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I went to school in Scotland at Bearsden Academy (1994-2000) in Glasgow before heading south of the border to England to do my undergraduate degree (Oct 2000 – June 2003) and postgraduate (Oct 2003 – Dec 2006) at the University of Bristol.
I have a BSc in Biochemistry, a PhD and I have recently gained a professional qualification called DipRCPath so the letters after my name goes BSc. Ph.D. DipRCPath!
I worked in a shop at a Country Park in Glasgow while I was at school. Once at university I worked in Boots and also spent some time working for Next in the warehouse before their summer sales (working a shift on the day of the summer sales was an experience to say the least – the stampede of people was incredible!)
I trained for four years in molecular genetics (Jan 2007 – Jan 2011) in an NHS lab in Newcastle and I am now a fully registered Clinical Scientist (this is actually a protected title and you are only allowed to call yourself a Clinical Scientist when you have the proper bits and pieces!). I am still working in the same lab.
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love learning – I am always amazed about how much there is to know and how little I know! I try to learn something new each day and then tell everyone else in my office to amaze them!
I look at genes to find things wrong with them to help diagnose sick people or maybe help to prevent them from getting ill in the future.
Our laboratory receives blood samples from Clinical Doctors and we then extract DNA (we also receive other samples such as saliva, tumour samples, bone marrow and tissue but these are not as common as blood). Once we have DNA from these samples we can then carry out tests to look at specific genes to help the Doctors in diagnosing their patients.
My laboratory specialises in single gene disorders or molecular genetics – this means that we look at genes in patients’ DNA to identify mutations (or spelling mistakes) to help find out why they are ill. The mutations that we identify are at the base level in the DNA – this means that we are looking for mistakes in the order of the four bases or letters that are in DNA (A, G, C and T). The order of these letters is different in different genes. An example is given below. Can you spot the difference?
Normal sequence: AGTACCTGTA
Mutation (spelling mistake): AGTTCCTGTA [has a T spelling mistake which has replaced A]
Sometimes the information that we find out can help prevent other family members from getting ill in the future. Some example disorders that we test for include Cystic Fibrosis, Huntington Disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), Breast Cancer and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
My Typical Day
The first thing I do in the morning is feed my guinea pigs as they are very greedy! I then go to work, most of my time is spent at my desk looking at results and talking with people.
My typical day consists as working as part of a team to provide a clinical service. In the lab we have genetic technologists that carry out all the practical work and then it is my job to look at all the results. Once I have analysed the data, I write a report about what we have found. This report is checked by another scientist and then we send this information to the Doctor.
So I spend most of my day in front of a computer – checking results, replying to e-mails and writing reports. I also speak with Doctors on the phone and help to teach new members in our lab. I also read information about new technologies, genes identified and tests to keep up to date and to also ensure that the service that we offer is the best that we can.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would donate the money to the charity Jeans for Genes.
The charity Jeans for Genes (http://www.jeansforgenesday.org/) is excellent and provides a lifeline to individuals suffering from a genetic disorder. They can help in a number a ways such as providing support days for carers or help children make videos about themselves to help them come to terms with their condition.
They also provide excellent educational resources (publicly) available for people like you to learn more about genetic conditions (see the website http://www.genesareus.org/). I would like the £500, if voted by you, to be put towards making more educational resources, such as a booklet or video. I would make sure that they knew who the money have come from (i.e. you through I’m a scientist) and would like to be involved in this process. You can then check out the website to see any new developments!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Ambitious, hard working and conscientious
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Going on an expenses paid trip to London where I met loads of other scientists, talked about my work, learnt new things and was given Champagne on the London eye!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really, I don’t like being shouted at!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Tandem paraglide flight in Switzerland – the views were awesome!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would love to have the money to travel the world as there are so many things I would like to see, a new mountain bike (I am a bit addicted to riding my bikes….) and make sure that all my friends and family were happy all the time.
Tell us a joke.
One parrot sat on a perch said to another, can you smell fish?