Kathy Ruddy is a Research Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) and currently holds a Health Research Board Emerging Investigator Grant. In 2018 she was the winner of the Early Career Award from Neuroscience Ireland. In the same year she also won the BrainBox Research Challenge, which provides her with a lab full of equipment to conduct research combining multiple neuroscientific methods. At the end of 2019 she was presented with another Early Career Award, this time from the Psychological Society of Ireland, Division of Neuropsychology. She now heads her own lab group at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and is coordinating a clinical trial testing a new form of brain–computer interface for stroke rehabilitation.
In this interview, Kathy speaks to us about her research with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and the real-world implications of her work. She also provides her insights into the challenges faced by early-career researchers, including how she balances family time alongside doing research.
Can you tell us more about what your research focuses on and what inspired you to work in the field?
“I was always very inspired by the idea of brain–computer interfaces or brain–machine interfaces, and how we can connect the human brain to hardware.”
At the minute, I’m using a new type of neurofeedback based on TMS, where we apply a magnetic pulse to the scalp over the part of the brain that controls the arm and hand, and we measure the response in the muscle. My approach involves giving our patient or participant feedback about the size of that response so that they can learn to modulate the response to make it bigger or smaller.
I was always very inspired by the idea of brain–computer interfaces or brain–machine interfaces, and how we can connect the human brain to hardware. I had been working with TMS for a long time for different reasons and I realized that this would be a novel and potentially very useful application of TMS, to incorporate it in a neurofeedback approach and build it into a brain–computer interface.
What are the real-world applications of your research?
At the moment, we are working towards a real-world application in stroke to get the upper limb functional again. Up to 77% of stroke patients have paralysis of the upper limb after their stroke and this is a massive problem because it prevents them from getting back to work or engaging in daily activities, such as being able to feed or dress themselves. Many stroke patients want to get their arm moving again as a priority and my approach using TMS neurofeedback encourages stroke patients to train to make the responses from their paralyzed limb bigger, in the hope that it will improve the function of their limb.
In your opinion, what do you think are the biggest challenges faced by early-career researchers?
“I think that the biggest challenge is funding. There are limited opportunities available and those that exist, are very competitive.”
I think that the biggest challenge is funding. There are limited opportunities available and those that exist, are very competitive. The funding application process also takes such a long time, especially alongside your other work, so when you’re very busy as an early-career researcher, you then have to find time to write funding applications and if you don’t, you simply don’t have a job at the end of it. Therefore, I think that the biggest challenge for early-career researchers is ensuring that they have a job in a few years’ time by securing funding.
How do you balance the demands of doing research along with family time?
Well, that has recently become more challenging due to the arrival of our daughter Scarlett last year, so I’m now learning how to balance family time with my research. I think that the most important thing is having the support of family and really allowing your family to help. I have a very supportive husband and a very supportive extended family, and I think that’s what makes it all possible.
If you could give any advice to an early-career researcher, what would it be?
Get involved in as many research-related activities as possible; talk to people, go to conferences, make connections, be open to collaboration and be open to new ideas beyond what you’re currently working on. That will expand your focus, your mind and your network and ultimately, that leads to more opportunities.
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The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Neuro Central or Future Science Group.