I have an abstract! I've just submitted my first report (RSMG1) stating that I will be working as follows:
Computational Modelling of Neurological Disorders
This work will begin with the undertaking of a general literature review to better understand and attempt to synthesize the field of computational modelling of neurological disorders, and recent developments within it. Disorders currently of particular interest are Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. The literature review is expected to identify a number of current computational models focussing on different aspects of the various disorders, as well as shortcomings of these models and potential ways forward. The main contribution of the work will be the development of improved and refined models that better represent the underlying biological processes. The work will involve testing of the improved models against empirical evidence (either from medical literature or specifically-commissioned experiments) to ascertain the level of support which can be given to them. The approach adopted will involve various techniques from the fields of neural computation and computational neuroscience, and possibly evolutionary computation.
Next steps are a little unclear though, as officially I have nothing to submit until May 2010 now. By then I should have a "brief summary of work done so far, including literature reviewed, any coursework taken, programming languages learnt, talks given, etc." so that should give me some ideas where to start at least.
You may notice I've added references to schizophrenia in my abstract. This is largely because a lot of the current computational modelling literature focusses in this area. Now, schizophrenia is a fascinating disorder, but the amount of attention being devoted to it seems disproportionately large given that a majority of people (thankfully) will not suffer from or be influenced by it; something which unfortunately cannot be said for dementia.
I'm currently in two minds: I can either go down the currently-fashionable route of schizophrenia modelling, which could be easier given the current work being done in the field, and just try to achieve a PhD out of it as quickly as possible. Or I can stick with the less-fashionable field of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and ambitiously hope that I can come up with something really profound during my three years of research that might make a real difference to a lot of people.
Ambition or achievement?
Of course there is a third way... By studying the work being done in schizophrenia modelling I may be able to apply new models emerging from that field into the field of dementia, and through this contribute to both fields. This may prove difficult (not least because I'll have to learn about both disorders in great detail) but could be the most rewarding path to take.
Well, in the meantime I have a handful of interesting papers to read, but it's probably about time I dusted off my programming gloves and neural networks books and bashed out a few multi-layer perceptron and Hopfield networks to get started.