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Abigail Fiske

DPhil Student

Neuro-Cognitive Development of Executive Function across the First Three Years of Life


I am a DPhil candidate, working under the supervision of Dr Karla Holmboe and Professor Gaia Scerif on the 'Oxford Early Executive Function' (OEEF) longitudinal project, studying the development of executive functions across the first three 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 and neural trajectories of executive functions in this under-studied period of infancy and toddlerhood. Since none currently exist, my work within this project will focus on the development of a new working memory task that is suitable for use with children aged 2-3 years, but that can be used alongside functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) - this will enable us to investigate both behavioural and neural improvements in EF in this age group. 

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, I will be undertaking an internship at Gowerlabs in order to contribute to the optimisation of their fNIRS system for the study of early childhood neurocognitive development. 

Academic Pathway

I was awarded my BSc (Hons) Psychology from the University of Essex in 2015, where I also worked as a research assistant alongside my studies. After graduating, I undertook a PGCE in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University (2015/16) which enabled me to embark on a 4 year career in teaching. My teaching experiences motivated me to pursue my curiosity for research, and so, whilst teaching part-time, I gained my MSc in Developmental Disorders from the University of Nottingham (2018/19).

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