Thanks for the super chat this morning! Fab questions!
EducationI went to Cardigan Secondary School from year 7 to year 13. Cardigan is a town right on the west coast of Wales, I always say "If you're not sure where Cardigan is, keep driving West until you get to the sea". In 2003 I started my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at Oxford University. It was a masters degree, so it took 4 years. I spent a summer doing a short project at the John Radcliff hospital in Oxford where I looked at a drug transporter that was involved in resistance in Malaria. I then did my Master's degree in a Gene Therapy lab looking at proteins involved in Cystic Fibrosis. I stayed at Oxford University to do my PhD in arthritis research until 2011. After my PhD I was awarded a research fellowship at Cardiff University for 4 years, where I continued with arthritis research . Once I had my own children, I decided that I needed to move closer to my parents to have a more family oriented lifestyle.
QualificationsI gained 5A* and 7As in GCSE. My favourite subjects were obviously science and maths - I had amazing teachers for all of these subjects. I chose Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths and French for A-level but only did French up to AS level so that I could focus on my sciences. I had As in all of these :) I have a Masters degree in Biochemistry and I have a PhD in Clinical Medicine. So officially I'm a Doctor, but not a medical one. I will not be much help in a medical emergency...
Work HistoryWhen I was doing A-levels and at Uni I worked in a Cafe and at WH Smiths. I have tutored science throughout my PhD and even up to now I get asked to give the odd tutorial. I taught at a Summer School at Oxford and also taught Biochemistry undergraduates at Oxford University. I also lectured medical students at Cardiff University. When I completed my Fellowship in 2015 I was offered a job teaching A-level Biology and A-level Chemistry at a private school in Cardiff. I taught at this school for just over 2 years. When I moved back to west Wales I taught A-level Biology, GCSE Chemistry and KS3 science at the school I used to attend for almost 2 years. It was really weird to teach at my old school! I missed the lab too much, and teaching with my own young kids at home was really hard work! I decided to take a job as a Senior Research Scientist at a local Pharmaceutical company. I am very happy working here.
Current JobI am a Senior Research Scientist at quite a small pharmaceutical company in West Wales called MicroPharm. The company mostly produces anti-venoms to treat people who have been bitten by venomous snakes. These antivenoms are hugely important medicines as snake bites kill over 120,000 people each year! The Wellcome trust call this the "world's biggest hidden health crisis". At the moment, however, I am not working on anti-venoms. I am working on oral medicines to treat gut disorders, we have just had a paper published about our medicine which is a hopeful new treatment for gut infection by a really common bacteria called C.Difficile. This infection gives people such terrible diarrhea that they can die! Thousands of people die from C.Difficile infection every year and the treatments for them are not always effective. But before you ask, no, I do not have to work with any poo.
MicroPharm’s specialises in producing specific antibodies directed against toxic molecules or viral targets. The end result is the production of immunotherapeutic products for patients. All the drugs produced are designed to treat life-threatening emergencies, have been developed at the request of the medical profession and are required urgently.
Favourite thing to do in my job: I enjoy designing and carrying out new experiments. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't but that's how we learn!
About Me: I am a mum of 2 little girls and 2 big dogs (Bohdi and Dillon). I am a Senior Research scientist at a small Pharmaceutical company in west Wales. I enjoy cold swims in the sea to wake me up early in the morning and adventures in the woods.
I live in a little village in West Wales next to the sea. I grew up close to here and I absolutely love being close to where I grew up. I live with my husband, my 2 daughters aged 5 and 6 and two dogs ages 9 and 7. My dogs are 2 sheep dogs with a lot of energy. We are a mad house.
I enjoy everything outdoorsy – from surfing in the summer to cold water swimming in the winter. I love eating breakfast on the beach, even in the rain.
I find science totally fascinating and I am always learning new things too. I used to be a teacher, I still enjoy teaching when I get the opportunity. I love the questions that my kids ask me, they are most fascinated by diseases and why it’s important to get their “jabs”.
I enjoy baking and eating everything that I bake!
My Work: I am a scientist testing new medicines to treat gut problems.
I am a senior research scientist at a small pharmaceutical company in West Wales. I am in the research and development (R&D) team and we are the scientists that develop and test new experiments and new drugs to see what works and what doesn’t work.
I am currently researching new medicines that can be taken orally instead of being injected into you (the medicine I’m working on at the moment looks a bit like Gaviscon and smells minty). Current treatments for many chronic gut conditions are often injections, but this often means a hospital visit and can be difficult for patients, especially if they are already really poorly! It would be so much easier for the patient to be able to take a medicine at home. The active ingredient in the medicine works in the guts, so by taking the medicine by mouth it still travels to the gut where it can work its magic. This way we also avoid lots of potential side effects. I make lab batches of these medicines and then test to see if they are active in vitro (that means in an experimental set up). I also test if they are stable for a long time, and if they would last well at home.
My Typical Day: My mornings are usually super busy, I often cram in a quick sea swim or a dog walk before taking my kids to school. I enjoy my work because every day is different. Some days I will spend the whole day setting up an experiment and some days I will be able to work from home. There is a lot of reading and writing that goes hand in hand with science! I work part time so I finish in the lab by 3.30 to collect my girls from school. We might go to the park after school or just chill out and watch some TV. We love everything on Disney life!
I usually wake up at around 6.30, not out of choice, but usually because my dog (Dillon) likes to jump on the bed when he’s ready for his breakfast. If he’s awake…the whole house is awake! I like to either take the dogs out early or go for a quick sea swim, just to start the day in a positive frame of mind!
After the school drop off I drive to the lab and start the day by checking in on my emails. We work as a big team and so it’s important to communicate well with everyone in the company. I do lots of different experiments which change from day to day. Some days I will spend a whole day in the cell lab setting up an experiment to test how well our medicine protects living cells from a toxin. These experiments usually take about 4 days to run… they are very tricky… they don’t always work!
I do lots of other types of experiments, many of them are testing how pure our active drug product is. Of course, if we want the drug to eventually be used in humans we have to be 100% sure it is safe and pure! A whole lot of work goes into making sure this is the case. Some of the tests I do are called “SDS-PAGE” and “HPLC (a form of chromatography), both of which can separate out a mixture of proteins and show us how pure it is.
Some days I might be able to work from home. When I work from home I will read about work that other scientists have done, or I will write reports on what I have found so far. Because I work for a company that makes drugs for humans, there is a lot more paper work than other research environments. We have to write very detailed protocols and reports because we have to double check each other’s work and make sure we pass inspections to make sure we are working safely and within the rules!
What I'd do with the prize money: I would donate part of the prize money to local schools to buy science equipment and donate the rest to a charity called "Jeans for Genes".
The schools that I went to and live near do not have much funding for science and technology. I would donate some of the money to the local schools so that children like you can directly benefit from this money, to allow them to engage more with science and take part in activities just like this one!
I would also donate part of the prize to a charity called “Jeans for Genes” (you should look it up!). Since I was around 16 I was fascinated by genetic disorders. I saw a documentary about a boy called Jonny Kennedy who had a rare genetic condition called dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa. It meant that his skin fell off his body at the slightest touch. I found it heart breaking that genetic conditions like these had little or no treatments because they are just so rare, there isn’t enough money to fund much research in this area. I ran my first Jeans for Genes day at my school in 2003, after watching this documentary and I have supported them ever since. I ran a half marathon in support of them in 2010 (and I am not a very good runner!).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, friendly, conscientious
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My science teachers were amazing, my Biology teacher in particular really helped me follow my career path and persuaded me to apply to Oxford.
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
An Astronaut! But then I figured there were enough science mysteries on this planet to think about first!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
To be honest I was a bit of a geek, so…no.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I saw an advert for a biscuit taster advertised the other day... I wonder if that's still available...
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
During one of my summer holidays at Uni, I did work experience at Bristol zoo. I got to feed and take care of all the animals in Zona Brasilia which included all the monkeys and lemurs. I had to try to feed them things like locusts and meal worms, but obviously the animals were very excited and just jumped all over me. It was amazing!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
When I was younger I always wished I had a remote control for life, so that I could freeze time or rewind or pause people! If I make an actual wish (when I blow my birthday candles out!) I always wish for my kids to be happy and healthy.... I guess my third wish would be to see Whales in their natural environment.
Tell us a joke.
What’s green and has wheels? Grass…I lied about the wheels