The Faculty of Science is a leading international centre of ...
Faculty of Science
Information for applicants
Post title: Research Associate
Salary: £25,134 - £29,139 pa
Closing date: 16th
November 2007 Interview date: 27th
Information included in this pack:
Section: 1.0 The post
1.1 Post details
1.2 Job description
1.3 Person specification
2.0 Applying for the post
2.1 How to apply
2.2 Application information
3.0 Faculty information
3.1 Faculty of Science
3.2 Department of Life Sciences
Section 1.0: THE POST
Section 1.1: POST DETAILS
Post title: Research Associate
Reports to: Dr Paul Gabbott and Dr Payam Rezaie (Joint Project Leaders)
Faculty of Science, Department of Life Sciences
Salary details: £25,134 - £29,139 pa
Location: Department of Life Sciences,
The Open University,
Working hours: Full-time
Contract type: Fixed term contract - 36 months
Section 1.2: JOB DESCRIPTION
Overall job purpose
To undertake research on the project “Dendritic Organization within the Cerebral Cortex in
Autism” funded by Autism Speaks (USA) (http://www.autismspeaks.org/), in accordance
with the project outline and specifications, as directed by the project leaders (Drs. Gabbott
Brain imaging studies in patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) indicate that deficits
in social cognition, language, communication and stereotypical behaviours may be related
to functional alterations in specific brain regions and neural networks. Neuropathological
studies indicate that a common feature in ASD is the abnormal cellular development of
specific areas of the cerebral cortex. A key architectural construct of the developing cortex
is that the ascending apical dendrites of pyramidal neurons in different layers aggregate into
discrete vertically oriented bundles. These dendritic bundles are directly related to the radial
‘mini-columnar’ organization of pyramidal cell bodies and appear in tangential sections
through the cortex as discrete clusters of dendritic profiles. This project, funded by Autism
Speaks (USA), will examine in detail the organization of dendrites within defined areas of
the cerebral cortex of individuals with autism. Since morphometric studies reveal marked
alterations in the spatial arrangement of neuronal somata in cortical areas whose functions
underlie the observed behavioural deficits in ASD, this project seeks to answer the
fundamental question: ‘To what extent is the laminar organization of pyramidal cell apical
dendrites within defined areas of the cerebral cortex altered in autism?’ This pioneering
neuroanatomical/pathological investigation will be conducted on post-mortem brain tissue
obtained through the Autism Tissue Program (USA) with full ethical approval. Sophisticated
2D- and 3D-image analysis will be employed in a highly innovative manner, to obtain
detailed insight into the extent to which information processing, at the level of select
dendritic networks, is altered within functionally-defined brain areas in autism. The study
therefore aims to establish a neuroanatomical basis for the core behavioural changes
observed in autism, by enabling functional alterations (behaviour) to be correlated with
specific cytoarchitectural alterations in dendritic networks (neural processing) in functionally-
related areas of the cerebral cortex in autism.
To undertake advanced quantitative neuroanatomical research in the laboratories of Dr Paul
Gabbott and Dr Payam Rezaie (Morphometry, Histology and Neuropathology Research
Laboratories) investigating the central hypothesis that there is a significant spatial
reorganization in the laminar architecture of pyramidal cell apical dendrites in cortical areas
affected in autism. The project will involve histological processing of formalin-fixed post-
mortem materials into paraffin-wax, serial sectioning of materials at 10m thickness using a
rotary and/or base-sledge microtome onto glass slides, and will employ extensive optimized
immunohistochemical applications. Immunoreacted slides will subsequently be used in light
microscopic, computerized morphometric analyses (serial image acquisition and 2D/3D
analyses) to address the following aims:
Aim (i) 2D Planar Dendritic Cluster Data: To quantitatively define layer-specific
alterations in the composition and tangential arrangement of immunocytochemically
identified pyramidal cell dendrites in defined cortical areas in patients with autism and
Aim (ii) 3D Models of Dendritic Bundling: To reconstruct from serial tangential sections,
3D models of the cortical territory occupied by apical dendritic bundles and related cell
minicolumns in specific layers of cortical regions affected in autism.
Aim (iii) 3D Statistical Analyses: To statistically analyze the 3D organization of pyramidal
cell dendritic bundles in defined cortical layers and areas, in patients with autism and in
The results of this novel study will enable the direct correlation of core behavioural changes
observed in autism, with identified cellular alterations in laminar specific neural and dendritic
networks in functionally related cortical areas - thereby significantly advancing our
fundamental understanding of the neurobiology underlying the development of autism.
Line management responsibilities
Financial resource management responsibilities
Challenges and opportunities
The challenge of this pioneering study is to combine brightfield microscopy and image
analysis to derive serially reconstructed 3D-structural images of dendritic architecture within
cerebral cortical laminae from relatively thin immunoreacted sections cut tangentially to the
cerebral cortex. Such an innovative approach will address directly, and for the first time, one
of the most significant questions underlying the functional operation of the cerebral cortex in
patients with autism. This Autism Speaks funded project therefore provides an exciting and
unique opportunity to make a fundamental contribution at the forefront of research into the
neurobiology of autism.
The research will be primarily undertaken at The Open University in Milton Keynes UK, and
the emerging quantitative data analyzed in collaboration with Dr. Christoph Schmitz
(Maastricht University, The Netherlands), a co-investigator in the project and a leading
expert in morphometric and statistical analyses.
Section 1.3: PERSON SPECIFICATION
Qualifications, experience and expertise
• Background in neuropathology or neuroscience
• High degree of technical proficiency in
- neurohistological techniques
- light-microscopic image analysis
- morphometry and statistical analysis
• Excellent record-keeping and organisational skills
• Well-developed self-management skills
• Ability to time-manage a demanding workload
• Ability to work independently and as part of a multidisciplinary research team
• Excellent oral and written communication skills
• PhD or equivalent research experience
• Knowledge of the functional cellular architecture of the cerebral cortex
• Preparation of manuscripts and related material for publication and presentation of
experimental data at national and international conferences
• Disseminating research findings to wider public audiences.
• At interview, candidates will be expected to discuss their research experience, future
career plans and issues related to the neuropathology of autism.
Section 2.0: APPLYING FOR THE POST
Section 2.1: HOW TO APPLY
a) Your application should include:
Completed Application Form
A 1 page covering letter to explain how you meet the person
b) Send the above documents to:
Department of Life Sciences
The Open University
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
to arrive by 16th
Three referees should be nominated, at least one of whom should be from your current or
most recent employer. Please provide full contact details in the Referee section of the
application form, stating any reservations you may have about approaching them.
Section 2.2: APPLICATION INFORMATION
Eligibility: Internal/External applicants
Closing date: 16th
If you wish to discuss this post informally, please contact
Dr. Paul Gabbott (e-mail email@example.com) or Dr. Payam Rezaie (e-mail
Shortlisting: Shortlisting will be completed as soon as possible after the closing date
Interviews: Interviews will be held on 27th
The Open University welcomes applications from disabled people, and
information about disability is requested solely in order to make appropriate
arrangements for an interview if necessary. Disabled applicants whose skills
and experience meet the requirements of the job will be interviewed. A map
and access guide for the disabled indicating routes to buildings, lift access and
reserved parking on campus is available on request.
Retirement Age The Open University operates a normal retirement age of 65. Applications can
only be accepted from people up to the age of 64 years and 6 months at the
date of their application. This is in line with the Employment Equality (Age)
Eligibility to work
in the UK
Successful candidates will be required to produce evidence of their eligibility to
work in the UK by producing verifiable documents. Further details will be sent
to the successful candidate with the written offer of employment.
The appointment process reflects the University’s and the Faculty of Science’s
commitment to Equal Opportunities and the need to ensure these principles are
reflected in all aspects of the appointment procedure.
Section 3.0: UNIVERSITY AND FACULTY INFORMATION
Section 3.1: THE FACULTY OF SCIENCE
Dean of Science: Professor Phil Potts
The Faculty of Science is a leading international centre of academic excellence and hosts a
vibrant and flourishing research community based in state-of-the-art research
facilities at the Open University’s 40 hectare campus in Milton Keynes, a city that’s
one of the fastest-developing areas in the UK. The Faculty of Science has research
expertise across a range of scientific topics and aims to produce high-quality
research with an international profile. The Faculty has research groups of
international standing in the earth and environmental sciences, planetary and space
sciencs, astronomy, biological sciences and the physical and molecular sciences.
Our research shapes the identity of the University’s campus, stimulates our teaching
and serves as a springboard for public engagement activities throughout the world.
We provide opportunities for post-graduate and post-doctoral researchers to develop
and launch their own research careers while working alongside leading international
The Faculty of Science undertakes a range of research across many scientific topics that
brings together traditional scientific disciplines and new interdisciplinary areas through three
major research groupings:
• The Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)
• Research in Life Sciences
• Research in Atomic, Molecular and Materials Engineering
Our research encompasses both 'blue-skies' basic research and applied research to find
solutions to specific scientific and technological problems. Current research priorities are
highlighted in our key research themes, which build on our long-standing areas of
excellence. In addition, the Faculty of Science is supporting a number of new ‘genesis’
areas where new synergies are rapidly developing in response to external research
opportunities. We have over 4500 square metres of state-of-the-art research laboratories
with major research facilities that include a state-of-the-art life sciences research facility with
biological containment laboratories, molecular genetics, histology and DNA-sequencing
The Faculty of Science also supports an exceptional programme of training and
development for postgraduate research students that provides an organised and structured
means by which students can both assess their research skills and plan the development
and acquisition of these skills during their PhD studies.
For more information, please see the following website at http://www.open.ac.uk/science/
Section 3.2: DEPARTMENT OF LIFE SCIENCES
Head of Department: Dr. Hilary MacQueen
The Department is made up of 36 academics who perform research across the full range of
the biological sciences. In addition, there are 11 post-doctoral researchers, 20 full-time
research students and, during 2006/7, 6 visiting researchers working in our laboratories.
Members of the Department hold, and have held, a variety of research grants from,
amongst others, the BBSRC, NERC, EU Framework 6, DEFRA, Wellcome Trust,
Leverhulme Trust, Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Royal Society, NAAR/Autism Speaks and
NIMH. At the postgraduate level, the department runs a full PhD research degree
programme with students supported by the BBSRC, NERC, MRC (Medical Research
Council), RSPB charities (such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society) and from The Open
University. Our industrial research partners include, Regen Therapeutics and
Our Department is divided into two main research areas centred on Biomedical Sciences
and Biodiversity. Within Biomedical Science, research groups are working within the
neurosciences (including neuropathology and neuroimmunology), cellular immunology, the
biology of ageing, gene expression and cognitive psychology. Amongst the key research
priority areas in the Department are autism, ageing and neurodegeneration, immunology of
the nervous system, cellular and molecular neurobiology, cognitive science and
neurosience. Our research teams comprise biologists, chemists, environmental scientists,
physicists and psychologists who contribute to a vibrant and interdisciplinary research
community. Our laboratory facilities have recently been substantially expanded and include
molecular genetics laboratories, a DNA-sequencing laboratory, dark rooms, tissue
culture/time-lapse suites, electron microscopes, confocal microscope suite, histology and
morphometric laboratories and a radiation suite which houses a cell harvester, beta
scintillation and gamma counters (see below).
Most of our research concerns key strategic areas identified by UK research councils.
Notably, we have been very successful in obtaining funding from the highly competitive
European Framework 6 initiative (for a multicentre neuroscientific project entitled
‘Promemoria’), from BBSRC strategic funding initiatives into Ageing (SAGE, ERA), neural
function (NEURONE) and BIOIMAGING. We have also increased our funding from research
charities such as Autism Speaks (USA), the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Wellcome
Trust and a have developed a number of new links with Industry (GlaxoSmithKline, Regen,
Bristol-Myers-Squibb). Much of our research is based on very successful collaborations with
other universities and institutes and with industry, both nationally and internationally.
Through our regional centre in Cambridge, we maintain close links with the Cambridge
Genetics Knowledge Park and the i10 network.
The Department offers a range of specialist skills and expertise across the life sciences
area of research, described in more detail below. We are keen to involve external partners
in our research through their involvement in collaborative research projects, sponsored PhD
studentships and contract research projects.
For further information please refer to our web site: http://www.open.ac.uk/science/biosci/
Our Laboratory Facilities
The Department of Life Sciences houses high quality specialist research laboratories well
equipped with standard analytical and preparative equipment for biochemistry,
microbiology, molecular biology, Drosophila culture, neurophysiology, histology,
stereology/morphometry, polarising microscopy, ultrasound and behaviour recording. Our
laboratories include fully equipped suites for molecular biology, tissue culture, cell culture
and electrophysiology, molecular ecology and ecohydrology. A new suite of laboratories for
biomedical research, funded by £2 million SRIF investment was recently opened by
Professor Colin Blakemore in September 2006.
Within Biomedical Science, we offer excellent microscopy facilities that include EM, UV,
fluorescence, timelapse, confocal and a wide range of light-microscopes. We also have a
suite of image analysis microscopes using specialist software dedicated to densitometry
and 2D-morphometric analyses, as well as a Neurolucida (MicroBrightField, USA) computer
assisted microscope system for the reconstruction and rotation of neurons and neural
A self-contained electron microscopy suite houses two transmission
electron microscopes (JOEL 100kV and 200kV) and one scanning
electron microscope. These are equipped with both image acquisition
and analytical equipment and software. This suite includes a large
preparation facility for processing biological material, including
cryopreparation and immunocytochemistry. In August 2007, a new
120kV JEM1400 transmission electron microscope with digital image
acquisition was installed, having been purchased on the SRIF3 initiative. A separate
specialist laboratory suite contains a Leica NT laser scanning confocal microscope with
networked Silicon Graphics work station and image processing package that allows 3-D
reconstruction and deconvolution.
We have excellent facilities for standard optical microscopy;
fluorescence microscopes with image analysis packages (both on-
line and off-line) and an inverted fluorescence microscope with
time-lapse video image acquisition. Our microscopy facilities are
supported by a very well equipped and fully-serviced histology
laboratory, with paraffin wax processing, section staining, vacuum
embedding and cryostat sectioning. In addition, we have specialist microscopes equipped
for micro-injection of cultured cells, injection of Drosophila embryos and for yeast tetrad
The Department has six separate cell and tissue culture facilities, each of
which is dedicated to work with primary or established animal or human cells
or tissues, including organotypic slice culture. Cell biology work is supported
by both a fluorescent activated cell analyser, a time-lapse video imaging
system, cell micro-injection system and a liquid nitrogen storage facility. The
new biomedicine laboratory suite, opening in 2005, includes culture facilities
to work at containment level 3. A specialist electrophysiology laboratory uses
both intracellular and extracellular recording techniques to record and
manipulate neuronal tissue. The laboratory uses the latest in computer aided acquisition
and analysis of synaptic activity.
For further information please refer to our web site: http://www.open.ac.uk/science/biosci/
Section 3.3: THE UNIVERSITY
The Open University transforms lives through education. It has become by far the largest
university in the UK, now teaching well over 200,000 people every year. We have
expanded our activities throughout Europe and our highly rated teaching materials are used
by other institutions in many parts of the world. We are consistently achieving high rankings
both in research and teaching quality assessments.
Teaching is through the provision of specially designed, high quality, materials
encompassing traditional print texts, television, video, CD-ROM, internet and electronic
conferencing together with first class personalised tuition, learning feedback and support.
The success of the Open University is due to our outstanding staff. There are around
13,000 staff (including 7,500 Associate Lecturers). Staff and potential staff are treated
solely on the basis of their merits, abilities and potential, regardless of gender, colour, ethnic
or national origin, age, socio-economic background, disability, religious or political beliefs,
family circumstances, sexual orientation or other irrelevant distinction.
For more information see our website: http://www.open.ac.uk
Benefits and Facilities
This sheet provides a summary of staff benefits and facilities. Full details will be available
when you join us.
We have a strong commitment to providing training and development in and beyond your
current role. This includes thorough induction into the organisation and regular review of
your training and development needs. The objective is that all staff should undertake at
least five days development activity in each year – this may include attendance at formal
courses or other learning e.g. use of self-study material. We invest substantial time and
money in our staff development provisions and we waive fees for staff wishing to study our
The annual leave entitlement is 33 days in addition to all Bank and other public holidays and
an additional 3 days at Christmas when the University is closed.
Permanent Central Academic staff (those on contracts of 2 years or more) are entitled to
study leave on full salary for research or other approved academic purposes for two months
in each leave year. For Regional Academic staff the entitlement is to study leave on full
salary for two months within each period of two years completed service.
Staff have the option of contributing to a Final Salary pension scheme and the University
contributes around 14% of salary. Full details will be sent with any offer of employment but
any preliminary enquiries should be addressed to the Pensions Section, Personnel Division
(01908) 652431 or 652957.
Staff are normally expected to live within a reasonable travelling distance of their place of
work. The University will make a grant for expenses necessarily incurred for removals and
disturbance, within certain rules and subject to a maximum payment. Full details will be sent
with any offer of employment. The removal grant does not apply on appointments of less
than two years duration.
Family Friendly Policies
• Staff are entitled to 52 week maternity/adoption leave. Statutory maternity/adoption pay
will be paid for a maximum period of the first 39 weeks, made up to full pay for the first
18 weeks, subject to minimum service conditions. Staff have he right to return to work
at any time within 52 weeks of the maternity leave start date, again subject to certain
• Staff are entitled to a maximum of 10 days paid paternity leave in connection with their
wife’s/partner’s confinement in any one leave year in addition to normal leave
entitlement, again subject to certain conditions.
• Pre-School Childcare Subsidy: We have a means-tested childcare subsidy scheme.
Those eligible are provided with a Childcare Voucher that can be used as part payment
for the care of children under 5 years of age. For further information about the scheme
contact Human Resources on (01908) 655050.
• Childcare Vouchers; we have introduced a salary sacrifice scheme to enable staff to
take advantage of tax and NI exemption on up to £243 of childcare vouchers per month.
The scheme is managed by Busy Bees. Further information will be provided on
Milton Keynes based staff
• The Mulberry Bear Day Nursery & Pre-School is a purpose-built nursery on
the Walton Hall campus. It is an independent charity supported by The Open University
and managed by parents. OU staff applications are given priority and whilst there are full
and part-time places are available now, there may be a waiting list in some age groups.
For further information, please telephone Milton Keynes (01908) 653867, e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org or see their website at www.mulberrybear.org.uk.
• There are a number of other private nurseries in the Milton Keynes area.
• Catering facilities providing meals, snacks and drinks
• Open University Club (offering a number of club and society events, sports and
• Occupational Health Department (located on site at Walton Hall) provides
professional advice to individuals and managers on all work related health issues
• Natwest Bank sub branch on site at Walton Hall
• Shop selling general provisions on site at Walton Hall
Information on local schools can be obtained from the Learning and Development
Directorate, Milton Keynes Borough Council on (01908) 253489.
Please note that smoking is not permitted in University buildings, bars and catering areas.
Smoking is only permitted in designated outdoor areas.