Queen Anne High School (finished in 2011). University of Aberdeen (2011-2015), University of Edinburgh (2015-now)
I have a BSc (Hons) in Human Embryology and Developmental Biology, right now I’m studying for my PhD in Genetics and Molecular Medicine.
I used to work in a cinema when I was at Uni in Aberdeen, and before that I worked in a kitchen in a hotel.
Full time PhD student
The Medical Research Council and the University of Edinburgh
Favourite thing to do in my job: Looking at DNA from tumours to figure out what genetic mutations are causing them.
I love food and podcasts, can often be found in the kitchen listening to stuff and making a mess.
I was born and have studied in Scotland, but this year I have decided to travel as much as possible, and chose a different country to work in after I graduate – open to suggestions! I live alone in a flat near work, which is nice because my food doesn’t get nicked, but I used to live with my best friend, and miss that a little. Although I don’t miss his mess. I started running this year in an LGBT running group as a way to get fit and make more friends, and it’s a great way to unwind after being in the lab all day. I’m wanting to run a half-marathon before the end of the year. I love animals and exploring new places, the first things I would buy if I won the lottery are a dog and a trip around the world!
I use fancy computers and mini-organs grown in the lab to study the genetic changes in liver cancer.
Cancer is caused by changes in DNA. The DNA in a cell is like a huge book of instructions that tells the cell how to work. When the cell divides the instructions have to be copied, and sometimes mistakes happen. These mistakes are called mutations. And some mutations cause cancer to form, but most of them don’t. When a person has cancer their DNA is filled with mistakes, but it’s hard to tell which ones are causing cancer and which are not. If you know which mutations cause a cancer, you can make better medicine to cure it.
I study a rare liver cancer called bile duct cancer, or if you want to give it it’s full scientific name, Intrahepatic Cholangiocarcinoma – try saying that 5 times fast!
It isn’t known what genetic mutations cause this liver cancer. I look at the DNA taken from the cancer cells of hundreds of people with the cancer, and then use computers to predict which mutations could be causing it. Then I grow little mini-organs, called organoids, which can be grown from liver cells from humans or mice, and act like little mini-versions of the liver tissue. I use a tool which is like chemical scissors to cut the DNA in the organoids and make the mutations which we think might cause cancer (a technique called CRISPR). Then I wait and see if the organoids turn into cancer.
This way I can find new mutations which can cause this liver cancer to form and better treatments can maybe be made to treat it.
My Typical Day
I get up super early and head to work, I spend my morning doing computer work, and the rest of the day in the lab doing experiments.
Most days I get to work early, about 7am before everyone else arrives, and immediately make a cup of tea – and probably sit on facebook for half an hour! Then I get to work. Most scientists in medical science either work with computers (called Bioinformaticians) or work in the lab. Because I work with computers and also in the lab I try to do both each day – but some days I do all one or the other. I like doing my computer stuff in the morning when it’s quiet and then in the lab after lunch because I’m normally sleepy and fall asleep at my desk if I’m sitting on the computer in the afternoon! I like to be active in the afternoon. Normally there’s a visitor from another university that comes and tells us about their research at lunch, so if there’s someone interesting visiting I’ll listen to their talk, or else I’ll just eat lunch with the other students and unwind.
What I'd do with the money
I would host an event to raise awareness of rare diseases
There are loads of diseases that a lot of people know about – like lung cancer and diabetes – which a lot of charities raise money for. This means that more research can be done to find cures and if a person gets one of these diseases there is support there for them. And I think this is amazing.
But, there are a lot of other diseases, like the rare liver cancer that I study, that most people don’t know about. I think that if someone gets a rare disease they should feel just as supported and comforted that people know about it, and that money is being raised to help fund research into cures. But this isn’t true for most rare diseases.
I would like to host a night of entertainment, comedy and music – a bit like Comic Relief – and invite along the charities that raise money for this rare liver cancer, as well as patients and their families, and the public. I hope that this will raise awareness and get people talking about it.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
passionate, curious, impatient!
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I haven’t done it yet, but in March I’m going by myself to Amsterdam to speak about my research at a conference for the first time, so I’m very excited about that – and scared!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
This is going to sound weird, but I love languages, and it was all the exotic words that attracted me to Biology at school and made me curious. Then I remember learning about how cells make energy and thinking it was the coolest thing ever and decided that same lesson that I wanted to be a scientist because I wanted to understand more how it worked.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I got lines in Biology for not doing my homework once!
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I studied Philosophy at university for a little while, if I never became a Scientist I would be a Philosopher, it’s so interesting…even as interesting as Science.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I love everything, I just put my phone on shuffle. I like Fall Out Boy, they’re my guilty pleasure, they remind me of school
What's your favourite food?
Cheese! Cheese with everything, or on it’s own. All sorts!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Last summer I went to my first ever LGBT Pride festival in London and had so much fun and met so many interesting people. It rained the whole time but it was worth it!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
So difficult! I would wish for enough money to take a year out of work and travel the world. I would wish that my friends all lived closer to me, since I moved away for my PhD I never get to see them. I would wish that I was more courageous and took more risks!
Tell us a joke.
What’s the best present you can get? – A broken drum, you can’t beat it.
Pic 1: Mini-liver organs, called organoids. They don’t look much like livers, but they look like the part of the liver I study (called the bile duct epithelium, which is just a layer of cells). They grow from a few cells in the first picture into hollow spheres over the course of 3 days.
Pic 2: Me and my lab on World Cholangiocarcinoma Day.