I am a PhD researcher studying under a Barry Reed studentship; my research is focused on characterising PAK signalling in leukaemia cells.
Since my undergraduate degree I have always had an interest in haematology and genetics, but it was not until my MSc that my passion for cancer biology and cell signalling really took hold. Therefore the opportunity to undertake studies in leukaemia seemed the perfect blend of my interests and prior knowledge. Furthermore, being able to approach this topic in the context of proteomics seemed the ideal route to become involved in a field that I think will be pivotal to cancer research in the future.
Life at the Institute
The BCI and I have previous history. I completed my MSc here, so I was aware of the merits the institute had to offer such as great facilities, the prestigious academic pedigree and not to mention an excellent location.
Haemato-oncology appealed as I felt it was a Centre with research aims that aligned with my own. It is a very diverse department and I think it blends the complimentary skills of research scientists and clinicians helping to create an environment that truly embraces translational medicine. Furthermore, the significance of the tissue bank cannot be underplayed as a fantastic resource that I think really separates our department from many.
A ‘typical’ day at the centre is a very hard thing to define to the extent I do not know if ‘typical’ is applicable adjective. This is because my days tend to vary widely, which I think is a reflection of the activity and work that goes on in the Centre and the Institute as a whole. But I know my days will involve at some point experiments, discussing someone’s results, a protocol or a paper they have read, data analysis and can involve going to seminars, meeting visitors, teaching or perhaps I will be out of the institute at a meeting. Things are definitely kept interesting.
Easily the people, and the people are what make the Institute. As being successful in science requires a lot of work, which means you are going to be spending considerable amount of time at your Institute, so if you are not surrounded by good people research is going to be a very hard and lonely life. BCI surrounds you with people that make doing research easy, as everyone is smart, sociable and supportive.
From the MLA’s that do all the things that you do not even think about, to the post-docs who always seem to know how to trouble shoot an experiment, to your fellow PhD students who know how to motivate you back to the bench. It also helps being part of a fantastic group.
In many ways my PhD has been what I expected as to get to this position you usually meet many others that decided upon the same path during previous studies. However, there are aspects that have exceeded the expectations I had from the outset, and the support that I have received here is what stands out the most.
Probably aspiring to the standards set by those I work alongside, I feel very fortunate to be where I am as at this time the research and staff that compose the BCI are probably of the highest calibre exemplified by our recent performance in the Research Excellence Framework.
As a PhD is a very independent body of work it inherently evokes feelings of dread when thinking about the thesis you are expected to produce at the end. So having a structure in place that lays out regular milestones makes the whole process feel more palatable; I am also finding that the time flies so 3-4 years doesn’t seem so long.
I wish I'd known...
I honestly wouldn't do anything differently if I started again.
If I were giving advice, I'd say two things: firstly try your best to make sure you have a good supervisor by that I mean one that you get on with and actually feel will have/make time for you (I can highly recommend Pedro Cutillas).
Secondly wherever you apply, get a good feeling for the environment beforehand, as what you achieve during a PhD will shape the career you go on to have after, therefore you need to be somewhere you feel you can flourish.
I undertook this PhD not only to embark on a career in cancer research but also in the hope that I maybe able to learn something new (mass spectrometry from a leader in the field), to improve as comprehensively as possible such as in problem solving, developing into a better communicator on all levels and hope for this to culminate in achieving something significant.
I am confident that whichever path I choose at the end of this PhD I will be well equipped to succeed just like those that preceded me.