BA, Physiological Sciences, 1994-97
Professor Lauren Stewart completed her first degree in Physiological Sciences at the University of Oxford in 1997. Piers Nye was her tutor and dissertation supervisor – they undertook an exciting project together on the mammalian diving reflex involved making a setup where “participants lay face down on a bed with their head in a bucket, which we progressively filled with icy cold water in order to slow their heart rate.” She went onto do her MSc in Neuroscience (hosted by Psychology) in 1998, before leaving Oxford to work and study at UCL.
Professor Stewart became a research assistant at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN), UCL, for a couple of years, before undertaking her PhD there. She worked with Professor Uta Frith at ICN, who was interested in how the brain changes as literacy is acquired. Around 2000, when functional neuroimaging was in its infancy, they embarked on designing a learning study, tracking the development of literacy acquisition. Due to inherent challenges studying adults who are functionally illiterate, Stewart came up with the idea of looking at musical literacy as a model of a notational system. Her colleagues noted her expertise in cognitive neuroscience of music, so she was offered her first postdoctoral position at Newcastle University, to investigate a musical processing disorder - congenital amusia. In 2006, she successfully applied for an RCUK fellowship to hold at Goldsmiths University, which centred on an idea to develop and found a new MSc in Music Mind and Brain. The course was launched in 2008, and around 300 students have graduated from the programme since, with many going on to do PhDs in the area, some even heading up their own labs in the subject. According to Professor Stewart: “I'm proud to say that we are still the only MSc programme worldwide focussing on the psychological and neurological aspects of musical processing. We attract students from all over the world and when they join the programme they always 'gel' fantastically well with each other, partly because they feel they have discovered 'their tribe' and often because they actually end up making music together.”
As of 2021, Professor Stewart is currently investigating the more applied aspects of music processing - using technological approaches that leverage music to aid rehabilitation after stroke, and exploring the potential of culturally embedded musical practices to support perinatal mental health in The Gambia.