Abigail Hay

PhD Student
Joint between The Pirbright Institute and The University of Southampton


I wish younger me had known that the career I am in now existed!

What do you do?

My research is in cattle and aims to investigate how immune cells called natural killer (NK) cells respond to viral infection. I am investigating how receptors on NK cells interact with virally infected cells. My research also looks into whether genetic variation between animals can make them more or less resistant to viral infections. Long term this information could help us to breed cattle which are less susceptible to common viral diseases.

Why did you choose this field?

My grandad was a farmer and my mum was brought up on the farm, so agriculture is in my blood. I used to help grandad out at weekends at the agricultural college he worked at after he sold the farm and loved working with the cattle and sheep. At school, we did some basic genetics and inheritance - learning about Gregor Mendel and his peas - and that is what really drew me into the field of genetics. When I was in my second year of university I got the opportunity to go and observe a company working on a local farm doing embryo transplants and I talked to them about genetics in agriculture, I think from that moment I knew that I ultimately wanted to combine my love of agriculture and genetics to make a difference to the community that brought me up.

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

I wish younger me had known that the career I am in now existed! I wish younger me had realized how strong a person she was and believed in herself more. The achievement I wish 13,14,18, 21 year old me could have known was possible is that I've moved 500 miles away from everyone I love to follow my dream PhD and I am happy and contented. Younger me would have been terrified of that idea and wouldn't have believed that everything would turn out okay!

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love being part of something new and exciting. I like that I'm doing something that no one else is. What keeps me going, even when things are tough and experiments are going wrong, is the thought that one day this research could make a big difference to our agricultural industry.

Best advice for next generation?

To work in STEM you need to love your subject so I would say my best advice is to follow what you love to study! Work hard, be inquisitive, determined and resilient. When things go wrong pick yourself, dust yourself off and get straight back into it. If you have those qualities you are most of the way there!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"She believed she could, so she did.“

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