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Professor Catherine Harmer









When did you first get interested in the brain? 

I became interested in the brain when I was about 15.  I read a lot about the debate at the time about ‘hot-housing’ children and how amazing mathematical or scientific skills could be trained from an early age. Some of the 7 year old children could solve problems at a much higher level than I could have dreamt of!  The fact that the brain is so adaptable at such a young age was intriguing and I became fascinated in other ways to change brain function, I think ultimately contributing to my interest in the effects of drug treatments affecting the brain.

Who has inspired you during your career?

Geoff Hall, behavioural learning theorist, inspired me during my undergraduate days at the University of York.  He seemed to me the definition of an academic; always engaged, challenging, interesting and with a loud bike horn he would sound during tutorials if we were too slow to speak.  I’m very grateful to Phil Cowen and Guy Goodwin here at the University of Oxford for introducing me to Psychiatry and for being inspiring and expert mentors

What has been the most important paper in your area in the last 12 months?

It’s hard to pick just one so I’ll go for the recency effect and mention the paper I just read which is titled: Mechanisms of memory disruption in depression, Trends Neuroscience 2018 (January) by Dillon and Pizzagalli.  This is a really interesting conceptualisation of impaired positive memory in depression, linking animal and human studies and highlighting how changes in network activity may manifest as emotional bias.

What is the next exciting breakthrough in your field going to be?

I think we will see a new wave of rapid acting antidepressant drugs which will transform the landscape of treating depression.

What do you do outside the lab:

Largely have fun with my 3 children.  I also try to run, swim, dance or cycle every so often and I like eating and sleeping too.

What’s your favourite film/book/music?

I read all kinds of fiction, but one of my favourite novelists is Ian McEwan, I loved Sweet tooth and Solar (featuring a rather unpleasant academic who comes to a sticky end). At the moment I like running to Sia and Tove Lo and listening to the Eels to chill out. I enjoyed the Darkest Hour recently and spend a lot of time watching films for children (like inside out) which are surprisingly good.