What is your scientific background?
I completed my degree in Medical Microbiology and Virology at The University of Warwick in 2013. After this I was determined to go on to do a PhD but was rejected as I didn’t have enough lab experience. Instead, I spent a year working as a research technician in two different labs on very different subjects: the first working on influenza, and the second on cancer. As well as getting more experience to put on my PhD applications, this helped me find the area I wanted to focus on in the future, virology! After this, I was accepted for a PhD position at the University of Sheffield studying the common cold. I recently completed my PhD and am now in my first postdoc position at the National University of Singapore, again working on influenza virus.
Why did you choose to become a scientist?
I always enjoyed science at school but I’d never thought of becoming a scientist. Throughout school I had always planned to go on to do medicine, as that’s what you were told to do if you were good at biology! When I was in sixth form, I attended a university open day for students planning to apply for medicine. The day included several talks from doctors describing the different specialties you can go into. None of these appealed to me until the last speaker gave a talk on medical research. Before this, I hadn’t thought of research as a potential career, and it was the first time I’d felt excited about a job. That’s when I decided not to apply for medicine and to study biology instead.
Do you ever doubt your abilities as a scientist? How did you handle these situations/feelings?
All the time. It can be really disheartening when experiments don’t work, and this happens A LOT. Luckily, I did my PhD in a really supportive lab and I had a lot of help and encouragement. When I was feeling particularly down about something I always found it helped to take a break, either by going for a coffee with a friend or a quick walk round the nearby park for some fresh air.
I also found talking to people outside of academia helpful. When I moved to Sheffield for my PhD almost all the people I met were other PhD students or postdocs. While it is good to be able to talk to people going through similar situations, sometimes it can feel like you’re in a bubble. When I talked to other people, like my family, it helped me to put everything into perspective and realise it’s not the end of the world if that experiment didn’t work!
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
I would tell myself to take advantage of the extra-curricular opportunities available for PhD students. One of the things I enjoyed most during my PhD was working as a tutor for The Brilliant Club, where I got to go into schools and teach pupils about my research. This was really fun and rewarding, as well as challenging! It also helped to develop skills useful for academia, like presenting and teaching. After working at different institutions, I’ve realised not everywhere has opportunities like these, so make the most of them if you can!
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