Advanced Care Research Centre

Student Spotlight - Anna Bryan

Academy student Anna tells us about choosing to do a PhD, studying in Scotland, and combining her passions for music and advanced care in her research.

1. Name

Anna Bryan

Three people sit outside with a dog. They are smiling at the camera

2. What is your project title and who are your supervisors?

My project title is “Exploring the facilitation of music engagement in care homes”. This project is supervised by Dr Tom Russ (Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre), Dr Katie Overy (Music in Human and Social Development Research Group), and Prof Heather Wilkinson (Edinburgh Centre of Research on the Experience of Dementia).

3. What is your background?

I’m from a small town in Maine, USA. During my undergrad, I studied music and completed a pre-medical track, with the intent of studying geriatric medicine. In the summer following my third year of uni, I was able to combine my interests in music and gerontology, working as a full-time music volunteer at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Centre in Boston, Massachusetts. I really enjoyed that experience and was able to see the incredible impacts that music can have on those living in care homes (particularly those living with dementia). I then decided to do an MSc at Edinburgh Uni to explore this topic from a research perspective.

4. What drew you to the Academy?

I hadn’t wanted to do a PhD following my MSc, as I was worried that I didn’t know what focus I’d want to take for a larger project. I was also worried that it would be isolating, since I knew several PhD students who felt disconnected from their university and other students during their PhD. When I saw this opportunity from the Academy, I thought it would be different since there was not only the taught year to give more time to plan my project, but there was also a cohort to provide social support. I also liked the focus that the Academy emphasized on interdisciplinarity and leadership.

A girl plays violin while others watch.

5. How did you find/how are you finding your taught year?

As an international student, it was really useful for me to learn about the context of health and social care in Scotland. I also really enjoyed experiencing the taught portion in person, as it gave our cohort time to get to know each other, both working academically and socialising. I also found the summer project very useful in understanding the specific context that I hope to research.

6. What is your PhD about and why does it matter to you?

My PhD is about how music engagement can be facilitated in care homes, but I see the importance as more broadly how we can improve the lives of those living and working in care homes. Music has the potential to be a sustainable, low-cost way of improving relationships and experiences in care home communities, so it is important to learn the ways it can be part of the daily culture in this context. I hope to use what I learn in my PhD in my future career working in care homes, as well as share the knowledge I gain with other researchers, care homes, policy makers, third-sector organisations, and the public.

7. What’s something that’s surprised you about your experience so far?

I was surprised at the breadth of connections that staff in the academy have with the NHS, Scottish Government, and organisations such as Scottish Care. I was also surprised at the strength of friendships that I’ve made within the cohort.

Two girls smile at the camera. One is holding a cake

8. Any tips for those interested in a PhD?

Firstly, I’d say that if you have the opportunity to be funded to do a project you are passionate about, take it. Also, learn as much as you can about your research context as you can before conducting research (and if possible, before starting your PhD). Finally, it may seem at times that a PhD can be quite restrictive, but there are so many different ways to conduct research – explore these and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions.

9. Twitter/LinkedIn/Github/any other professional platforms you would like to share?

Please feel free to be in touch with me via e-mail (, and you can keep up to date on the research done in the Music in Human and Social Development Research Group here: Music in Human and Social Development Research Group - Music in Human and Social Development Research Group (