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Jennifer Shelley

PhD student, Centre of Inflammation Research at University of Edinburgh

 

When I started down a scientific path, I thought I’d have to abandon writing outside of essays and reports, which made me really sad. This is not the case at all.

What do you do?

I am trying to work out whether a molecule called hBD2 has therapeutic potential for treatment of a disease called atopic dermatitis (commonly known as eczema). Some experiments have shown that hBD2 could stop eczema from getting infected or getting worse so my job is to figure out how and why and if it really could be a new treatment. I sound like a dermatologist but actually, I am a scientist who studies the interactions between the host (the person) and the disease (the eczema and/or the infectious bacteria).

Why did you choose this field?

I have always found diseases fascinating. That is why I did my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in disease-related subjects. I became more specifically interested in the interactions between a host and a disease when I realised that it’s really just like a battlefield on a tiny scale. Our bodies are like castles that are being invading by enemy armies. We have loads of different highly specialised troops in the form of immune cells and these keep the invaders away. Both sides make advances in weaponry and both sides win and lose some battles. I love studying this dynamic and trying to pick apart what’s going on.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"I even sometimes combine my two passions to write scientific articles for a general audience." 

Having my articles published in the university newspaper and on online blogs at the same time as doing my PhD. I always thought I’d have to make a choice between writing or science and I thought my degree would dictate that I could do one or the other. When I started down a scientific path, I thought I’d have to abandon writing outside of essays and reports, which made me really sad. This is not the case at all and now, I get to do both. Most importantly for me, I get to write content regularly and have even been paid for one or two pieces!

Why do you love working in STEM?

It is surprisingly creative. You have to look at things from different angles, create experiments and try to see the bigger picture. Deciding how to present data and designing elegant experiments takes a lot of creativity and artistic thinking which is something I really enjoy.

Best advice for the next generation

While I don’t think ‘you make your own luck’ is really true, I do think you have to put yourself out there and work hard so that lucky opportunities can come to you. I have had a lot of very lucky experiences, but I had to get myself into the position to get offered them and then say yes!

Hero

My scientific hero is Dr Polly Matzinger. A phenomenal immunologist who completely redefined how we look at the immune system and did not conform to any stereotypes of a ‘typical’ scientist.