyed?

I really enjoyed working with my friends as a team for most of the project assignments because International Business Management at Heriot-Watt has a great variety of students from different nationalities. We can make friends from all over the world and work together towards a common goal to finish the assignments. We exchanged ideas, learnt from each other, and shared interesting things about cultural differences. It was really a fantastic moment when we were celebrating after all the work was done. Friendship is one of the precious thing that I gained here other than anything in academic.

4. Can you tell us about a lecturer or tutor that has made a positive impact on your studies? How have you found the personal tutor system at HWU?

Professor Kate Sang is a wonderful supervisor. Whenever I ran into any questions or challenges about my dissertation, Kate was always offering a helping hand to provide irreplaceable advice and suggestions for me. She consistently guided me to the right direction while ensuring my thesis was my own work. Without her supervision and constant help, my dissertation would not have been possible. Her comments were not just valuable for my thesis, but also inspired me for my future career path.

5. Beyond your studies, how would you describe your experience of being a Masters student in Edinburgh and at Heriot-Watt?

Edinburgh is such a beautiful and peaceful city that totally differs from the hustle and bustle in Hong Kong. As an international student, I enjoyed travelling around the highlands of Scotland and Edinburgh in my free time. The natural scenes in the highlands are amazing and gorgeous. Taking part in the annual festivals in Edinburgh, like the Military Tattoo, was an unforgettable experience, to know more about Scottish culture and be immersed in such an exciting atmosphere.

6. What is your ambition for after you graduate? Do you think your Masters degree will help you achieve it?

I have not decided my future career path yet but I am sure that my Masters degree will be a meticulous preparation for any future job. I am interested in working on a range of projects, no matter in business or public services sectors. I value teamwork and look forward to working with a productive and supporting team. I believe that my master study in Project Management will definitely help me a lot and the experience of working with different people has boosted my interpersonal and communication skills.

During the Digital Marketing course in Semester 2, Carman and her classmates were set an assignment to create an authentic VLOG about their time at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. You can watch their video below.

Why Edinburgh sparkles in the darker months…

Edinburgh is an incredible city to study in.

Don’t just take our word for it; it regularly tops the polls for best place to live, work and study in Europe.
This week it reached the top spot of the Arcadis poll – read the full article here

This city knows how to put on a good show, we are constantly struck by the way both residents and visitors alike embrace a party, and this year’s holiday celebrations wont let us down. There’s so much to see and do, so if you are sticking around our campus this year, please get out into the city and take in some of the many fun filled events going on.

Here are some of our highlights:

The Edinburgh Torchlight Procession
Join in with the thousands of people that take to the streets on the 30th December to say goodbye to 2018; There will be Bagpipers, Drummers and its all to celebrate the end of the Year of Young People here in Scotland. The money raised goes goes to One City Trust, fighting inequality and exclusion in the City of Edinburgh. Buy your tickets here

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Torchlight Procession at Holyrood Park watch the fireworks display beyond an illuminated Palace of Holyrood House.

The Loony Dook
Its the first day of the year and one of our newer traditions here in Edinburgh is to start the year with a refreshing dip in the North sea..! Well why not, they started this in the 1980s and it seems to have stuck You can ‘dook’ in the safety of numbers both in South Queensferry under the Forth Rail Bridge or at Edinburgh’s beach resort Portabello – Portie to the locals. Or those of you less partial to freezing cold waters can just grab a hot chocolate and watch the rest of the fancy dressed brigade do it instead.

The Loony Dook on New Year’s Day in South Queensferry

The Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Ceilidh
Well who doesn’t love a Ceilidh right? We love them here at SoSS and have our own Postgraduate one in January to celebrate Burns Night, so if you want to practice your moves then go along and join this one in the street to see in the new year. This will be big and bold and has some of Scotlands leading Ceilidh bands at it too – Jimi Shandrix Experience, Hugh MacDiarmid’s Haircut, and Ceilidhdonia.

So that’s our faves from this years festive fun. We wish you all a very happy holiday, best wishes for the 2019. We put together a little festive message for you all to enjoy!
Heriot-Watt SoSS wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Business Interns – Carina Gerards tells us about life in Toronto!

SoSS met with Carina Gerards; 2018’s successful Array Marketing Intern
Carina had just completed her internship in the Toronto head office of Array. She was one of two students who successfully applied and took part in a dissertation project for the global cosmetic visual merchandiser. Carina is originally from Germany, and travelled to Edinburgh to study her MSc with us – she graduates this November.

How are you Carina, now that you have completed your Internship and your MSc with us?

“I am feeling relaxed, I love research so the dissertation part of my degree was fascinating for me. I hope to do a PhD in the future as research projects are where my interests lie. I am heading back to Germany where I hope to apply for a PhD.”

Carina popped into the SoSS Marketing office this summer to give us the low down on the Array internship. During our discussions she described Array as a ‘social and warm cosmetic company’. Carina had previously worked in for several cosmetic companies in Germany; with one in particular proving a negative experience. This made her question if she ever wanted to work in that specific industry again. Thankfully Array – and Honorary Professor Tom Hendren changed her mind. Her first encounter with Array was Professor Hendren’s pitch’ to the International Marketing Management masters cohort to invite them to apply for the once in a lifetime internship with his company.

“Professor Hendren’s presentation to my class was relaxed and open, I could tell from this that Array were a great company to work with. Tom had such a natural approach and seemed so rooted – this was incredibly important to me”.

How did you apply for the Array internship?

“I had to submit my CV, create a written cover letter in support of the opportunity and then interview. As I had worked in the beauty industry previously (for a German company which operates in 53 countries globally), I knew that my experience was relevant. I was not however taking it easy.”

Carina described how she was so nervous she went into the interview shaking with fear! Tom Hendren, Elaine Collinson (a leading academic on the Business Management programme) recognised this and tried their best to relax her. Carina, came armed with a wide range of industry questions which when they were answered, also helped to put her at ease.

Tell us about your experience of transitioning to Toronto.

Carina described how she feels culturally open-minded; her partner is not German, she grew up many nationalities in her family and she studies in Scotland; multicultural is completely normal to Carina. She is very open and relaxed about cultural differences and found the transition to Canada relatively smooth. She discussed how the lack of additional language barrier was a major bonus! Carina did prepare for life in Canada’s capital, spending loads of time reading up about the culture of Canadians (magazines, corporate journals and cultural references on social media) and city life in Toronto but stressed that her 10 months here in Edinburgh helped as the transition to Scotland had been an easy one too.
How long were you there for?

“We completed our final exam packed our bags and headed out! Nora Holmen (the other SoSS intern) was already there (she headed out a day ahead of Carina) and knowing that she would be there was a blessing.”

The two student colleagues had a few days to explore the locality – Scarborough, the eastern part of the city a young and vibrant district. Fortunately, members of the Array Research and Development team also lived in the area, and offered helpful advice and a welcoming tour of the area to socialise.

What’s Array like to work for?

Carina noted that Array was a really busy work place, where the culture is supportive but hard working. Carina said the culture was one of

“striving to do your very best but you are not worked to the grind; you won’t end up ill working there”

The Array project entailed working with several different departments across the Array business, holding interviews with key staff and getting to know several different functions of the business. As Carina had a damaged view of the corporate world due to her negative previous experience she was keen to work with a company that had heart and passion; not creating robots – this is what she found at Array.

What was the hardest thing you did during the internship?

The board presentation; Carina and Nora Holmen had to present their project to the full board and the HR department. Carina described how this was such a challenge, after working so hard over the 5 weeks for it, they were understandably extremely nervous.

“We went overboard and were delighted when Elaine Collinson arrived in the presentation/grading week and helped us trim the presentation; down from 140 slides to 40! We had got tangled up in the perspective, and had forgotten to view ourselves as consultants providing Array with a business prospect, rather than an essay!”

After the presentation, there was a Q & A session, where several members of the board asked about specifics and how Array could implement the suggestions into the business. Carina felt that the project gave Array something tangible,

“We had the customer insights and raw data tied up in some useable solutions, which if implemented could give Array a technological edge.”

Carina, whilst she found the end pitch challenging, also found it extremely inspiring, delivering data and insights to key staff members who could appreciate the value of their work. It was very rewarding for her.

What was the best thing about the Internship for you Carina?

Carina was keen to make her parents proud; confirm to them that she had left her highly paid and skilled job in Germany for something worthwhile.

“I wanted to prove to them (parents) that my MSc was taking me somewhere worthwhile. Studying at Heriot-Watt has allowed me to show them this; choosing this programme and being successfully chosen to do the Array internship has done this. I am super proud of this experience and I loved the challenge.”

“Working with Array has given me the confidence to work for large corporates again in the future. I loved it, it was a brilliantly refreshing experience. The culture in the office was enlightening and vibrant, welcoming and friendly, everyone knew everyone’s names, and you were allowed to be you in the workplace – there were people with tattoos and colourful hair, this is not what I expected from a corporate.”

Carina is passionate about technology with a specific interest in AI and her potential PhD is based around this. Carina also spoke at length about how the culture of Array greatly impressed her.

For any students thinking about applying for the Array Internship or an MSc with Heriot Watt – do you have any advice?

“Go for it, you should never stop learning. I really think that’s very important. It’s hard but so worth it. This internship allowed me to travel and to work at the same time, getting paid, food and a home in Toronto, it’s a benefit from every point of view. Heriot Watt University is such a great place to study, and this internship is a practical experience – you are not just making the coffee. It’s your own project so be and show who you are throughout it; as an authentic presentation is incredibly valuable”.

Thanks Carina!
Carina Gerards will graduate with a Distinction in the MSc in International Marketing Management with Consumer Psychology last week. She is now working back home in Germany in a company operating in the same field as Array; and they are supporting her through her PhD.

Carina Gerards
Carina – One of our recently Graduated Masters Students

Climbing the learning ladder

Though you might come to Heriot-Watt as an undergrad, the journey doesn’t have to stop there. Several of our undergrad and masters students go on to further study or research with the University, and even begin a career here!

Gordon Jack is currently working within the Pre-Sessional English Admissions team in SoSS. Indeed, he is no stranger to the university, having studied at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD level here.

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SoSS Psychology students “Research the Headlines”

Alan Gow from our Psychology department, has written for us on “Research the Headlines”, a fascinating blog project enabling students to develop their critical thinking skills and ability to disseminate their growing knowledge. Well done to the students involved in showcasing their work!

In our teaching, we want to ensure that our students not only get a firm grasp of their topic, but that they develop a range of skills that might be relevant after they graduate. For students in the 4th Year course Psychology of Ageing, one of the pieces of coursework helped them to develop their abilities in communicating their specialised knowledge. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. At the end of June, Research the Headlines showcased some of that work.

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What can Blackpool donkeys teach us about exercise

Neil Gibson, Director of Sport, Performance and Health at Oriam: Scotland’s sports performance centre, and Programme Director within the School of Social Sciences recently published a paper looking at optimising recovery between intense periods of work. Here he explains how exercise and interdisciplinary research might help us organise and optimise how allowing people to choose their own recovery lengths might be something worth considering.

Director of Performance, Sport and Health for Oriam

High intensity training is in vogue. It’s being prescribed in CrossFit gyms to exercise classes and interventions designed to help people battle diabetes and manage their weight. But what exactly is it? Generally speaking, the ‘exercise’ part is prescribed using resistance training (lifting weights or moving your body in space), cycling, running or rowing either outside or on specially designed ergometers. The intensity, which is how hard the exercise is or is perceived to be, is often individualised in an attempt to make the stimulus more effective, as is the length of each repetition, from 30 seconds to four minutes. It is fair to say that there has been a reasonable amount of research done around how best to prescribe these bouts of exercise, however, in contrast, relatively little regarding how best to schedule recovery periods. Whether we are involved in periods of intense work in our jobs or during exercise, how we recover is paramount to how effective we are likely to be.
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10 Fun Facts About Our Beloved City!

Are you thinking of studying in Edinburgh? Is Clearing the route you are taking into University? Seize the opportunity with both hands and choose Edinburgh as your city to study in. As proud ‘Dunediners’ (the old name for Edinburgh is Dunedin) the SoSS Recruitment and Marketing team have created some fun little-known-facts about the city they live, learn and work in. If this is the city you choose to study in, Edinburgh is brilliant and here are some reasons why!

1: Edinburgh hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1972: in the Usher Hall (which is a beautiful venue on Lothian Road).

2: Edinburgh appears in Grand Theft Auto! (Rockstar North have their Head Office here) and they featured the two bridges: the Forth Rail Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge in GTA: San Andreas, we wonder if they will update this with the new third bridge the Queensferry Crossing…?

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The brain before the body

Dr Anna Sedda, Assistant Professor in our Psychology Department, recently published a paper on the importance of working with the mind as well as the body when managing recovery from spinal cord injury. Here she talks through the role of the brain in our perceptions of the body and its abilities.

You are your body. What a silly sentence, right? Of course we have a physical body that belongs to us and we use to drink coffee or, if you are not as lazy as myself, to go for a walk. The interesting thing is that our body is not only “physical”: we do also have a mental representation of it. This cognitive function is called body representation, and is ruled by our brain activity. Even more importantly, this body representation contributes to a great deal to our self-identity.
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LINCS launches languages app

An exciting new application has been launched by our Languages and Intercultural Studies department, enabling new migrants to learn the language of their host country and familiarise themselves with culture-specific vocabulary and concepts; thereby potentially removing some barriers to integration. The Moving Languages app is the result of an EU-funded project led by Finnish organisation Learnmera Oy, with LINCS at Heriot-Watt as one of the partners.

Free to download on iOS and Android, the app is user-friendly, versatile and comprehensive, providing a gamified language- and culture-learning tool. It contains 4000+ illustrated vocabulary items for easy concept recognition, grammar exercises, flashcards, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, culture, administration, health and immigration tabs, dialogues with audio, audio spelling and comprehension tests and many other features. The app covers topics that are essential during the first steps of living in the host country.

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