Thanks so much for your votes! And thanks to all the other scientists in the organs zone for being great!
St Patrick’s BNS 1995-2003, Saint Aidan’s CBS 2003-2009, Trinity College Dublin 2009-2013, University of Dundee 2013-2016, Lancaster University 2016-present
Lancaster University/University of Dundee (PhD), Science Gallery Dublin. Before I worked in science I used to work in Argos where I was in charge of customer services
PhD Student in Immunology at Lancaster University
Favourite thing to do in my job: I like taking risks with experiments that seem a bit out there. If it works you could be the only person in the world who knows that result or how some part of our biology works and I think that’s really cool.
I’m an Irish Scientist working in the north of England for my PhD. Aside from science, I like comics, art and cartoons about giant robots.
I’m an Immunologist, which means I’m working to understand how the immune system works
I try to understand how the immune system fights viruses. Viruses are responsible for all kinds of illnesses like colds, flus, warts and even complex conditions like AIDS. Although our immune system has some very smart ways to fight them, viruses are actually better at studying our immune system than us, and have developed strategies of hiding from it or even switching it off.
Viruses are basically just a piece of code just wants to makes lots and lots copies of itself. To do so it hijacks the cells machinery; its printers, and copies it’s DNA. The DNA is a set of instructions of how to make another virus but also how to hide and not get killed by shutting off the bodies cries for help.
If we knew how virus shut off the cell’s cries for help we could develop drugs to help the cell fight the virus better. The problem is, we’re actually not exactly sure how cells detect the virus’ DNA. This is what I am trying to find out. I’m looking at the cellular machinery that detects a virus’ DNA during an infection and turn on these cries for help. To do this I use skin cells and infect them with viruses that cause cold sores in humans. As skin is the outermost barrier of our bodies it is the first site of contact for many infections thus is important for launching immune responses to many types of infections.
My Typical Day
My day to day work in the lab often changes but there is a general pattern to my working week. I’m usually kept quite busy, but it is always interesting.
Often when I come into the lab the first thing I need to do is feed my cells.
In some ways my cells feel like a pet as they need a lot of attention and care to keep them alive. If the cells look like they’re growing OK, I’ll take some out of their flasks and set up an infection with cold sore virus. This means most of the other days of my week will then be spent looking at how the infected cells deal with the virus. Sometimes I’ll watch how they change under the microscope, or I’ll measure different kinds of help me signals that are produced to tell the immune system that there is an infection. I can even do experiments to measure how well the virus grows in the cells.
There is often some waiting around while my experiments are running. I use this time to read research papers about new techniques or new discoveries. I also go to seminars to hear other scientists from different universities talk about their work. Once a month I to present my results to other members of my research group. This is actually really helpful as we brainstorm to help each other out if we’re stuck with any research problems and it’s great for coming up with new ideas.
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d set up a photoproject to showcase the diversity and variety of role models among scientists
One of the main reasons I’ve liked I’m a Scientist is that it does a great job at showing students that scientists are real and relatable people and provides them with many potential role models as a result.
However there is still a considerable lack of diversity of later career stage role models for science. As a consequence of this, students from minority backgrounds may not consider careers in science as they don’t see themselves fitting in by not having anyone to relate to.
If I won the money, I’d like to commission a photography project in collaboration with collectives like Athena SWAN and LGBTSTEM to profile and highlight the role models that exist for these under represented communities in science.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly, Determined, Excitable
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I’ve infected skin cells with viruses and watched them try fight off the infection under a microscope.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I wanted to become a scientist because of my Dad. When I was 10 he was diagnosed with bowel cancer and I used encyclopaedias to try understand what cancer was and why he was sick. Even after he recovered I found myself still being interested in biology and medicine.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I was actually very quiet and shy in school.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I used to work in the Science Gallery back in Dublin before I started my PhD and I really miss it. It was really fun talking about cool science concepts with the public. If I wasn’t a scientist I think I’d like to work for a science museum or an art gallery
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Ugh it’s always hard to name just one! But probably The Knife, Radiohead, Chvrches or John Grant
What's your favourite food?
Reese’s peanut butter cups. (I spend too much money on them, it’s actually a big problem for my bank balance…)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Last year I went backpacking across Japan and it was better than I could have ever imagined. A few years before that I lived in America and got to go travelling across the east coast from Boston to Washington DC. I really like travelling as it means I get to see interesting places and meet new people
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Access to an infinite supply of peanut butter cups, that I was a better cook, that I had more time to see my friends.
Tell us a joke.
You can’t trust atoms, they make up everything!