What do you do?
I study the immune system. I examine a type of white blood cell called a T cell, which is made in the thymus. These cells are important for fighting infections but can also be damaging – for example, they cause disease in Multiple Sclerosis. I look at these cells in the lab, and try to work out how they interact with other cells of the immune system, and how this interaction shapes whether they are helpful or harmful.
Why did you choose this field?
I didn’t always want to be a scientist, in fact at school I loved Latin and Spanish and wanted to do languages or classics at university. But gradually during my GCSEs I realised that I really enjoyed biology, and I was good at it! I went to university to study Biochemistry and Spanish but found that of all my lectures, it was an immunology module I enjoyed by far the most. I had a very engaging lecturer, Professor Tracy Hussell, who taught the T cell immunology and I found it fascinating – the complexity of the cells and the immune system as a whole, the techniques used in the lab, and the importance of the work for human disease. I was doing my Masters year in Barcelona when I emailed Professor Hussell and asked if she had any PhD spots available – and she did! The rest followed from there.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
It’s not one achievement, but I am most pleased that I managed to set up my own research team, doing cutting edge science, at the same time as having small children and seeing a great deal of them, picking them up from school and so on.
I have been able to do this with the support of the Royal Society and the University of Edinburgh – I didn’t know this was possible or achievable before, I thought I would have to pick.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the excitement of doing experiments and seeing something unexpected happen! Often, very often, we form a hypothesis and do an experiment and something completely different is shown – which we never would have been able to predict. The immune system is so complicated that this happens all the time and I think it is wonderful.
Best advice for next generation?
I think this is a really exciting time to be a woman in STEM. I would say that as well as working hard at the academic studies, it is important to network and to go and meet people, to email people you admire and ask for advice or for job opportunities – just like I did! You don’t get things handed to you often – normally you need to be brave and ask.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
Dr Abby Bartlet from the West Wing!