I did my O and A levels abroad, and then came to Ireland for my bachelors at TCD. I am now a PhD student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
B.A Human Genetics
I've been a fundraiser for UNICEF for a summer during my undergraduate years. Other than that my work has always been in the lab either as an intern, or as a student, or as a researcher!
Molecular Biology PhD student in second year
Favourite thing to do in science: When I do an experiment and it works out exactly how I expected it to, that feeling of joy is my favorite thing about science.
Wandering through my 20's and currently doing a PhD in molecular biology/immunology.
I knew I wanted to be a scientist since the tender age of 3 when I would conduct ‘experiments’ on my sister- most of them wouldn’t go as planned. No worries, my sister is still alive!
Before starting my PhD journey, I did my undergrad in human genetics at Trinity College, and so I hope my gene-studying past will help me presently in answering your questions in the ‘gene zone’. When I’m not in the lab, I can be found eating and chilling with friends, or binge watching TV shows or, if I’m not feeling my usual lazy self, hiking!
I do lab experiments to study how to control our immune cells to fight disease!
Did you know our body is like many many teeny tiny computers working together? We call them ‘cells’. Now there are many different types of cells and they all do different jobs to make sure we can function as living beings. Some cells are responsible for digesting all the good food we eat, some are involved in making sure we breathe, and the list goes on and on.
Now we are constantly exposed to danger from the outside world from bacteria and viruses and what not, but a certain class of special cells called ‘immune cells’ are in each and everyone of us to protect us from those bad guys. I study one type of those immune cells: the macrophages! Macrophages are the ‘guardian’ cells of our immune system and quickly respond to an infection caused by dangerous agents, like harmful bacteria, by eating them up and also sending help or ‘danger’ signals to other types of immune cells so they can all come and finish off the invaders! Its like a proper warzone in each of us!
However, sometimes things can go wrong! In some diseases called ‘inflammatory’ diseases, our own guardian cells can go a bit nuts and start attacking our body’s other cells instead thinking those other cells in our body are the enemy! Why?? We still don’t know for sure!
That’s where I come in! I do lab experiments on these powerful cells to find what makes a macrophage go in ‘attack mode’ or ‘peace mode’. If we can understand that, we can better treat inflammatory diseases in the future by switching those angry macrophages that destroy other cells to ‘good’ tissue-resolving macrophages that lead to repair of cells.
My Typical Day
A typical day for me would involve spending hours in a lab coat and performing different experiments on my precious cells!
The main thing I do work wise is operating cool lab equipment to analyze my cells, and snack a lot in between. (Snacks are very important kids).
To be completely honest, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ day during a PhD. Each day varies according to how your experiments go, and so does your mood!
Good day/Happy me = My cells look healthy! And are behaving exactly as I expect them to when I treat them with different chemicals to understand how they work
Bad day/Annoyed me= Cells look unhappy, something goes wrong during the experiment and I cant figure out where the problem is. Not the coolest feeling, but I try to take it as a challenge or a mystery!
Its not just me doing all lab experiments though! I also had the chance to teach undergraduate students how to do those experiments. Science is all about learning and teaching after all!
In that spirit, I also get to go to conferences to present the work our lab does and learn from other labs what they do. Here is a pic of my lab partner and I presenting a poster showing our work on macrophages, neurons and the brain at a conference at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences institute:
And that is just one of such events! Only last year I went to a conference in Belfast, three in Dublin, and one in Switzerland, where I met people from different countries doing amazing research on the immune system. Being in science, you surely get to travel around a lot but its better because you get to enjoy the new places AND learn new things all the time which allow you to develop more ideas for your own project.
What I'd do with the money
I would use the money to help organise a 'Lab safari' in my research department, where students from all over Ireland could come and experience the world of research!
Last year, to celebrate Science week in Ireland, I was involved in hosting/organising a ‘lab safari’ event with my whole department of the molecular and cellular therapeutics at RCSI. We invited kids from schools all over in Dublin to experience our research by giving them a glimpse into what its like to be a scientist in a lab. The event was so students could consider a career in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine). We were especially keen to encourage girls to attend and we were very happy to see the turn out.
The event involved visiting research stations in our labs each focused on different kinds of biological sciences, including human genetics, cancer biology, and immunology.
I was a volunteer at the immunology section where we showed and taught students about the immune cells and the brain. Take a look at the pics:
See what one of the students had to say about the event by following the link to the RCSI MCT blog:
I personally felt such an event was very informative and exciting for the students as well as for us as researchers because we realized better how to communicate our knowledge and research to the common public.
I want to use the 500 Euro to make a similar event happen at our department with students not only from Dublin, but all over Ireland this time! In a collaborative style, the money could be used to subsidize travel costs for some enthusiastic students from around the country to come to such an event, where they can experience the world of research and have fun doing it at one the most progressive research institutions in Ireland!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly, curious, free-spirited
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I love music so I dont have one fav band! I generally like pop/rock songs though! Depending on my mood I can dance with T.swift or bang my head to Metallica
What's your favourite food?
Pollo ai funghi- an italian dish with chicken, cream and mushrooms. delish!!! BUT I will also eat anything sweet! ANYTHING
What is the most fun thing you've done?
In recent memory, I went to GoQuest adventure rooms with my friends and peers. Everyone should go there in my opinion!
What did you want to be after you left school?
A distinguished scientist. Still working on the 'distinguished' part!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nothing major anyway. Probably something silly like talking too much.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Biology! (Could you tell?). or English! Mainly because we got to read stories there and I do love a good story!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Travelled to another country for a conference and met some smart people!
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My brain (and mostly TV shows/movies) told me it sounds really cool to be a scientist. But then I went to college and was actually inspired by some of my professors who talked about their own research and what scientists have achieved and can still possibly achieve, and that blew my mind!
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A psychologist maybe.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) I want to develop a cure for diseases affecting the brain (neurodegenerative) 2) I want to be able to travel all countries luxuriously without worrying about money 3) I wish I could control objects with my mind because I am lazy and so I wouldnt have to get up haha
Tell us a joke.
An unemployed biologist was having considerable difficulty in finding a new job. He finally saw an add in a local newspaper for a position at a zoo. In the interview, the manager told him that their only gorilla, which had been a star attraction, had recently died, and it would be sometime before they could replace it. Meanwhile, they needed someone to dress up as a gorilla and pretend to be the animal. The biologist was quite embarrassed, but, being desperate for money, he accepted the job. The next day, the biologist put on a gorilla skin and headgear and entered a cage from a rear entrance. Visitors smiled at him and threw bread. After a while, the biologist really got into the act. He jumped up and down, beat his chest and roared as people cheered. The following day, the biologist entered the wrong cage by accident and found himself staring at a lion. The lion roared and rushed toward him. The scared biologist turned and ran, while screaming, "Help! Help!" The lion leaped onto the gorilla, knocked him to the ground and whispered in his ear, "Hey, it's me Leonard, your former co-worker. Shut up or we'll both lose our jobs!"