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Abigail Fiske

DPhil Candidate

  • Wadham College Senior Scholar (2022 - 2023)

Neural and cognitive development of executive functions across the first three years of life


I am a final year DPhil student working under the supervision of Dr Karla Holmboe (now at the University of Bristol) and Professor Gaia Scerif on the 'Oxford Early Executive Function' (OEEF) longitudinal project. The OEEF project aims to understand the development of executive functions across the first four years of life.

Executive function (EF) refers to a set of core skills such as working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility, that we depend on to successfully navigate the world around us. These skills begin to develop in the first year of life, and show marked improvements across childhood. However, little is known about how EFs develop across infancy, and even less so in toddlerhood. Therefore, this project is interested in identifying individual variation in both the behavioural trajectories and, using fNIRS, the neural development associated with EFs in this under-studied developmental period. My research focuses on the measurement of EFs, self-regulation, and pre-academic skills in a cohort of pre-school aged children that were tested as infants and toddlers as part of the OEEF study.

My DPhil is funded by the Medical Research Council, as part of the industrial collaborative awards in Science and Engineering (iCASE). Reflecting the ongoing collaboration between the University of Oxford and Gowerlabs, in early 2023 I undertook an internship at Gowerlabs in order to contribute to the optimisation of their fNIRS system for the study of early childhood neurocognitive development.


I was awarded my BSc (Hons) Psychology from the University of Essex in 2015, where I also worked as a research assistant for Dr Holmboe. After graduating, I undertook a PGCE in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University (2015/16) with Teach First which enabled me to embark on a 4 year career in teaching. My teaching experiences motivated me to pursue my curiosity for child development research, and so, whilst teaching part-time, I gained my MSc in Developmental Disorders from the University of Nottingham (2018/19). I am currently studying full-time for my DPhil in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford (2019 - 2023). My thesis will be submitted in October 2023 with a viva scheduled for January 2024.